The History of Don Covay


Don Covay (born in 1938) is an American singer-songwriter distinguished for his compositions for other artists as well as known for his own recordings. The son of a Baptist preacher, Covay turned to secular music when he became a member of a short-lived group The Rainbows, which included future stars Marvin Gaye and Billy Stewart. He went on to work with Little Richard and his Little Richard Revue. He recorded in various labels until and scored Hot 100 pop hit such “Pony Time” (later a #1 hit for Chubby Checker) and “The Popeye Waddle.” Covay achieved his first R&B hit together with his band The Goodtimers, “Mercy, Mercy” which also reached the Top 40 in 1964. He would score two more Top 10 R&B hits: “See-Saw” and “I Was Checkin’ Out – I Was Checkin’ In”. His songwriting career was far more successful, having penned hits for or his songs having been popularized by Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, Wilson Picket, The Small Faces, Grant Greeen, Peter Wolf, Steppenwolf and so many others.

Young Covay

Born Donald Randolph in Orangeburg, South Carolina on March 24, 1938, Don Covay is an American R&B/rock n roll/soul music singer who enjoyed his peak of success in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He was the son of a Baptist preacher who died when he was eight years old. During the 1950’s, Covay moved to Washington DC where he primarily sang along with his siblings in their family gospel quartet The Cherry Keys.

Covay’s music career

Due to peer pressure, he switched to secular music with the local doo wop group the Rainbows wherein Billy Stewart and Marvin Gaye were his band mates. In 1956, the band released the single “Shirley” which did not become a hit. Later on, Covay worked as a chauffeur for his idol Little Richard while at the same time, he performed as Little Richard’s opening act for his shows as a solo artist. In 1957, Little Richard produced Covay’s debut release on Atlantic “Bip Bop Bip,” on which was billed as “Pretty Boy.”  In 1961, he co-wrote with John Berry the song “Pony Time” which was recorded by Chubby Checker. It became Chubby Checker’s second chart-topper after “The Twist.”  The following years, he jumped from label to label and was signed to Cameo in 1962 where he issued the minor hit “The Popeye Waddle.” The “popeye” dance craze was later followed by three lesser hits: “Wiggle Wobble,” “Ain’t That Silly” and The “Froog.”

Covay was signed to the Rosemart label in 1964 where he and his band the Goodtimers issued the single “Mercy, Mercy.” The bluesy guitar of “Mercy, Mercy” was performed by the then-unknown Jimi Hendrix. Atlantic bought the song for distribution. “Mercy, Mercy” topped the R&B charts and also went to #35 on the pop chart. Subsequently, Covay entered the Hot 100 with “Take This Hurt Off Me” which paved way for more minor hits such as “See-Saw” (#44 US, 1965), “I Was Checkin’ Out/She Was Checkin’ In” (#29, 1973), and “It’s Better To Have (And Don’t Need)” (#63, 1974) among others.

In 1968, Covay penned a song for Aretha Franklin entitled “Chain of Fools” where she won a Grammy for her performance. Being a well-known composer and singer, his songs remain R&B classics.  Through the years, several of his songs have been recorded by varied artists: The Rolling Stones, Steppenwolf, Bobby Womack, Wilson Picket, The Small Faces, Peter Wolf, Grant Green to name a few.

In 1992, Covay suffered from stroke. Fortunately, he recovered and the following year, he was awarded by the Rhythm & Blues Foundation with the Pioneer Award. After twenty three years, he released an LP, Adlib,  in 2000.