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Cooder, Ry

Ry Cooder

Guitarist, composer

With over a dozen solo albums, ten soundtrack LPs, and countless studio dates to his credit, Ry Cooder has become one of the most tasteful and in-demand guitarists in the music world. He has drawn on a wide variety of influences, including the blues, rhythm and blues, Hawaiian, Norteno, and even vaudeville, to create an exceptionally unique voice on his instrument. "The sounds he makes and the images those sounds evoke place him closer to Zen masters and Impressionist painters than to other guitarists," wrote Bud Scoppa in Guitar World.

Cooder's musical education began at the age of four, when his father taught him some basic chords on a four-string tenor guitar. As his hands and abilities developed, he progressed to a full-size Martin, by which time the eight-year-old had become proficient enough to play folk songs from his parents' record collection. Four years later Cooder heard the haunting slide guitar work of Blind Willie Johnson and set out on a path to search for, and absorb, as much of the old acoustic blues as he could find. A local mailman opened up an entire world for Cooder by turning him on to obscure artists like Skip James, Reverend Gary Davis, Leadbelly, Blind Blake, and Jesse Fuller. After losing an eye to a knife accident, the youngster bypassed normal childhood activities like Little League baseball in order to master these peculiar styles. The effect of a Big Joe Williams record helped to plot Cooder's path. "It moved me up—it got me to sweat!…. I wanted to hear that slam, you know? So I declared myself on the side of the energetic movement," he told Guitar World.

Learned from His Idols

Most young people of his age were enamored with the early rockers like Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, so Cooder experienced limited musical exchange with his peers. Instead, his education took place in a small club called the Ash Grove, where Cooder was able to experience up close the techniques of his idols. "I was lucky," he told James Henke in Rolling Stone. "I saw a lot of good things firsthand, and I heard them the way they were supposed to be heard." Cooder began to work closely with Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence, whose use of open tunings made a lasting impression on Cooder's own style. Originally using them for rhythm work, he soon discovered their potential for slide and continues to use the open tunings—mainly D (D, A,D,F#,A,D) and G (D,G,D,G,B,D)—for his contemporary work.

A former winner of the prestigious Topanga Canyon Banjo and Fiddle Contest, Cooder maintains a reputation as a perfectionist. "I've watched Ry perform during the years and remember the mumbling and swearing under his breath as he would miss notes or phrases that sounded just fine to everyone's else," wrote Bob Baxter in Guitar Player. Cooder found a kindred spirit in Taj Mahal, and in 1966 the two formed Rising Sons, which lasted just long enough to be captured on vinyl with the LP Taj Mahal. Shortly after, Cooder's playing caught the ear of Captain Beefheart, an off-the-wall, eccentric bluesman who employed Cooder for his now infamous debut LP, Safe as Milk.

After circulating around the L.A. club scene, Cooder was brought into the studios to work as a sideman by the Byrds' producer, Terry Melcher. His giant-mosquito tone soon found its way onto records by Randy Newman ("Let's Burn Down The Cornfield"), Little Feat ("Forty-Four Blues"), and even the Rolling Stones ("Let It Bleed"). Producer Jack Nitzsche used Cooder for the film scores to Performance and Blue Collar, and taught the young guitarist a few tricks. "Don't play so much into it all the time; play off of it," Cooder recalled to Guitar Player of the lessons, "and get your subtext operating, which is real important."

Became Sought After Player

Unable to read music, Cooder at first found studio work intimidating. Once he learned the procedure and his role, however, he became one of the most sought-after players. "My job seemed to consist of taking strange instruments which were not as yet clichéd in the rock field—like mandolin or dulcimer, even bottleneck guitar—and pump 'em up, play 'em hard, and integrate myself into the ensemble as a color or sound effect," he told Down Beat. As the 1970s rolled in, musical trends and tastes changed, and as producers began calling for a more jazz flavored guitar sound, Cooder found his particular style to be in less demand and decided it was time to get out.

Encouraged to go solo, Cooder released his self-titled debut LP in 1970. The album, like his entire catalog, found Cooder digging up and recreating obscure and seemingly forgotten gems like "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times as These" by Alfred Reed. The next two LPs found Cooder intertwining exceptional acoustic and bottleneck slide guitars on songs by Fitz Maclean, Dickey Doo, Sleepy John Estes, Skip James, and others. Besides bringing in Earl "Fatha" Hines for a splendid duet on "Ditty Wa Ditty," his fourth LP, Paradise and Lunch, included backup singer Bobby King, whose collaboration with Cooder over the years has been an extremely important ingredient to the guitarist's overall sound.

Unfortunately, writers, including Dave Marsh, began to label his work. "Cooder's role is not so much to be a hitmaker or even an artist," Marsh wrote in Rolling Stone, "but to act as the only curator of our continent's musical heritage." Despite that type of categorizing, Cooder spent the next two years searching out two more masters whose styles were as remote from the current trends as one could get. He ventured to Hawaii to study with slack-key virtuoso Gabby Pahinui and ended up playing on The Gabby Pahinui Band LP. The next stop for Cooder was Austin, Texas, where he was drawn by the music of accordionist Flaco Jimenez. Cooder spent six months learning to play the instrument himself, and in the process formed a longlasting friendship with the Mexican-American.

For the Record …

Born Ryland Cooder on March 15, 1947, in Santa Monica, CA; son of W.H. Cooder (an accountant); married Susan Titleman (an artist); children: Joachim.

Played with Jackie DeShannon, 1963; formed group Rising Sons with Taj Mahal, 1966; performed with Captain Beefheart, 1967; studio musician on recordings of numerous artists, including Randy Newman, Little Feat, Maria Muldaur, and the Rolling Stones; composer of musical scores for numerous motion pictures, including Candy, 1968, Performance, 1970, The Long Riders, 1980, Southern Comfort, 1981, The Border, 1982, Paris, Texas, 1984, Streets of Fire, 1985, Brewster's Millions, 1986; Crossroads, 1986; Pecos Bill (soundtrack), 1988; Johnny Handsome (soundtrack), 1989; Trespass (soundtrack), 1992; (with Ali Farke Toure) Talking Timbuktu, 1994; (with Buena Vista Social Club) Buena Vista Social Club, 1997; (with Ibrahim Ferrer) Buenos Hermanos, 2003; (with Manuel Galban) Mambo Sinuendo, 2003; and Chavez Ravine, 2005.

Awards: Grammy Awards for Best World Music Album, 1993, 1994; for Best Tropical Latin Performance, 1997; for Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album (as producer), 2003; for Best Pop Instrumental Album (as producer), 2003; and for Best Pop Instrumental Album, for Mambo Sinuendo, 2004.

Addresses: Office—Warner Bros. Records, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91510.

The final, and most ambitious, step would be to bring these two incredible, seemingly opposite, musicians together to create Chicken Skin Music (Hawaiian slang for goose bump music). "Sometimes I get fantasies about weird combinations of music and people that can really illuminate a song idea," Cooder told Guitar Player. "For me that's the most fun thing about making records, the reason I wanted to make records in the first place." Telling Rolling Stone it was his "equal opportunity group," Cooder scheduled the band, including three black gospel singers, on a seven-week tour. One of the most curious tours ever, the show offered some spectacular music but was unfortunately plagued by bad luck. "I believed in it, and I thought it was going to happen," Cooder said in Rolling Stone. However, it turned out that very few people liked the mix. Cooder recalled, "Those were dark days." The group's melting pot of music was later recorded on the live LP Show Time.

Cooder followed with the studio LP Jazz, which, according to Bob Blumenthal in Rolling Stone, was "an elegant re-creation, but too much of the material never gets beyond the category of the well-mounted museum piece." Once again Cooder was being labeled a "keeper-of-the-flame" of sorts, but his next album seemed to put an end to that for good. Bop Till You Drop contained funky, low-down rhythms and blues/rockin' gospel. "This record goes on a pedestal in the archives of cool right alongside Cab Calloway's zoot suit," wrote Guitar Player's Tom Wheeler. A big fan of Curtis Mayfield, Cooder found the rhythm and blues format very comfortable. "It's a good solid form," he told Salley Rayl in Rolling Stone. "Lyrically, it's always been the place for me—little stories, ballads with a simple statement that I can sing." Bobby King's Sam Cookestyled vocals helped Bop sell over 300,000 copies, nearly six times as many as the rest of Cooder's work.

Began Working on Film Scores

Cooder continued the formula on Borderline, while opting for a more rock and roll edge on The Slide Area. After that record, he told Down Beat's Gene Santoro that he found himself "with nothing to do and no place to go and not a clue as to what to do about it. That's when I started doing film work." Cooder composed his first score for Walter Hill's The Long Riders, and has since worked on three other Hill films. "You show me some images or give me an idea," Cooder said in Guitar World, "I'll figure something out, and it'll be all right—it'll work."

His ability to create a mood and enhance the overall project once again made Cooder one of the most sought-after musicians. For Alamo Bay he played bajo sexto, lute, koto, flute, and harp, in his never-ending quest for the right sound. "The great thing about these films, I swear, is they pay me money to go off and teach myself how to do things I don't normally do," he told Dan Forte in Guitar Player.

In 1985 Cooder wrote the score for German director Win Wenders's film Paris, Texas. "Ry Cooder's score is a peaceful, poetic journey into the soul of an acoustic guitar," wrote Tim DiGravina in All Music Guide. In 1987 he released his first studio LP in five years, Get Rhythm, and with Flaco Jimenez back on accordion, Cooder was again creating a unique mixture of musical styles. As Ariel Swartley observed in Rolling Stone, Cooder's genius lies in his "inspired assimilation of instruments and players, as well as source and tradition." In addition to his solo LPs, Cooder continued to add his guitar voice to films and other artists' albums, and has even dabbled in producing.

In 1992 Cooder joined with John Hiatt, Jim Keltner, and Nick Lowe to form Little Village; the band recorded a self-titled album and toured briefly before its members resumed solo careers. Cooder also remained interested in international music, and in 1994 recorded Talking Timbuktu with African guitarist Ali Farka Toure, an album that won a Grammy Award for Best World Music Recording in 1994. In the mid-1990s he continued to contribute music to a number of films, including Dead Man Walking, Primary Colors, and Last Man Standing.

In 1997 Cooder traveled to Cuba to work with a number of musicians who, due to Cuban and American politics, had received little exposure outside their native country. Cooder gathered Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, Rueben Gonzalez, and many others in the recording studio, resulting in The Buena Vista Social Club, an album that eventually sold eight million copies and earned Cooder a Grammy for Best Tropical Latin Performance in 1997. His visit to Cuba also earned him a $100,000 fine from the U.S. Government (because travel to Cuba by Americans is illegal), though the fine was later reduced to $25,000. In 2003 he collaborated with Manuel Galban (also from the Buena Vista project) on Mambo Sinuendo, a recording that won two Grammys in 2003.

In 2005 Cooder returned with Chavez Ravine: A Record by Ry Cooder, his first solo album since Get Rhythm in 1987. The album tells the story of a poor Mexican-American neighborhood that is bulldozed over to make room for a new Dodgers' stadium during the late 1940s. "Cooder's work," wrote Thom Jurek in All Music Guide, "has almost always concerned itself with what has been left out, marginalized, and relegated to the place of memory."

Selected discography

Solo albums

Ry Cooder, Reprise, 1970.
Into the Purple Valley, Reprise, 1971.
Boomer's Story, Reprise, 1972.
Paradise and Lunch, Reprise, 1974.
(With Flaco Jimenez) Chicken Skin Music, Reprise, 1976.
Show Time, Warner Bros., 1977.
Jazz, Warner Bros., 1977.
Bop Till You Drop, Warner Bros., 1979.
Borderline, Warner Bros., 1980.
The Slide Area, Warner Bros., 1982.
Get Rhythm, Warner Bros., 1987.
Pecos Bill, Windham Hill, 1988.
Johnny Handsome, Warner, 1989.
Trespass, Warner, 1992.
(With Ali Farka Toure) Talking Timbuktu, Rykodisc, 1994.
(With Buena Vista Social Club) Buena Vista Social Club, World Circuit, 1997.
(With Ibrahim Ferrer) Buenos Hermanos, World Circuit, 2003.
(With Manuel Galban) Mambo Sinuendo, Nonesuch, 2003.
Chavez Ravine, Nonesuch, 2005.

As contributor

Performance (soundtrack), Warner Bros., 1970.
The Long Riders (soundtrack), Warner Bros., 1980.
Southern Comfort (soundtrack), Warner Bros., 1981.
The Border (soundtrack), Backstreet, 1982.
Paris, Texas (soundtrack), Warner Bros., 1984.
Streets of Fire (soundtrack), MCA, 1985.
Crossroads (soundtrack), Warner Bros., 1986.

Sources

Books

Christgau, Robert, Christgau's Record Guide, Ticknor & Fields, 1981.

Evans, Mary Anne, and Tom Evans, Guitars: From the Renaissance to Rock, Facts on File, 1977.

Kozinn, Allan, Pete Welding, Dan Forte, and Gene Santoro, The Guitar: The History, The Music, The Players, Quill, 1984.

The Rolling Stone Record Guide, edited by Dave Marsh, with John Swenson, Random House, Rolling Stone Press, 1979.

Periodicals

Down Beat, August, 1986.

Guitar Player, July 1978; February 1980; March 1980; November 1987; March 1988; August 1988; November 1988.

Guitar World, April 1988; April 1989.

Rolling Stone, January 27, 1977; February 24, 1977; August 11, 1977; August 25, 1977; August 24, 1978; May 17, 1979; September 6, 1979; September 20, 1979; September 4, 1980; April 16, 1981.

Online

"Ry Cooder," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (September 10, 2005).

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Cooder, Ry 1947–

COODER, Ry 1947

PERSONAL

Full name, Ryland Peter Cooder; born March 15, 1947, in Los Angeles (some sources cite Santa Monica), CA; son of W. H. Cooder (an accountant); married Susan Titleman (an artist); children: Joachim (a musician).

Addresses: Office BMI, 8730 West Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 900692210.

Career: Composer, arranger, guitarist, and singer. Performed with Jackie DeShannon, 1963; Rising Sons (rock band), guitarist, 196667; studio guitarist on albums by Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, 196667, as well as for the Rolling Stones, Randy Newman, Gordon Lightfoot, Arlo Guthrie, John Cougar Mellencamp, and others; producer of record albums, including Pecos Bill, 1988; concert performer and recording artist; formed Little Village (a rock band) with Nick Lowe, John Hiatt, and Jim Keltner, 1992; performed music for television commercials; also worked as a musicologist.

Awards, Honors: Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award, best music, 1980, for The Long Riders; Film Award nomination, best score, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1984, for Paris, Texas; Joseph Plateau Award, best score, 1985; Georges Delerue Prize, best original music, Flanders International Film Festival, 1986, for Crossroads; Grammy Award, best recording for children, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 1988, for Pecos Bill; Grammy Award, best world music album, 1994, for A Meeting By the River; Grammy Award, best Latin tropical performance, 1998, for Buena Vista Social Club; European Film Award (with Nick Gold), documentary of the year, National Board of Review Award (with Gold), best documentary, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award (with Gold), best documentary, New York Film Critics Circle Award (with Gold), best non fiction film, Broadcast Film Critics Association Award (with Gold), best documentary, Online Film Critics Society Award (with Gold), best documentary, National Society of Film Critics Award (with Gold), best nonfiction film, 1999, Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music nomination (with Gold), British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 2000, all for Buena Vista Social Club; winner, Topanga Canyon Banjo and Fiddle Contest.

CREDITS

Film Work:

Guitarist and dulcimer player, Performance, 1970.

Special music arranger, Blue Collar, 1978.

Song performer, "Available Space," Goin' South, 1978.

Music arranger and performer, The Long Riders, United Artists, 1980.

Music arranger and guitarist, Southern Comfort, Twentieth CenturyFox, 1981.

Music performer, Streets of Fire, Universal/RKO Radio Pictures, 1984.

Guitarist, Alamo Bay, TriStar, 1985.

Song performer, "Blue City" and "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," Blue City, Paramount, 1986.

Guitarist and song performer, "Crossroads,""Willie Brown Blues,""Feelin' Bad Blues,""Butler's Bag," "Head Cuttin' Duel," and "Walking' Blues," Crossroads, Columbia, 1986.

Source music producer, song producer, and song performer, Extreme Prejudice, 1987.

Song performer, "All Shook Up," Cocktail, 1988.

Producer, Ry Cooder and the Moula Banda Rhythm Aces: Let's Have a Ball, 1988.

Song performer, "I Got Mine," Steel Magnolias, 1989.

Song performer, "Tattler," Cadillac Man, Orion, 1990.

Scoring musician, Trespass (also known as Looters ), Universal, 1992.

Guitarist and music producer: songs, Dead Man Walking (also known as After Midnight, Dead Man, Death Watch, and Sister Prejean ), PolyGram, 1995.

Guitarist, Last Man Standing (also known as The Bodyguard, Gangster, Gundown, and Welcome to Jericho ), New Line Cinema, 1996.

Song performer, "UFO Has Landed in the Ghetto," The End of Violence (also known as Am Ende der Gewalt ), MetroGoldwynMayer/United Artists, 1997.

Song performer, "Galleguita/Tutankhamen," Palmetto, Columbia, 1997.

Song performer, "Happy Meeting in Glory,""Jericho Blues," and "Wide Sky," Primary Colors (also known as Perfect Couple ), Universal, 1998.

Song performer, "Diaraby," Besieged, Fine Line Features, 1998.

Music mixer and recordist, The Buena Vista Social Club (documentary), Artisan Entertainment, 1999.

Musician, "African Queen," One Hour Photo, Twentieth CenturyFox, 2002.

Musician, "Ai Du," Unfaithful (also known as Untrue ), Twentieth CenturyFox, 2002.

Film Appearances:

A musician, The Long Riders, United Artists, 1980.

Ry Cooder and the Moula Banda Rhythm Aces: Let's Have a Ball, 1988.

Himself, The Buena Vista Social Club (documentary), Artisan Entertainment, 1999.

Television Appearances; Movies:

Himself, Motion and Emotion, 1990.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Jim Henson's Ghost of Faffner Hall, HBO, 1989.

Showtime Coast to Coast: American Music, Showtime, 1990.

Farm Aid V, syndicated, 1992.

Song performer and guitarist, "Over the Rainbow,""Follow the Yellow Brick Road" and "We're Off to See the Wizard," The Wizard of Oz in Concert, Dreams Come True, TNT, 1995.

Himself, Warren Zevon: Keep Me in Your Heart (documentary; also known as VH1 Inside out Warren Zevon: Keep Me in Your Heart ), VH1, 2003.

Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:

The 29th Annual Grammy Awards, CBS, 1987.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

Guest, The Midnight Special, 1974.

Musical guest, Saturday Night Live, NBC, 1976.

"The Man Who Was Death," Tales from the Crypt, HBO, 1989.

"John Lee Hooker and Friends," Rave, Arts and Entertainment, 1992.

RECORDINGS

Albums:

Ry Cooder, Reprise, 1970.

Performance (original soundtrack), Warner Bros., 1970.

Into the Purple Valley, Reprise, 1971.

Boomer's Story, Reprise, 1972.

Paradise and Lunch, Reprise, 1974.

Chicken Skin Music, Warner Bros., 1976.

Show Time, Warner Bros., 1977.

Jazz, Warner Bros., 1978.

Bop Till You Drop, Warner Bros., 1979.

Borderline, Warner Bros., 1980.

The Long Riders (original soundtrack), Warner Bros., 1980.

Southern Comfort (original soundtrack), Warner Bros., 1981.

The Border (original soundtrack), Warner Bros., 1982.

The Slide Area, Warner Bros., 1982.

Paris, Texas (original soundtrack), Warner Bros., 1984.

Alamo Bay (original soundtrack), Warner Bros., 1985.

Streets of Fire, MCA, 1985.

Blue City (original soundtrack), Warner Bros., 1986.

Crossroads (original soundtrack), Warner Bros., 1986.

Get Rhythm, Warner Bros., 1987.

Live and Let Live!, 1988.

Pecos Bill, 1988.

Surprise, 1989.

Party of One, 1990.

Johnny Handsome, 1990.

Partners, 1992.

Peace to the Neighborhood, 1992.

(With V. M. Bhatt) A Meeting by the River, 1993.

(With Taj Mahal) The Rising Sons, 1993.

(With Ali Farka Toure) Talking Timbuktu, 1994.

Music by Ry Cooder, 1995.

(With others) Buena Vista Social Club, World Circuit, 1997.

Contributor to Albums:

Taj Mahal, 1966.

Captain Beefheart, Safe As Milk, 1967.

The Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed, 1969.

Randy Newman, 12 Songs, 1970.

The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers, 1971.

Randy Newman, Sail Away, 1972.

Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt, Trio, 1987.

Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture "Dead Man Walking," 1995.

WRITINGS

Film Scores:

(Contributor) Candy, Cinerama, 1968.

Pacific Vibrations, 1970.

(Contributor) Performance, Warner Bros., 1970.

(With Jack Nitzche) Blue Collar, Universal, 1978.

The Long Riders, United Artists, 1980.

Southern Comfort, Twentieth CenturyFox, 1981.

The Border, Universal, 1981.

Paris, Texas, Twentieth CenturyFox, 1984.

Streets of Fire, Universal/RKO Radio Pictures, 1984.

Alamo Bay, TriStar, 1985.

Brewster's Millions, Universal, 1985.

Blue City, Paramount, 1986.

Crossroads, Columbia, 1986.

Johnny Handsome, TriStar, 1989.

Trespass (also known as Looters ), Universal, 1992.

Geronimo: American Legend, Columbia, 1993.

Last Man Standing (also known as The Bodyguard, Gangster, Gundown, and The Bodyguard ), New Line Cinema, 1996.

The End of Violence (also known as Am Ende der Gewalt ), MetroGoldwyn Mayer/United Artists, 1997.

Primary Colors (also known as Perfect Couple and Mit aller Macht ), Universal, 1998.

Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story (documentary short film), 2003.

Film Songs:

Goin' South, 1978.

Blue Collar, Universal, 1978.

The Border, Universal, 1981.

Streets of Fire, Universal/RKO Radio Pictures, 1984.

Alamo Bay, TriStar, 1985.

Brewster's Millions, Universal, 1985.

Blue City, Paramount, 1986.

Crossroads, Columbia, 1986.

Steel Magnolias, 1989.

Cadillac Man, Orion, 1990.

Irma Vep, 1996.

A Civil Action, Buena Vista, 1998.

Homegrown, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 1998.

One Hour Photo, Twentieth CenturyFox, 2002.

Television Music; Series:

Theme music composer, Beverly Hills Buntz, 1987.

Television Scores; Movies:

Until the End of the World, 1991.

Colorado Cowboy: The Bruce Ford Story, 1993.

Television Music; Specials:

"We Shall Be Happy," Brooklyn Bridge, PBS, 1982.

Score, Retooling America, PBS, 1994.

Television Scores; Pilots:

Cowboy Joe, ABC, 1988.

Television Songs; Episodic:

"Annie Oakley," Shelley Duvall's Tall Tales and Legends, Showtime, 1985.

"The Man Who Was Death," Tales from the Crypt (also known as HBO's Tales from the Crypt ), HBO, 1989.

OTHER SOURCES

Books:

Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Schirmer, 2001.

Contemporary Musicians, Volume 2, Gale Research, 1989.

Evans, Mary Anne, and Tom Evans, Guitars: From the Renaissance to Rock, Facts on File, 1977.

Kozinn, Allan, Pete Welding, Dan Forte, and Gene Santoro, The Guitar: The History, the Music, the Players, Quill, 1984.

Periodicals:

Billboard, May 3, 1997, p. 1.

Down Beat, May, 2003, p. 54.

Entertainment Weekly, July 31, 1998, p. 73.

Guitar Player, April, 1997, p. 70; May, 2002, p. 152.

Maclean's, October 13, 1997, p. 77.

Popular Music and Society, Summer, 1998, p. 49.

Time, February 24, 2003, p. 60.

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Cooder, Ry

Ry Cooder

Guitarist, composer

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

With over a dozen solo albums, ten soundtrack LPs and countless studio dates to his credit, Ry Cooder has become one of the most tasteful and in-demand guitarists in the music world. He has drawn on a wide variety of influences, including the blues, rhythm and blues, Hawaiian, Norteno, and even vaudeville, to create an exceptionally unique voice on his instrument. The sounds he makes and the images those sounds evoke place him closer to Zen masters and Impressionists painters than to other guitarists, wrote Bud Scoppa in Guitar World.

Cooders roots began at the age of four when his father taught him some basic chords on a four-string tenor guitar. As his hands and abilities developed, he progressed to a fullsize Martin by which time the eight-year-old had become proficient enough to play folk songs from his parents record collection. Four years later Cooder heard the haunting slide guitar work of Blind Willie Johnson and set out on a path to search for, and absorb, as much of the old acoustic blues as he could find. A local mailman opened up an entire world for Cooder by turning him on to obscure artists like Skip James, Reverend Gary Davis, Leadbelly, Blind Blake, and Jesse Fuller. After losing an eye to a knife accident, the youngster bypassed normal childhood activities like little league baseball in order to master these peculiar styles. The effect of a Big Joe Williams record helped to plot Cooders path, it moved me upit got me to sweat! I wanted to hear that slam, you know? So I declared myself on the side of the energetic movement, he told Guitar World.

Although he befriended John Fahey and Barry Hansen (Dr. Demento), most others his age were enamored with the early rockers like Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, and so Cooder experienced limited musical exchange with his peers. Instead, his education took place in small club called the Ash Grove, where Cooder was able to experience up close the techniques of his idols. I was lucky, he told James Henke in Rolling Stone. I saw a lot of good things firsthand, and I heard them the way they were supposed to be heard. I made it a point to check out what was there so I wouldnt miss anything. Cooder began to work closely with Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence, whose use of open tunings made a lasting impression on Cooders own style. Originally using them for rhythm work, he soon discovered their potential for slide and continues to use the open tuningsmainly D (D, A, D, F#, A, D) and G (D, G, D, G, B, D)for his contemporary work.

A former winner of the prestigious Topanga Canyon Banjo and Fiddle Contest, Cooder maintains a reputation as a perfectionist. Ive watched Ry perform during the years and remember the mumbling and swearing

For the Record

Full name, Ryland Cooder; born March 15, 1947, in Santa Monica, Calif.; son of W.H. Cooder (an accountant); married Susan Titleman (an artist); children: Joachim.

Played with Jackie DeShannon, 1963; formed group Rising Sons with Taj Mahal, 1966; performed with Captain Beefheart, 1967; studio musician on recordings of numerous artists, including Randy Newman, Little Feat, Maria Muldaur, and the Rolling Stones; composer of musical scores for numerous motion pictures, including Candy, 1968, Performance, 1970, The Long Riders, 1980, Southern Comfort, 1981, The Border, 1982, Pans, Texas, 1984, Streets of Fire, 1985, Brewsters Millions, 1986, and Crossroads, 1986.

Addresses: Office c/o Warner Bros. Records, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91510.

under his breath as he would miss notes or phrases that sounded just fine to everyones else, wrote Bob Baxter in Guitar Player. Cooder found a kindred spirit in Taj Mahal and in 1966 the two formed Rising Sons, which lasted just long enough to be captured on vinyl with the LP Taj Mahal. Shortly after, Cooders playing caught the ear of Captain Beefheart, an off-the-wall, eccentric bluesman who employed Cooder for his now infamous debut LP, Safe as Milk.

After bounding around L.A. Club scene, Cooder was brought into the studios to work as a sideman by the Byrdsproducer, Terry Melcher. His giant-mosquito tone soon found its way onto records by Randy Newman (Lets Burn Down The Cornfield), Little Feat (Forty-Four Blues) and even the Rolling Stones (Let It Bleed). Producer Jack Nitzsche incorporated Cooder for the film scores to Performance and Blue Collar and helped to teach the guitarist a few tricks. Dont play so much into it all the time; play off of it, Cooder told Guitar Player of the lessons, and get your subtext operating, which is real important.

Unable to read music, Cooder at first found studio work intimidating. Once he learned the procedure and his role, however, he became one of the most sought-after players. My job seemed to consist of taking strange instruments which were not as yet cliched in the rock fieldlike mandolin or dulcimer, even bottleneck guitarand pumpem up, play em hard, and integrate myself into the ensemble as a color or sound effect, he told down beat. As the 1970s rolled in, musical trends and tastes changed and, as producers began calling for a more jazz flavored guitar sound, Cooder found his particular style to be in less demand and decided it was time to get out.

Encouraged to go solo, Cooder released his self-titled debut LP in 1970. The album, like his entire catalog, found Cooder digging up and recreating obscure and seemingly forgotten gems like How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times as These by Alfred Reed. The next two LPs found Cooder intertwining exceptional acoustic and bottleneck slide guitars on songs by Fitz Maclean, Dickey Doo, Sleepy John Estes, Skip James, and others. Besides bringing in Earl Fatha Hines for a splendid duet on Ditty Wa Ditty, his fourth LP, Paradise and Lunch, includes backup singer Bobby King, whose collaboration with Cooder over the years has been an extremely important ingredient to the guitarists overall sound.

Unfortunately, writers, including Dave Marsh began to label his work. Cooders role is not so much to be a hitmaker or even an artist, Marsh wrote in Rolling Stone, but to act as the only curator of our continents musical heritage. Despite that type of categorizing, Cooder spent the next two years searching out two more masters whose styles were as remote from the current trends as one could get. He ventured to Hawaii to study with slack-key virtuoso Gabby Pahinui and ended up playing on The Gabby Pahinui Band LP. The next stop for Cooder was Austin, Texas, where he was drawn by the music of accordionist Flaco Jimenez. Cooder had spent six months learning to play the instrument himself, which helped to for a long-lasting friendship with the Mexican-American.

The final, and most ambitious, step would be to bring these two incredible, seemingly opposite, musicians together to create Chicken Skin Music (Hawaiian slang for goose bump music). Sometimes I get fantasies about weird combinations of music and people that can really illuminate a song idea, Cooder told Guitar Player. For me thats the most fun thing about making records, the reason I wanted to make records in the first place. Telling Rolling Stone it was his equal opportunity group, Cooder scheduled the band, including three black gospel singers, on a seven-week tour. One of the most curious tours ever, the show offered some spectacular music but was unfortunately plagued by bad luck. I believed in it, and I thought it was going to happen, Cooder said in Rolling Stone, it was so great, who cold not like it? But it turned out that very few people did like it. Those were dark days. The groups melting pot of music was recorded on the live LP Show Time.

Cooder followed with the studio LP, Jazz, which, according to Bob Blumenthal in Rolling Stone, was even an elegant re-creation, but too much of the material never gets beyond the category of the well-mounted museum piece. Once again Cooder was being labeled a keeper-of-the-flame of sorts but his next album seemed to put an end to that for good. Bop Till You Drop contained some of the funkiest, low-down rhythm and blues/rockin gospel imaginable. This record goes on a pedestal in the archives of cool right alongside Cab Calloways zoot suit, wrote Guitar Players Tom Wheeler. A big fan of Curtis Mayfield, Cooder found the rhythm and blues format very comfortable. Its a good solid form, he told Salley Rayl in Rolling Stone. Lyrically, its always been the place for melittle stories, ballads with a simple statement that I can sing. Bobby Kings Sam Cooke-styled vocals helped Bop to sell over 300, 000 copies, nearly six times as many as the rest of Cooders work.

He continued the formula on Borderline while opting for a more rock and roll edge on The Slide Area, which seemed to have an uneven song section. After that record he told down beats Gene Santoro that he found himself with nothing to do and no place to go and not a clue as to what to do about it. Thats when I started doing film work. Cooder composed his first score for Walter Hills The Long Riders and has since worked on three other Hill films. You show me some images or give me an idea, Cooder said in Guitar World, Ill figure something out, and itll be all rightitll work.

His ability to create a mood and enhance the overall project has once again made Cooder one of the most sought-after musicians. For Alamo Bay he played bajo sexto, lute, koto, flute, and harp in his never-ending quest for the right sound. The great thing about these films, I swear, is they pay me money to go off and teach myself how to do things I dont normally do, he told Dan Forte in Guitar Player.

In 1987 he released his first studio LP in five years, Get Rhythm, and, with Flaco Jimenez back on accordion, Cooder was again creating a unique mixture of musical styles. As Ariel Swartley observed in Rolling Stone, Cooders genius lies in his inspired assimilation of instruments and players, as well as source and tradition. In addition to his solo LPs, Cooder continues to add his guitar voice to films and other artists albums, and even dabbles in producing.

Selected discography

Solo LPs

Ry Cooder, Reprise, 1970.

Into the Purple Valley, Reprise, 1971.

Boomers Story, Reprise, 1972.

Paradise and Lunch, Reprise, 1974.

Chicken Skin Music, Reprise, 1976.

Show Time, Warner Bros., 1977.

Jazz, Warner Bros., 1977.

Bop Till You Drop, Warner Bros., 1979.

Borderline, Warner Bros., 1980.

The Slide Area, Warner Bros., 1982.

Gei Rhythm, Warner Bros., 1987.

Soundtrack LPs

Performance, Warner Bros., 1970.

The Long Riders, Warner Bros., 1980.

Southern Comfort, Warner Bros., 1981.

The Border, Backstreet, 1982.

Paris, Texas, Warner Bros., 1984.

Streets of Fire, MCA, 1985.

Crossroads, Warner Bros., 1986.

Contributor to numerous albums, including Taj Mahals Tal Mahal, 1966; Captain Beefhearts Safe as Milk, 1967; the Rolling Stones Let It Bleed, 1969, and Sticky Fingers, 1971; Randy Newmans 12 Songs, 1970, and Sail Away, 1972; and Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt, Trio, 1987.

Sources

Books

Christgau, Robert, Christgaus Record Guide, Ticknor & Fields, 1981.

Evans, Mary Anne, and Tom Evans, Guitars: From the Renaissance to Rock, Facts on File, 1977.

Kozinn, Allan, Pete Welding, Dan Forte, and Gene Santoro, The Guitar: The History, The Music, The Players, Quill, 1984.

The Rolling Stone Record Guide, edited by Dave Marsh with John Swenson, Random House, Rolling Stone Press, 1979.

Periodicals

down beat, August, 1986.

Guitar Player, July, 1978; February, 1980; March, 1980; November, 1987; March, 1988; August, 1988; November, 1988.

Guitar World, April, 1988; April, 1989.

Rolling Stone, January 27, 1977; February 24, 1977; August 11, 1977; August 25, 1977; August 24, 1978; May 17, 1979; September 6, 1979; September 20, 1979; September 4, 1980; April 16, 1981.

Calen D. Stone

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