Revision note: Our thanks to Marv Goldberg for turning up two notices about the Co-Ben company before it had settled on Cool as the name for its label. With the rediscovery of a solitary ad in Cash Box (September 19, 1953), Dan Kochakian has doubled Cool's known output (from 4 sides to 8). However, the 4 "new" sides that were announced in that ad were never released, so far as we can determine. And a 2017 CD release finally includes both Billy Boy Arnold tracks from Cool, as does a 2018 CD titled Windy City Dandies. Our thanks to Bob Eagle for a biographical sketch on the label's co-owner, Collenane Cosey; to Steve Cushing for more about Mrs. Cosey; to Dave Penny, Mark Sinclair Harris, and Stefan Wirz for help with the (very sparse) reissues—and to Dr. Robert Stallworth for a scan of a real live Cool 45.
Cool was among the tiniest of Chicago independents. It was in business for six or seven months. It conducted one recording session. There were two releases. Another two prospective releases never got past the announcement stage. The company nonetheless helped to launch the career of harmonica-playing bluesman Billy Boy Arnold.
What was first known as Co-Ben opened for business in March 1953. It lasted through September, maybe October, of that year. To our knowledge, all recording for Co-Ben took place in March 1953, at one session. Cool did not appear as the name of the label until the two singles were issued in July 1953. (Cool was described, on the labels and in both surviving advertisements, as a division of Co-Ben Recording.) We missed a couple of early indications of the company's activity because prior to the actual releases it was just Co-Ben. Our thanks go to Marv Goldberg for locating a short article in Billboard ("Bennett, Cosey Set up Co-Ben Recording," March 28, 1953, datelined March 21) and a blurb in the Chicago Defender ("Chicago Trio Forms Record Company Here," April 11, 1953, p. 18). The two Co-Ben announcements referred to two titles by Herbert Beard and one by Charlie Bennett, which obviously had been recorded already. Confusingly, the March 28 piece says the studio band was led by John Davis and the April 11 piece refers to it as the Hepsters (not to be confused with a doowop group that later recorded in Chicago for Ronel); Bob Carter wasn't tagged as the leader until the actual records were released.
Co-Ben was a partnership between Collenane Cosey, whose name appears twice in the composer credits, and Charlie Bennett, who, according to Steve Cushing, was her brother-in-law and was also a Cool artist. The Defender blurb further mentions Gwendolyn Bennett, who was Collenane Cosey's sister and Charlie Bennett's wife. The company's address was given as 1231 South Homan Avenue.
Collenane G. Cosey was born Collenane Clark in Illinois (most likely in Chicago, but confirmation would be nice) on November 12, 1909. She was the daughter of Palus and Maggie Clark, and in the 1910 and 1920 censuses was listed as residing at 2130 Fulton Street. In 1930, a "Coleman Clark," occupatiion "Decorator," was listed as living with brothers and sisters at 2126 Maypole Avenue; Bob Eagle thinks, plausibly, that "Coleman" was a garbling of Collenane. In 1943, she was credited, with Louis Jordan and her husband, Antonio Cosey, for "Ration Blues," which Jordan recorded in October (it was released on Decca 8654). Either Collenane or her sister Gwendolyn supposedly also wrote "Bonus Pay," which was recorded by Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson.
Collenane Cosey was the mother of Pete Cosey (1943-2012), a guitarist active as a session musician for Chess in the late 1960s, and a member of Miles Davis's band in 1974. Her husband Antonio died in July 1951, at the age of 44.
Co-Ben / Cool employed the mastering and pressing services of RCA Victor, as can be discerned from the matrix numbers. Maybe also the RCA Victor studio on Navy Pier... though we lack documentation on this.
Although the four released sides have consecutive matrix numbers, which suggest that they were recorded at the same session with the same studio band, there were two different headliners. For clarity's sake we've divided the listings by headliner. The two releases that didn't materialize were by Herbert Beard (sides placed with those that were released) and Charlie Bennett (which rate their own entry).
Bluesman Billy Boy Arnold was born William Arnold on September 16, 1935, in Chicago. His first public performances were on 47th Street with Bo Diddley’s street band, in which he played harmonica. When Co-Ben picked him up, he had not yet turned 18. Cosey and partners must have considered Bo Diddley's electric guitar and Jerome Green's maracas too rough and ready for the kind of recording session they had in mind, because they recorded Arnold with the suaver backing of Bob Carter's combo. Or it might just have been that they had Carter's combo already lined up for everything they planned to record.
"Hello Stranger" finds Arnold trying to sound like a cross between John Lee Williamson (in the harmonica intro, solo, and second verse) and Grant Jones, who recorded a number with the same title and a similar first verse for United in October 1952. In fact, Grant Jones' "Hello Stranger" was written by Sennabelle Richie Fenner, another Chicago-based female composer of blues. The Cool version is credited to Billy Boy Arnold, but we know better.
Although Bill Boy Arnold was not mentioned in the Co-Ben announcements of March 28 and April 11, 1953, Cool 101/102 by Herbert Beard was advertised in Billboard on July 11, 1953 (p. 39) and Cool 103 seems to have followed rather quickly. Backing was by the same ork as on the Beard single, and the RCA Victor matrix numbers are adjacent. Hence our conclusion that the Arnold sides were recorded in March 1953 and released in July 1953. Cool 103 rated a mention in the company's Cash Box ad of September 19.
Billy Boy Arnold (hca, voc); unidentified (ts); unidentified (p); unidentified (eg); Robert James Carter (b); unidentified (d).
Chicago, March 1953
|I Ain't Got No Money (Arnold)||Cool 103|
|Hello Stranger ("Arnold")||Cool 103, Red Lightnin RL 0012|
The Billy Boy Arnold sides appear to have been recorded first but released second, on Cool 103. In the RCA Victor matrix series, E3 stands for 1953. The CB matrix number appears on the 78 and the CW on the (even more insanely rare) 45, which for some reason ended up with more detailed label copy.
Red Lightnin RL 0012 was a British LP, issued in 1975 under the title Billy Boy Arnold: Blow the Back off It. "Hello Stranger" was transferred from a, well, less than pristine copy of Cool 103. The other tracks on the LP consisted of 2 unreleased Arnold sides from Chess and most of his output for Vee-Jay. See http://www.wirz.de/music/redlifrm.htm for a Red Lightnin discography.
In 2017, both Billy Boy Arnold sides were included in a 5-CD box set, Down Home Chicago Blues: Fine Boogie.
The Cool single came and went. Arnold's next recording opportunity arrived when Leonard Chess finally showed some interest in Bo Diddley. He actually cut two of his own numbers at the end of the first Bo Diddley session for Chess, in February 1955, but Leonard Chess did not seem interested in releasing them. So Arnold went across the street to Vee-Jay, which signed him in May 1955. At his first session for his new label, he recorded his breakthrough number, "I Wish You Would," whose family resemblance to "Diddley Daddy" did it no harm.
Herbert Beard (voc); unidentified (ts); unidentified (p); unidentified (eg); Robert James Carter (b); unidentified (d).
Chicago, March 1953
|E3CB-4066||Gal! You Need a Whippin' (Cosey)||Cool 101, Electro-Fi CD 3378|
|E3CB-4067||One Half Hour (Cosey)||Cool 102|
|Luxury Tax Blues (Cosey?)||Cool (unreleased)|
|Rhythm in My Soul||Cool (unreleased)|
Who Herbert Beard was, we have no idea. But he cut four sides for Co-Ben. The initial announcements for Co-Ben (Billboard, March 28, 1953; Chicago Defender, April 11, 1953, p. 18) mentioned only the titles that were left unreleased, and variously identified the band as the John Davis ork (March 28) or the Hepsters (April 11). What was actually released in July 1953, as Cool 101/102, used the two titles not prevously announced. Either Co-Ben wasn't quite accustomed to the release number concept, or at some point between March and July 1953, different pairings of the four Beard sides were planned but not used. Billboard ran a display ad for Cool 101/102 (July 11, 1953, p. 39) and a quick announcement for it ("Co-Ben Releases First Two Sides") in the same issue. The brief article referred to it is a Co-Ben release, not a Cool. In September, the Cash Box ad for Cool mentioned a second "Herb" Beard single. There is no evidence that it ever appeared. With just one session for Co-Ben, all four Herbert Beard sides go here. Recording in March 1953, release of Cool 101/102 in July.
We know only of 78 rpm releases on Cool 101/102, but Cool 103 was released on 45. A 45 of 101/102 might still be out there.
"Gal! You Need a Whippin'" was reissued in 2003 on an Electro-Fi CD, a various-artists compilation from Canada titled Midnite Blues Party Volume Two: Rare Blues and Rhythm & Blues from the 1940's & 1950's.
Cool 101, as it was billed there, was the focus of the company's only ad in Billboard, which appeared on July 11, 1953 (p. 39). Its theme of cartoon domestic violence is unlikely to have appealed to most readers, and the single got no further attention from the trade magazine (neither would Cool 103). Since the opening of Co-Ben had been announced in Billboard for March 28, 1953 ("Bennett, Cosey Set up Co-Ben Recording"), it seems that the partners took some time to decide on a name for their label, and some more time to get records pressed for release in July.
Courtesy of Dan Kochakian we learned of a second ad for Cool, which appeared in Cash Box on September 19, 1953 (p. 18). Mercifully free of illustrations, it appends to Cool 101/102 (now called 102) and Cool 103 "2 Sensational New Releases," for which artists and titles are provided but not numbers. Herbert Beard was due for a second single with "Luxury Tax Blues" and "Rhythm in My Soul." (The titles had first been mentioned in the Billboard article announcing Co-Ben's formation, back on March 28.) McGrath's R&B Indies (2nd edition, Vol. 1) puts the two titles that we know as Cool 101/102 on Cool 101, then ascribes two further Herbert Beard titles (without matrix numbers) to Cool 102. McGrath says they were "Luxury Tax Blues" and "Oh Rhythm." "Luxury Tax" is a number that Collenane Cosey (or was it Gwendolyn Bennett?) claimed to have written for Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, but it is credited on the original release to Vinson and Jessie Mae Robinson. McGrath also turns "One Half Hour" into "One Half Pint"; wherever his information came from, it wasn't directly from the Cash Box ad.
The Cash Box ad also promised a single by "Charley" Bennett, "Half Past Three" b/w "Zig Zag in Love." This wasn't mentioned by McGrath. According to the Billboard article of March 28, Charlie Bennett sang on "'Half-Past Three in the Morning,' a novelty." The same tune was mentioned in the Defender article of April 11. According to the Defender piece, the Bennett record was going to appear as the work of "Little Brother."
Charlie Bennett (voc); unidentified (ts); unidentified (p); unidenified (eg); Robert James Carter (b); unidentified (d).
Chicago, March 1953
|Half Past Three||Cool (unreleased)|
|Zig Zag in Love||Cool (unreleased)|
Anything we know of "Zig Zag in Love" derives from the one ad in Cash Box (September 19, 1953, p. 19). The ad marked the end of Cool and Co-Ben's effort to stay in business. Charlie Bennett's sides were surely done at the same session as the two by Billy Boy and the four by Herbert Beard; hence we have put the Bob Carter combo behind Bennett. Where the band was referred to in various ways in earlier Herbert Beard annoucements, neither of the earlier announcements of "Half Past Three" (March 28 and April 11) identified the band at all.
One of several questions about Co-Ben and Cool is who Bob Carter was. We are reasonably sure that this Bob Carter previously led a sextet in 1949, for another minuscule operation called Rim, whose street address (500 East 63rd Street) seems to put the company in a back room, either at Miracle Records or at Miracle's cooperative distributor (which at the time was housed at the same location.) Rim produced three vocal sides for singer Rudy Richardson and one instrumental, which appeared on Rim 100 and 101. We used to think the Bob Carter of Cool and Rim wasn't the Bob Carter who previously recorded for Specialty, Sunbeam, and Universal. That Bob Carter (full name Robert James Carter) played string bass; the Bob Carter who recorded for Rim was a non-playing leader who turned the bass playing over to Curtis Ferguson.
However, Bob Carter who played the bass was working in Chicago as a leader in 1953, and the only musician who has been identified as playing on the Co-Ben/Cool session is Curt Ferguson. Was this on the authority of Rim labels from 1949? We find it more likely that Robert James Carter put the band together for this session and played the bass himself. It's plausible that John Davis (mentioned as the leader in Billboard for March 28) played another instrument. We just don't know which one; we also don't know who else was in Bob Carter's working band in 1953.
As the solitary Billboard ad indicated, with just one Chicago-based distributor, the company wasn't going to move its product to any distant locales. After the two releases on Cool, in July 1953, and the fizzled announcement in September, heralding records promised since March that never arrived, nothing more was heard of Co-Ben or od Cool. The company exhausted its capital recording and mastering 8 sides and pressing and releasing 4 of them. Collenane Cosey retained her connection with Louis Jordan, who recorded his own version of "Gal, You Need a Whippin'" in January 1954, during a whirlwind series of sessions that took place immediately after he left Decca for Aladdin. It was released in February 1955 on Aladdin 3279 (see the review in Cash Box, February 26, 1955, p. 32, and an advertisement for the record in Cash Box for April 2, 1955, p. 69). By then, Cool had been completely forgotten.
The fate of the Co-Ben masters is unknown. Two Herbert Beards and the two Charlie Bennetts, announced but not released, have flown we know not where. The label's output has drawn little by way of reissue attention. One Billy Boy Arnold side was reissued on a Red Lightnin LP in 1975. Both finally made it, in much better sound, onto a 5-CD boxed set of Chicago blues in 2017 and a single CD from 2018 titled Windy City Dandies. One Herbert Beard side came out in 2003 in a various-artists compilation CD on the Electro-Fi label, and on the Windy City Dandies collection.
After Co-Ben and Cool closed, Collenane Cosey moved to Phoenix, Arizona. In 1956, she was operating Top Hat Cleaners at 533 East Jefferson; her son Pete spent his teenage years in Phoenix. She returned to Chicago at an unknown date, living at 909 West Foster Avenue. In the early 1970s, she ran a child care center that she made available after hours to the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, which used the space for music classes and rehearsals. Collenane Cosey died on September 3, 2010, at the age of 100.
Cool is a kind of obvious name for a record label. According to McGrath, the Chicago-based operation was the first R&B-oriented company to use it, but others would follow: a fairly prolific Cool label out of Harrison, New Jersey, was active from 1958 to 1961; a doo-wop Cool label of uncertain location was active in 1960; another blues label from Chicago in the 1960s. To these Bob Eagle adds the Miami-based label of one Dr. Cool, in the 1970s.
Our thanks to the late George Paulus, to Bill Sabis, and to Dr. Robert Stallworth for photos of some extremely rare records, to Bob Eagle for his biographical research, to Marv Goldberg for catching references to Co-Ben before it was Cool, and to Dave Penny for help with the very sparse reissues as well as the composer credits on two tunes Collenane Cosey told Steve Cushing she had written for Cleanhead Vinson.
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