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Don Covay 1938-2015


Researching this Wilson Pickett book can at times feel like I’m shadowing the Reaper. Pickett would have turned 74 this year, so it’s understandable that many of his peers have either passed already, or are in the twilight of their lives. Some – such as Bobby Womack – passed on while my book was still being shopped around, and it would not be appropriate for me to tell you the names of all the musicians who are still with us, but who I am unlikely to interview due to their ill health.

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One exception was Don Covay, a soul singer and close running buddy of Wilson Pickett, but probably best celebrated for his songwriting chops, “Chain of Fools,” “Mercy Mercy” and “See Saw” among them. Covay had a major stroke some twenty-two years back, but that did not prevent his family welcoming me to come see him late last year at their home out in Queens, the same family residence that once saw almost every major soul star of the era stop by to hang out, party and sing until dawn. Covay was wheel-chair bound, and talking was not easy; there were no selfies to share with you. I was fortunate that a close friend of his, a former member of Covay’s early 1960s group the Goodtimers that first recorded “Mercy Mercy” with a young Jimi Hendrix in the line-up, stopped by at the same time, so that he and Covay could reminisce and I could share those memories.

Don Covay passed on Friday at the age of 76. One of his other significant achievements had been to help form The Soul Clan in 1967, an attempt at a degree of autonomy and self-determination from the many successful male soul singers on the Atlantic stable. Pickett was meant to be part of the studio collaboration but, not untypically, bailed at the last moment. Covay was joined by Ben E. King, Solomon Burke, Arthur Conley and Joe Tex. King is now the only surviving member. I am happy to report that he, at least, still seems right as rain.

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