Ry Cooder

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Ry Cooder
Ry Cooder playing.jpg
Cooder in 2009
Background information
Birth nameRyland Peter Cooder
Born (1947-03-15) March 15, 1947 (age 72)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Origin Santa Monica, California
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Musician
  • songwriter
  • film score composer
  • record producer
Instruments
Years active1967–present
Labels
Associated acts
Website RyCooder.com

Ryland Peter Cooder (born March 15, 1947) [2] is an American musician, songwriter, film score composer and record producer. He is a multi-instrumentalist but is best known for his slide guitar work, his interest in roots music from the United States, and his collaborations with traditional musicians from many countries.

Slide guitar guitar technique for steel guitars

Slide guitar is a particular technique for playing the guitar that is often used in blues-style music. The technique involves placing an object against the strings while playing to create glissando effects and deep vibratos. It typically involves playing the guitar in the traditional position with the use of a tubular "slide" fitted on one of the guitarist's fingers. The slide may be a metal or glass tube like the neck of a bottle. The term "bottleneck" was historically used to describe this type of playing. The strings are typically plucked while the slide is moved over the strings to change the pitch. The guitar may also be placed on the player's lap and played with a hand-held bar and is then referred to as "lap slide guitar" or "lap steel guitar".

Contents

Cooder's solo work draws upon many genres. He has played with John Lee Hooker, Captain Beefheart, Gordon Lightfoot, Ali Farka Touré, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Randy Newman, David Lindley, The Chieftains, The Doobie Brothers, and Carla Olson & the Textones (on record and film). He formed the band Little Village. He also produced the Buena Vista Social Club album (1997), which became a worldwide hit. Wim Wenders directed the documentary film of the same name (1999), which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2000.

John Lee Hooker American blues singer-songwriter and guitarist

John Lee Hooker was an American blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist. The son of a sharecropper, he rose to prominence performing an electric guitar-style adaptation of Delta blues. Hooker often incorporated other elements, including talking blues and early North Mississippi Hill country blues. He developed his own driving-rhythm boogie style, distinct from the 1930s–1940s piano-derived boogie-woogie.

Captain Beefheart American musician

Don Van Vliet was an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and visual artist best known by the stage name Captain Beefheart. He conducted a rotating ensemble called the Magic Band, with whom he recorded 13 studio albums between 1964 and 1982. His music blended elements of blues, free jazz, rock, and the avant-garde with idiosyncratic rhythms, absurdist wordplay, and his wide vocal range. Known for his enigmatic persona, Beefheart frequently constructed myths about his life and was known to exercise an almost dictatorial control over his supporting musicians. Although he achieved little commercial success, he sustained a cult following as a "highly significant" and "incalculable" influence on an array of new wave, punk, and experimental rock artists.

Gordon Lightfoot Canadian singer-songwriter

Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr. is a Canadian singer-songwriter guitarist who achieved international success in folk, folk-rock, and country music. He is credited with helping to define the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s. He is often referred to as Canada's greatest songwriter and is known internationally as a folk-rock legend.

Cooder was ranked eighth on Rolling Stone magazine's 2003 list of "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" [3] (David Fricke's Picks). A 2010 ranking by Gibson placed him at number 32. [4]

<i>Rolling Stone</i> American magazine focusing on popular culture, based in New York City

Rolling Stone is an American monthly magazine that focuses on popular culture. It was founded in San Francisco, California, in 1967 by Jann Wenner, who is still the magazine's publisher, and the music critic Ralph J. Gleason. It was first known for its musical coverage of rock music and for political reporting by Hunter S. Thompson. In the 1990s, the magazine broadened and shifted its focus to a younger readership interested in youth-oriented television shows, film actors, and popular music. It has returned to its traditional mix of content, including music, entertainment, and politics.

Early life

Cooder was born in Los Angeles, California, to father Bill Cooder and Italian-American mother Emma Casaroli. [5] He grew up in Santa Monica, California, and graduated from Santa Monica High School in 1964. During the 1960s, he briefly attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon. [6] He began playing the guitar when he was three years old. [7] He has had a glass eye since he was four, when he accidentally stuck a knife in his left eye. [7]

Los Angeles City in California

Los Angeles, officially the City of Los Angeles and often known by its initials L.A., is the most populous city in California; the second most populous city in the United States, after New York City; and the third-most populous city in North America, after Mexico City and New York City. With an estimated population of nearly four million people, Los Angeles is the cultural, financial, and commercial center of Southern California. The city is known for its Mediterranean climate, ethnic diversity, Hollywood, the entertainment industry, and its sprawling metropolis.

Italian Americans are citizens of the United States of America who are of Italian descent. Residing mainly in Northeastern and industrial Midwestern metropolitan areas, Italian Americans are one of the largest self-identified ethnic group of European Americans behind German Americans, Irish Americans and English Americans, though realistically the various Americans of British and Germanic ancestries that do not identify their ancestry in censuses or identify simply as “American” are much higher in number.

Santa Monica, California City in California, United States

Santa Monica is a beachfront city in western Los Angeles County, California, United States. Situated on Santa Monica Bay, it is bordered on three sides by the city of Los Angeles – Pacific Palisades to the north, Brentwood on the northeast, West Los Angeles on the east, Mar Vista on the southeast, and Venice on the south. The 2010 U.S. Census population was 89,736. Due in part to an agreeable climate, Santa Monica became a famed resort town by the early 20th century. The city has experienced a boom since the late 1980s through the revitalization of its downtown core, significant job growth and increased tourism. The Santa Monica Pier and Pacific Park remain popular destinations.

Career

1960s

As a young man Cooder performed as part of a pickup trio with Bill Monroe and Doc Watson, in which he played banjo. The trio was not a success, (“Well, son, you’re just not ready”, he remembered Monroe telling him after the first and only set he played with them), but Cooder applied banjo tunings and the three-finger roll to guitar instead. [8]

Bill Monroe American bluegrass musician, songwriter

William Smith Monroe was an American mandolinist, singer, and songwriter, who created the style of music known as bluegrass. Because of this, he is commonly referred to as the "Father of Bluegrass".

Doc Watson American guitarist, songwriter and singer

Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson was an American guitarist, songwriter, and singer of bluegrass, folk, country, blues, and gospel music. Watson won seven Grammy awards as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Watson's fingerstyle guitar and flatpicking skills, as well as his knowledge of traditional American music, were highly regarded. He performed with his son, guitarist Merle Watson, for over 15 years until Merle's death in 1985 in an accident on the family farm.

Banjo musical instrument

The banjo is a four-, five-, or six-stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity as a resonator, called the head, which is typically circular. The membrane is typically made of plastic, although animal skin is still occasionally used. Early forms of the instrument were fashioned by Africans in the United States, adapted from African instruments of similar design. The banjo is frequently associated with folk, Irish traditional, and country music. Banjo can also be used in some rock songs. Many rock bands, such as The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, and The Allman Brothers, have used the five-string banjo in some of their songs. Historically, the banjo occupied a central place in African-American traditional music and the folk culture of rural whites before entering the mainstream via the minstrel shows of the 19th century. Along with the fiddle, the banjo is a mainstay of American old-time music. It is also very frequently used in traditional ("trad") jazz.

Cooder first attracted attention playing with Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, notably on the 1967 album Safe As Milk , after previously having worked with Taj Mahal and Ed Cassidy in the Rising Sons . At a vital "warm-up" performance at the Mt. Tamalpais Festival (1967-06-10/11) shortly before the scheduled Monterey Pop Festival (1967-06-16/18), the band began to play "Electricity" and Don Van Vliet froze, straightened his tie, then walked off the 10 ft (3.0 m) stage and landed on manager Bob Krasnow. He later claimed he had seen a girl in the audience turn into a fish, with bubbles coming from her mouth. [9] This aborted any opportunity of breakthrough success at Monterey, as Cooder immediately decided he could no longer work with Van Vliet, [10] effectively quitting both the event and the band on the spot. Cooder also played with Randy Newman, including on 12 Songs . [11] Van Dyke Parks worked with Newman and Cooder during the 1960s. Parks arranged Cooder's "One Meatball" according to Parks' 1984 interview by Bob Claster.

Taj Mahal (musician) American recording artist; blues musician

Henry Saint Clair Fredericks, who uses the stage name Taj Mahal, is an American blues musician, a singer-songwriter and film composer who plays the guitar, piano, banjo, harmonica, and many other instruments. He often incorporates elements of world music into his works and has done much to reshape the definition and scope of blues music over the course of his more than 50-year career by fusing it with nontraditional forms, including sounds from the Caribbean, Africa, and the South Pacific.

Edward Claude Cassidy was an American jazz and rock drummer who was one of the founders of the rock group Spirit in 1967.

Rising Sons

Rising Sons was am American, Los Angeles, California-based band, which was founded in 1965. Their initial career was short-lived, but the group found retrospective fame for launching the careers of singer Taj Mahal and guitarist Ry Cooder.

Cooder was a session musician on various recording sessions with The Rolling Stones in 1968 and 1969, and his contributions appear on the albums Let It Bleed (Yank Rachell-style mandolin on "Love in Vain"), and Sticky Fingers , on which he contributed the slide guitar on "Sister Morphine". During this period, Cooder joined with Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, and longtime Rolling Stones sideman Nicky Hopkins to record Jamming with Edward! . Cooder also played slide guitar for the 1970 film soundtrack Performance , which contained Jagger's first solo single, "Memo from Turner". The 1975 compilation album Metamorphosis features an uncredited Cooder contribution on Bill Wyman's "Downtown Suzie".

Cooder also collaborated with Lowell George of Little Feat , playing pedal steel guitar on the original version of "Willin'". [12]

1970s

Throughout the 1970s, Cooder released a series of Warner Bros. Records albums that showcased his guitar work, initially on the Reprise Records label, before being reassigned to the main Warners label along with many of Reprise's artists when the company retired the imprint. Cooder explored bygone musical genres and found old-time recordings which he then personalized and updated. Thus, on his breakthrough album, Into the Purple Valley , he chose unusual instrumentations and arrangements of blues, gospel, calypso, and country songs (giving a tempo change to the cowboy ballad "Billy the Kid"). The album opened with the song "How Can You Keep on Moving (Unless You Migrate Too)" by Agnes "Sis" Cunningham about the Okies who were not welcomed when they migrated west to escape the Dust Bowl in the 1930s – to which Cooder gave a rousing-yet-satirical march accompaniment. In 1970 he collaborated with Ron Nagle and performed on his Bad Rice album released on Warner Brothers. His later 1970s albums (with the exception of Jazz , which explored ragtime/vaudeville) do not fall under a single genre description, but his self-titled first album could be described as blues; Into the Purple Valley, Boomer's Story , and Paradise and Lunch as folk and blues; Chicken Skin Music and Showtime as a mix of Tex-Mex and Hawaiian; Bop Till You Drop as 1950s' R&B; and Borderline and Get Rhythm as rock-based. His 1979 album Bop Till You Drop was the first popular music album released that was recorded digitally, using the early 3M digital mastering recorder.[ citation needed ] It yielded his biggest hit, an R&B cover version of Elvis Presley's 1960s recording "Little Sister".

Cooder is credited on Van Morrison's 1979 album, Into the Music , for slide guitar on the song "Full Force Gale". He also played guitar on Judy Collins' 1970 concert tour, and is featured on Living , the 1971 live album recorded during that tour. He also learned from and performed with Gabby Pahinui and "Atta" Isaacs in Hawaii during the Hawaiian Renaissance of the early 1970s. He is also credited for guitars on several 1971 recordings by Nancy Sinatra that were produced by Andy Wickman and Lenny Waronker – "Is Anybody Goin' To San Antone," "Hook & Ladder," and "Glory Road." Cooder is credited as a mandolin player on Gordon Lightfoot's Don Quixote album in 1972.

1980s

Cooder has worked as a studio musician and has also scored many film soundtracks including the Wim Wenders film Paris, Texas (1984). Cooder based this soundtrack and title song "Paris, Texas" on Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night (Cold Was the Ground)", which he described as "The most soulful, transcendent piece in all American music." [13] Musician Dave Grohl has declared Cooder's score for Paris, Texas one of his favorite albums. [14] In 2018 Cooder told BBC Radio 4 listeners: “[Wenders] did a very good job at capturing the ambience out there in the desert, just letting the microphones and the nagra machine roll and get tones and sound from the desert itself, which I discovered was E♭, was in the key of E♭ – that’s the wind, you know, was nice. So we tuned everything to E♭." [15]

"Dark Was the Night (Cold Was the Ground)" was also the basis for Cooder's song "Powis Square" for the movie Performance . His other film work includes Walter Hill's The Long Riders (1980), Southern Comfort (1981), Streets of Fire (1984), Brewster's Millions (1985), Johnny Handsome , [16] Last Man Standing (1996), Hill's Trespass (1992) and Mike Nichols' Primary Colors (1998). Cooder along with Arlen Roth dubbed all slide and regular Blues guitar parts in the 1986 film Crossroads , a take on blues legend Robert Johnson. In 1988, Cooder produced the album by his longtime backing vocalists Bobby King and Terry Evans on Rounder Records titled Live and Let Live. He contributed his slide guitar work to every track. He also plays extensively on their 1990 self-produced Rounder release Rhythm, Blues, Soul & Grooves. Cooder's music also appeared on two episodes of the television program "Tales From the Crypt" – "The Man Who Was Death" and "The Thing From the Grave." [17]

In 1984, Cooder played on two songs on the debut album by Carla Olson & the Textones Midnight Mission – "Carla's Number One is to Survive" and the previously unreleased Bob Dylan song "Clean Cut Kid". Shortly thereafter he was writing and recording the music for the film Blue City and asked the band to appear in the film performing. (He took them in the studio and produced "You Can Run" which he also played on.)

In 1985, Cooder was a guest artist on the song "Rough Edges" from Kim Carnes' album Barking at Airplanes. Kim named her son Ry as a tribute to Ry Cooder. He played electric slide guitar on The Beach Boys' 1988 hit Kokomo.

Also in 1988, Cooder produced and featured in the Les Blank directed concert documentary film Ry Cooder & The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces: Let's Have a Ball where he plays in collaboration with a selection of musicians famous in their various musical fields. [18] The following year, he played a janitor in the Jim Henson series The Ghost of Faffner Hall , in the episode "Music Is More Than Technique". [19]

1990s

In the early 1990s Cooder collaborated on two world music "crossover" albums, which blended the traditional American musical genres that Cooder has championed throughout his career with the contemporary improvised music of India and Africa. For A Meeting by the River (1993), which also featured his son Joachim Cooder on percussion, he teamed with Hindustani classical musician V.M. Bhatt, a virtuoso of the Mohan Veena (a modified 20-string archtop guitar of Bhatt's own invention) and Sukhvinder Singh Namdhari also known as Pinky Tabla Player. In 1995 he teamed with African multi-instrumentalist Ali Farka Toure on the album Talking Timbuktu , which he also produced; the album also featured longtime Cooder collaborator Jim Keltner on drums, veteran blues guitarist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, jazz bassist John Patitucci and African percussionists and musicians including Hamma Sankare and Oumar Toure. Both albums won the Grammy Award for 'Best World Music Album' in 1994 and 1995 respectively. Cooder also worked with Tuvan throat singers for the score to the 1993 film Geronimo: An American Legend .

In 1995 he performed in The Wizard of Oz in Concert: Dreams Come True , a musical performance of the popular story at the Lincoln Center in New York to benefit the Children's Defense Fund. The performance was originally broadcast on both TBS and TNT. It was issued on CD and video in 1996.

In the late 1990s Cooder played a significant role in the increased appreciation of traditional Cuban music, due to his collaboration as producer of the Buena Vista Social Club (1997) recording, which became a worldwide hit and revived the careers of some of the greatest surviving exponents of 20th century Cuban music. Wim Wenders, who had previously directed 1984's Paris, Texas , directed a documentary film of the musicians involved, Buena Vista Social Club (1999), which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2000. [20] The enterprise cost him a $25,000 fine for violating the United States embargo against Cuba. [21] [22]

2000s

Cooder's 2005 album Chávez Ravine was touted by his record label as being "a post-World War II-era American narrative of 'cool cats', radios, UFO sightings, J. Edgar Hoover, red scares, and baseball". [23] The record is a tribute to the long-gone Los Angeles Latino enclave known as Chávez Ravine. Using real and imagined historical characters, Cooder and friends created an album that recollects various aspects of the poor but vibrant hillside Chicano community which no longer exists. Cooder says, "Here is some music for a place you don’t know, up a road you don’t go. Chávez Ravine, where the sidewalk ends." [23] Drawing from the various musical strains of Los Angeles, including conjunto, R&B, Latin pop, and jazz, Cooder and friends conjure the ghosts of Chávez Ravine and Los Angeles at mid-century. On this fifteen-track album, sung in Spanish and English, Cooder is joined by East L.A. legends like Chicano music patriarch Lalo Guerrero, Pachuco boogie king Don Tosti, Thee Midniters front man Little Willie G, and Ersi Arvizu, of The Sisters and El Chicano.

Cooder's next record was released in 2007. Entitled My Name Is Buddy , it tells the story of Buddy Red Cat, who travels and sees the world in the company of his like-minded friends, Lefty Mouse and Rev. Tom Toad. The entire recording is a parable of the working class progressivism [24] of the first half of the American twentieth century, and even has a song featuring executed unionist Joe Hill. My Name Is Buddy was accompanied by a booklet featuring a story and illustration (by Vincent Valdez) for each track, providing additional context to Buddy's adventures.

Cooder produced and performed on an album for Mavis Staples entitled We'll Never Turn Back , which was released on April 24, 2007. The concept album focused on Gospel songs of the civil rights movement and also included two new original songs by Cooder. [25]

Cooder's album I, Flathead was released on June 24, 2008. It is the completion of his California trilogy. Based on the drag racing culture of the early 1960s, the album is set on the desert salt flats in southern California. The disc was also released as a deluxe edition with stories written by Cooder to accompany the music.

In late 2009, Cooder toured Japan, New Zealand and Australia with Nick Lowe, performing some of Lowe's songs and a selection of Cooder's own material, mainly from the 1970s. Joaquim Cooder (Ry's son) provided percussion, and Juliette Commagere and Alex Lilly contributed backing vocals.

The song "Diaraby", which Cooder recorded with Ali Farka Touré, is used as the theme to The World's Geo Quiz. The World is a radio show distributed by Public Radio International.

In 2009, Cooder performed in The People Speak , a documentary feature film that uses dramatic and musical performances of the letters, diaries, and speeches of everyday Americans, based on historian Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States . Cooder performed with Bob Dylan and Van Dyke Parks on the documentary broadcast on December 13, 2009 on the History Channel. They played "Do Re Mi" and reportedly a couple of other Guthrie songs that were excluded from the final edit. He also traveled with the band Los Tigres del Norte and recorded the 2010 album San Patricio with the Chieftains, Lila Downs, Liam Neeson, Linda Ronstadt, Van Dyke Parks, Los Cenzontles, and Los Tigres. [26] [27]

2010s

In June 2010, responding to the passage of Arizona SB 1070, he released the single "Quicksand", which tells the story of Mexicans attempting to emigrate to Arizona through the desert. [28] [29] Cooder's critically acclaimed [30] [31] new album Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down , released on August 30, 2011, contains politically charged songs such as "No Banker Left Behind" [32] which was inspired by a Robert Scheer column. [33]

In 2011, he published a collection of short stories called Los Angeles Stories , written about people living in Los Angeles in the 1940s and 1950s. The book's characters are mostly talented or skilled, clever or hardworking people living in humble circumstances. With story titles such as "La vida es un sueño" and "Kill me, por favor", the collection's stories often have a Hispanic theme, and the book deals partially with Latinos living in Los Angeles during this time.

Ry Cooder playing the electric bouzouki while performing with Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White, McGlohon Theater, Charlotte, NC, August 19, 2015 Ry Cooder 19Aug2015 (2).jpg
Ry Cooder playing the electric bouzouki while performing with Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White, McGlohon Theater, Charlotte, NC, August 19, 2015

An American Songwriter article in 2012 suggested that Cooder's recent string of solo albums have often taken on an allegorical, sociopolitical bent. Music journalist Evan Schlansky said that "Cooder’s latest effort, Election Special (released August 21, 2012, on Nonesuch/Perro Verde) doesn’t mince words. It’s designed to send a message to the “'deacons in the High Church of the Next Dollar'.” [34] The album (Election Special) was composed as his part in support of the Democratic Party and President Barack Obama in the 2012 American Presidential Election.

On September 10, 2013, Cooder released Live in San Francisco , featuring the Corridos Famosos band, including Joachim Cooder on drums; Robert Francis on bass; vocalists Terry Evans, Arnold McCuller, and Juliette Commagere; Flaco Jiménez on accordion; and the Mexican brass band La Banda Juvenil. The album was recorded during a two-night run at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, August 31 and September 1, 2011. It is Cooder's first official live recording since Show Time in 1977 (which had also been recorded at Great American Music Hall). [35]

In 2015, Cooder toured with Ricky Skaggs, Sharon White and other members of The Whites with their “Music for The Good People” show. [36] The tour continued through into 2016.

On May 11, 2018, Cooder released his first solo album in six years entitled The Prodigal Son . [37]

Awards

Discography

Singles

Solo albums

Compilations

Collaborations

Soundtracks

As guest musician

Films

Written works

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References

  1. Chinen, Nate (November 15, 2015). "Review: Ry Cooder, Ricky Skaggs and the Whites, a Roots-Music Celebration". The New York Times .
  2. Gillett, Charlie (primary contributor). "Ry Cooder". Encyclopædia Britannica . Retrieved August 30, 2011.
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  4. "Gibson.com Reveals Top 50 Guitarists, Plus Readers Poll Results". Gibson Guitar Corporation. May 28, 2010. Archived from the original on June 1, 2010. Retrieved June 3, 2010.
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  6. Wilkinson, Alec (June 1, 1999). "Who Put The Honky Tonk in 'Honky Tonk Women'?". Esquire . Retrieved June 2, 2009.
  7. 1 2 Entry for "Ry Cooder", in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Touchstone (revised, updated edition); November 8, 2001; ISBN   978-0743201209
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  9. French, John. Beefheart: Through The Eyes Of Magic, p.253. ISBN   978-0-9561212-1-9
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  18. RondoHatton (August 31, 1991). "Ry Cooder & The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces: Let's Have a Ball (1988)". IMDb. Retrieved January 7, 2015.
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Awards
Preceded by
Kenny Vaughan
AMA Lifetime Achievement Award for Instrumentalist
2007
Succeeded by
Larry Campbell