From National Public Radio:
"When he first played it for Bobby Womack, who was his protégé, he said, 'What's it sound like?' And Bobby said, 'It sounds like death.' Sam said, 'Man, that's kind of how it sounds like to me. That's why I'm never going to play it in public.' And Bobby sort of rethought it and said, 'Well, it's not like death, but it sounds kind of spooky.'"
It was more than spooky. Just before the song was to be released as a single in December of 1964, Sam Cooke would be shot to death at a motel in Los Angeles.Mystery has always surrounded Cooke's death. A Performing Songwriter on the subject concludes:
There were all kinds of theories around his death—a drug deal involving someone close to Sam in which Sam tried to intervene, a Mafia hit, a set-up devised by a jealous Barbara Cooke. Many believed it was a racist plot in the entertainment business.
As with any rising star (not to mention one of color in the early 1960s), Sam had made some enemies. As one woman friend of his said, “He was just getting too big for his britches for a suntanned man.”Anyway, it's a wonderful, wonderful song.