Ask a few random people to list the definitive artists of soul music, and Sam Cooke’s name is one that probably won’t come up. Despite this, there’s nothing keeping him from being one of the most pivotal and important artists in black music. There’s no contesting that had Sam not died at his height, he’d be recognized by today's public as the important innovator, entrepreneur and iconic artist he was. But given a few generation gaps and his (relatively) small body of work, Cooke still hasn’t received the instant recognition or revival he deserves, leaving him for the most part relegated to the dustbin of pop culture consciousness. Still, Sam Cooke led an enormous life, well deserved of a gigantic pop star, and a larger than life persona like his begs for a biography; so here comes Peter Guralnick, author of a two-part Elvis biography (Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love) and a three part history of Blues, for his take on Cooke’s story.
The biography of an artist like Sam Cooke is inevitably going to be bound up in what the reader wants from it. Like the title of his anthology, Sam Cooke can almost be split up in two slightly overlapping halves: the man and his music. Most people’s interest will lie with the former, but Peter Guralnick leans toward the latter, and on a certain level it works; Guralnick seems more suited as a fact compiler than a prose specialist. He seasons his passages with an ample amount of relaxation and narrator profanities, lending dimension and a casual feel to the events he chronicles, but complaints might be levied against him for being a little too objective with the facts and too subjective with his observations. Dream Boogie is full of information, perhaps too much - an overload of extraneous trivia. The scope and ambition of the book demand that all the details be there, and so they are. At the same time, however, this kind of fact excess can be a blessing: for example, the events surrounding Sam’s death are here in all their sordidness, and all of Sam’s recording session information is here in rather explicit form.