Don Covay! A forgotten Soul Singer!

In the mid-sixties I was very much into Soul Music.  One of the Songs and singers that I remember from that time period, did not place a lot of music on the Billboard Top 40.  In my opinion, this is truly one of the most underrated Soul or R&B singers of that era.  His version of the Steve Cropper song “See Saw” was one of my favourites and we danced and danced to that one.  He performed with Little Richard’s old band the Upsetters.  He wrote Chain of Fools for Aretha and Pony Time for Chubby.  He was born in Orangeburg South Carolina, and that’s a place I have been to.

Don Covay
1.  Mercy Mercy/ Rosemart 801/ October 1964/ #35
2.  See Saw/ Atlantic 2301/ November 1965/ #44 (Gary’s Favourite)
3.  I was Checkin’ Out She Was Checkin’ In/ Mercury 73385/ August 1973/ #29

Don Covay is an American R&B singer and songwriter most active in the 1950’s and 1960’s, who received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1994.

Early career

Don Covay was born in March 1938 in Orangeburg, South Carolina, USA. Covay resettled in Washington during the early 50’s and initially sang in the “Cherry Keys”, his family’s gospel quartet. He crossed over to secular music with the “Rainbows”, a formative group which also included Marvin Gaye and Billy Stewart. Covay’s solo career really began in 1957 as part of the Little Richard Revue.

Career achievements

A single “Bip Bop Bip” was released on Atlantic and produced by Little Richard, on which Covay was billed as “Pretty Boy”. It also featured his backing band the Upsetters.

Over the next few years Covay drifted from label to label, but a further dance-oriented track called “Popeye Waddle” was a hit in 1962.

Covay meanwhile honed his songwriting skills by penning a hit for Solomon Burke — “I’m Hanging Up My Heart for You”, while Gladys Knight & The Pips reached the US Top 20 with “Letter Full of Tears”.

Covay’s singing career continued to falter until 1964, when he signed to the Rosemart label. His debut single there with the Goodtimers, “Mercy Mercy” (accompanied by a young Jimi Hendrix on guitar), established his earthy bluesy style. Atlantic bought his contract, but while several R&B hits followed it was a year before Covay returned to the pop chart. “See Saw”, co-written with Steve Cropper and recorded at Stax, paved the way for more hits.

Don Covay’s songs still remain successful: Aretha Franklin won a Grammy for her performance of his composition “Chain of Fools” He is a legendary composer and singer, best known for his R&B classic compositions “Mercy Mercy”, “Chain of Fools”, “See Saw” and “Sookie Sookie”.

Covay had success as a singer as “Don Covay and The Goodtimers”, and his compositions have been recorded by such varied artists as Steppenwolf, Bobby Womack, The Rolling Stones, Wilson Pickett, The Small Faces, and many more.


In the mid 1990s Don Covay had a debilitating stroke, but he has recovered well. He is still active, composing new songs in the 21st century. His most recent album being Adlib released in 2000 which was his first album in 25 years.



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