Wayne Cochran, the influential singer dubbed “The White Knight of Soul” and writer of songs like “Last Kiss” and “Goin’ Back to Miami,” died November 21st in Miramar, Florida. He was 78.
Cochran’s son Christopher confirmed to the Miami Herald that the soul singer died following a battle with cancer. Cochran had resided in Florida since the mid-Eighties, when he left the music industry to become an evangelical minister in Miami.
“He was all about family,” Christopher Cochran, also a pastor, told the Miami Herald. “Over the course of his 25-year career in the music industry he employed over 300 people with different members of the band and the people at his church. He always looked after people. He ran his building like a big family.”
Known in the Sixties and Seventies for his towering platinum white pompadour, lively performances and volcanic stage presence, the Georgia-born singer penned his classic teen tragedy song “Last Kiss” at the age of 21. However, inspired by his friends and fellow Georgia singers like James Brown, Little Richard and Otis Redding – Cochran had played bass on some early Redding recordings – the crooner shifted towards blue-eyed soul and R&B as frontman of his C.C. Riders.
“I grew up with Otis and James and Little Richard, the horns and everything, I thought that was commonplace,” Cochran told Late Night With David Letterman in 1982.
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“So that’s why we put together an R&B band. And I had been hanging out with them, and to me rhythm and blues was like a more intense rock… it was a little more intense than Top 40 rock, and once you ever sung it and expressed yourself, you really couldn’t just go back to Top 40 rock… So I stayed with it, and tried to learn by hanging out with my friends and the people I begin to know in the black community, learn not only the music but the roots of it. I think that was important.”
While Cochran himself didn’t score many hits, his music would later impact the charts in the hands of other artists. “Last Kiss” largely went unnoticed when Cochran recorded his version in 1961, but a pair of covers – recorded nearly three decades apart – both climbed to Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100. J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers’ version of “Last Kiss” sold over one million copies to peak at Number Two in 1964.
Thirty-four years later, Pearl Jam’s rendition – recorded as a 1998 Christmas single for the band’s Ten Club – became charts-wise the biggest hit of the band’s Rock Hall career. Cochran would later influence artists ranging from Rod Stewart to the Blues Brothers, who covered “Goin’ Back to Miami” in 1980.
Cochran is also credited with discovering legendary jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius, who got his start by playing bass for the C.C. Riders as a teenager after auditioning for Cochran. Pastorius would soon go on to perform alongside Joni Mitchell, Pat Metheny and the Weather Report.
Reflecting on his music and unique look, Cochran told Letterman in 1982, “What I did was naively sit in front of my house… listen to the radio in my daddy’s car all night every night, and imagine what was happening at the Metropole [jazz venue] in New York, ’cause I figured one day I was gonna try to get there. So what I did then was put together a band doing what I thought I would have seen if I walked into the Metropole. Only when I got there, I found out there ain’t nobody doing it. So from stupidity, I created.”