Don Covay

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Don Covay
Birth name Donald James Randolph
Born (1936-03-24)March 24, 1936
Orangeburg, South Carolina, United States
Died January 31, 2015(2015-01-31) (aged 78)
Franklin Square, New York, United States
Genres R&B, rock and roll, soul, blues
Occupation(s) Singer, songwriter
Instruments Vocals
Labels Red Robin, Pilgrim, Atlantic, Sue, Big Top, Arnold, Columbia, Cameo-Parkway, Rosemart, Mercury, Philadelphia International, Newman
Associated acts The Rainbows, Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix

Donald James Randolph (March 24, 1936 – January 31, 2015), better known by his stage name Don Covay, was an American R&B, rock and roll and soul singer and songwriter most active from the 1950s to the 1970s. His most successful recordings included "Mercy, Mercy" (1964), "See-Saw" (1965), and "It's Better To Have (And Don't Need)" (1974). Other songs written by Covay included "Pony Time", a US #1 hit for Chubby Checker, and "Chain of Fools", a Grammy-winning song for Aretha Franklin. He received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1994.

Writing in The Washington Post after his death, Terence McArdle said: "Mr. Covay’s career traversed nearly the entire spectrum of rhythm-and-blues music, from doo-wop to funk."[1]

Life and career[edit]

Donald Randolph was born in Orangeburg, South Carolina, United States. His father was a Baptist preacher who died when Don was eight.[2] Covay resettled in Washington, D.C. during the early 1950s and initially sang in the Cherry Keys,[note 1] his family's gospel quartet. He crossed over to secular music with the Rainbows, a group which also occasionally included Marvin Gaye and Billy Stewart, and made his first recordings with the Rainbows in 1956.[3]

Covay's solo career began in 1957 as part of the Little Richard Revue, when he worked both as the star's chauffeur and opening act. A single "Bip Bop Bip", on which Covay was billed as "Pretty Boy", was released on Atlantic, produced by Little Richard and featuring his backing band the Upsetters. Over the next few years Covay drifted from label to label, eventually signing for Columbia Records in 1961, but success remained elusive. Later that year, however, he had his first chart success, when "Pony Time", a song he co-wrote with fellow Rainbows member John Berry, reached No. 60 on the Billboard pop chart, issued on the small Arnold label and credited to his group The Goodtimers. The song was later recorded by Chubby Checker and became a US No 1 single.[3]

In 1962 he had his first hit under own name, with "The Popeye Waddle", a dance-oriented track. He also started writing songs for Roosevelt Music in the Brill Building in New York, writing a hit for Solomon Burke, "I'm Hanging Up My Heart for You".[4] Gladys Knight & the Pips reached the US Top 20 with "Letter Full of Tears", and Wilson Pickett recorded Covay's song "I'm Gonna Cry (Cry Baby)" as his first single on Atlantic. Covay's singing career continued to falter until 1964, when he had one of his biggest pop hits on the small Atlantic-distributed Rosemart label with "Mercy, Mercy", co-written with Goodtimers guitarist Ronnie Miller, which established his earthy bluesy style and featured a young Jimi Hendrix on guitar. The following year the song was recorded by The Rolling Stones on the album Out of Our Heads, with Mick Jagger closely following Covay's singing style.[3]

Atlantic bought Covay's contract but, while minor R&B hits followed, it was a year before Covay returned to the pop chart with "See-Saw", co-written with guitarist Steve Cropper and recorded at Stax along with "I Never Get Enough of Your Love", "Sookie Sookie" (both also co-created by Covay and Cropper), and "Iron Out the Rough Spots" (by Cropper, Booker T. Jones, and David Porter).[5] Covay's relationship with Stax's staff has been described as difficult, both with its musicians[6][7] and management,[8] but Cropper ascribed this to executive Jim Stewart's more conservative persona clashing with Covay's unpredictable creative character, and emphasized his appreciation of Covay: "I loved Don to death. We get along great but I don't think Jim and them understood Don. He thinks in different areas and he was kind of driving people bananas".[8] According to Carla Thomas the musicians enjoyed working with artists sent by Atlantic such as Covay and Wilson Pickett, but resented having to give them studio time.[7] On "See-Saw", Covay "achieved an even more powerfully soulful edge", but failed to maintain his momentum as a performer and most of his later recordings for Atlantic failed to chart. However, his song-writing continued to be successful, as he wrote songs for Etta James, Otis Redding, Little Richard (his 1965 hit, "I Don't Know What You Got But It's Got Me"), and, most notably, Aretha Franklin, who had a hit in 1968 with "Chain of Fools", a song Covay had written some fifteen years earlier. Franklin won a Grammy for her performance.[3] Over the years Covay's compositions have been recorded by such varied artists as Gene Vincent, Wanda Jackson, Connie Francis, Steppenwolf, Bobby Womack, The Rolling Stones, Wilson Pickett, Small Faces, Grant Green, Peter Wolf and many more.

Covay organized the Soul Clan, a collective venture with Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, Ben E. King and Arthur Conley, in 1968, but it was relatively unsuccessful. In 1969, he joined with former Shirelles guitarist Joe Richardson and blues and folk singer John P. Hammond to form the Jefferson Lemon Blues Band. The band had a minor hit single, "Black Woman" and recorded two albums, The House of Blue Lights and Different Strokes for Different Folks, before splitting up.

Covay then joined Mercury Records in 1972, as an A&R executive, while also starting to record his album Superdude. The album yielded two of his most successful songs, "I Was Checkin' Out, She Was Checkin' In" and "Somebody's Been Enjoying My Home." He followed up with two more successful singles, "It's Better to Have (And Don't Need)" in 1974, followed by "Rumble in the Jungle," inspired by the heavyweight boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. In the late 1970s he recorded for Philadelphia International Records, but then withdrew from recording for several years, reappearing as a backing singer on the Rolling Stones' 1986 album Dirty Work.[3]

Don Covay had a stroke in 1992, and the following year Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones appeared, with Iggy Pop, Todd Rundgren and others on a Covay tribute album Back to the Streets: Celebrating the Music of Don Covay. The same year he was presented by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation with one of its Pioneer Awards.[3]

He released an album Adlib in 2000 on the Cannonball label, his first album in 23 years. Collaborating musicians included Paul Rodgers, Wilson Pickett, Lee Konitz, Otis Clay, Kim Simmonds, Ann Peebles, Syl Johnson, Paul Shaffer, Huey Lewis, and Dan Penn. The cover art was by Ronnie Wood.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Interviewed by UK's Record Mirror in 1967, Covay said: "Singing is my first love, but I like to express my thoughts in the songs I write as well as in the way I sing them. I am always looking for experiences we all know and try to relate them through both my writing and my singing. This is why I think ‘Mercy, Mercy’ became so popular. It was down-to-earth, and everyone immediately recognized the meaning of the song from first-hand experience.”[1]

Covay’s wife, the former Yvonne Darby, died in 1981 and their son, Donald Covay Jr., died in 2009. Covay died after a stroke on January 31, 2015 at the age of 78.[1][10][11]

His survivors include four children, Wendy Covay of Washington, Wanda Richardson of Chicago, Ursula Covay Parkes of Queens and Antonio Covay of Suitland, Maryland; three brothers, Eddie Randolph of Washington, Thomas Randolph of the Bronx, and Leroy Randolph of Brooklyn; and five grandchildren.[1]



  • Mercy! (1965)
  • See Saw (1966)
  • The House of Blue Lights (1969)
  • Country Funk (1970)
  • Different Strokes for Different Folks (1971)
  • Super Dude (1973)
  • Hot Blood (1975)
  • Travelin' in Heavy Traffic (1976)
  • Funky Yo Yo (1977)
  • Adlib (2000)
  • Super Bad (2009)

Chart singles[edit]

Year Single
Credited to Don Covay unless stated otherwise
Chart Positions
US Pop[12] US
1961 "Pony Time"
The Goodtimers
60 - -
1962 "The Popeye Waddle" 75 - -
1964 "Mercy, Mercy"
Don Covay & The Goodtimers
35 - -
"Take This Hurt Off Me" 97 - -
1965 "Please Do Something"
Don Covay & The Goodtimers
- 21 -
Don Covay & The Goodtimers
44 5 -
1967 "Shingaling '67" - 50 -
1968 "Soul Meeting"
The Soul Clan (Solomon Burke, Arthur Conley, Don Covay, Ben E. King, Joe Tex)
91 34 -
1970 "Black Woman"
Don Covay & the Jefferson Lemon Blues Band
- 43 -
1973 "I Was Checkin' Out, She Was Checkin' In" 29 6 -
"Somebody's Been Enjoying My Home" - 63 -
1974 "It's Better To Have (And Don't Need)" 63 21 29
1975 "Rumble In The Jungle" - 83 -
1980 "Badd Boy" - 74 -


  1. ^ Some sources give the name as Cherokees.


  1. ^ a b c d Terence McArdle. "Don Covay, soul singer of ‘Mercy, Mercy,’ dies at 76". The Washington Post. Retrieved 12 February 2015. 
  2. ^ Rhythm and Blues Foundation Website
  3. ^ a b c d e f Biography by Jason Ankeny, Retrieved 2 February 2015
  4. ^ Ace Records. "Various Artists (Songwriter Series) - Have Mercy! The Songs Of Don Covay - Ace Records". Retrieved 12 February 2015. 
  5. ^ Bowman Rob (1986). Soulsville, U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records. Music Sales Group. p. 62. ISBN 0825672848. 
  6. ^ Gordon, Robert (2013). Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 129. ISBN 1608194175. 
  7. ^ a b Freeland, David (2001). Ladies of Soul. University Press of Mississippi. p. 69. ISBN 1604737271. 
  8. ^ a b Bowman Rob (1986). Soulsville, U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records. Music Sales Group. p. 63. ISBN 0825672848. 
  9. ^ Al Campbell. "Adlib - Don Covay". AllMusic. Retrieved 2 February 2015. 
  10. ^ "Oldies Music -- News". Retrieved 2 February 2015. 
  11. ^ "The Dead Rock Stars Club - January to June 2015". Retrieved 2 February 2015. 
  12. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955-2002 (1st ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 155. ISBN 0-89820-155-1. 
  13. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-1995. Record Research. p. 96. 
  14. ^ Betts, Graham (2004). Complete UK Hit Singles 1952-2004 (1st ed.). London: Collins. p. 175. ISBN 0-00-717931-6. 

External links[edit]