Artist Profiles: Ry Cooder

Ry Cooder

Ryland Peter Cooder (Ry Cooder) was born in Los Angeles, California, on March 15, 1947. He is a guitarist well-known for his slide guitar style.

Ry Cooder first attracted attention in the 1960s, playing with bluesman Taj Mahal in The Rising Sons, The Seeds, and Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band.

Cooder played a role in the new appreciation for traditional Cuban music thanks to his collaboration as producer in the Buena Vista Social Club (1997) recording that became a worldwide hit.

German filmmaker Wim Wenders directed a documentary film of the Cuban musicians involved, titled Buena Vista Social Club (1999) that was nominated for an Academy Award in 2000. Cooder also produced Ibrahim Ferrer’s Buenos Hermanos, and Mambo Sinuendo, all Grammy winners.

Ry Cooder’s solo work has been an eclectic mix on american roots music, including dustbowl folk music, tex-mex, soul, gospel, rock and other genrese. He has collaborated with many influential musicians, including the Rolling Stones, Little Feat, the Chieftains, John Lee Hooker, Hawaiian master Gabby Pahinui, and the late Ali Farka Toure. Cooder also formed the Little Village supergroup with Nick Lowe, John Hiatt and Jim Keltner.

 

 

Cooder’s 1978 album Bop Till You Drop was the first popular music album to be recorded digitally.

Ry Cooder’s Chávez Ravine, released in 2005 is a tribute to the long-gone Los Angeles Mexican-American 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 that was razed by developers in the 1950s in the interest of “progress.” The Dodgers Stadium (The Dodgers are a famous American professional baseball team) eventually was built on the spot. Cooder said at the time, “Here is some music for a place you don’t know, up a road you don’t go. Chávez Ravine, where the sidewalk ends.”

Chávez Ravine features various musical genres found in Los Angeles, including conjunto, corrido, R&B, Latin pop, and jazz. The 15-track album is sung in Spanish and English/ Cooder is joined by East Los Angeles 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.

Los Angeles was paved over, malled up, high-rised, and urban-renewed, as fortunes were made, power was concentrated, and everything got faster and bigger,” explained Cooder. “But there is a lot I miss now. The texture of certain older neighborhoods, like Bunker Hill, a rural feel in urban places, like Chávez Ravine and the timbre of life there, and just peace and quiet,” he said.

Chavez Ravine was the first recording of a California trilogy. The second volume was 2007’s My Name Is Buddy.

 

Ry Cooder – Photo by Susan Titelman

 

The last recording of the California trilogy is I, Flathead, an album of music by the fictional musician Kash Buk and his band the Klowns, characters in Cooder’s 95-page tale. The album and novella were released together on June 24, 2008, by Nonesuch / Perro Verde Records.

The novella tells the story of Kash Buk and his friend Shakey the alien, together with various friends, lovers, enemies, and associates in a long-gone California filled with deserts, salt-flat racing, Native Americans, seedy dance halls, amusement parks, and sinister plots. The album includes fourteen songs by Buk, a hard-edged salt flat racer and roadhouse musician. With the story and the music, Cooder creates a world where “strange people are the norm,” inspired by country western music, Popular Mechanics magazines, and science fiction movies.

Flathead reflects change and disruption in a young, post-war, do-it-yourself culture of outsiders obsessed with racing cars fashioned from military surplus parts and flathead engines. As Kash Buk explains, “You got your hard times, your good times, a dog story for you animal lovers, and a forbidden-race love song, which every record ought to have at least one of.”

Cooder produced I, Flathead and wrote or co-wrote all the songs. He sings and plays mandolin, guitar, and bass on the album, alongside Mariachi Los Camperos; Joachim Cooder, and Jim Keltner on drums; Rene Camacho on bass; Francisco Torres on trombone; Ron Blake and Jon Hassell on trumpet; Anthony Gil on bass sax; Flaco Jiménez on accordion, Gil Bernal on tenor sax; Jared Smith on keyboards; Martin Pradler on electric piano and drums; and Juliette Commagere on vocals.

 

Ry Cooder – Photo by Susan Titelman

 

Ry Cooder has composed soundtracks for more than twenty films, including Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas, and The End of Violence.

 

 

Discography

* Ry Cooder (Reprise, 1970)
* Performance, soundtrack (1970)
* Into the Purple Valley (Reprise, 1972)
* Boomer’s Story (Reprise, 1972)
* Paradise and Lunch (Reprise, 1974)
* Chicken Skin Music (Reprise, 1976)
* Showtime (Warner Brothers, 1977)
* Jazz (Reprise, 1978)
* Bop Till You Drop (Warner Brothers, 1979)
* Borderline (Warner Brothers, 1980)
* The Long Riders, soundtrack (Warner Brothers, 1980)
* The Border, soundtrack (1981)
* Southern Comfort, soundtrack (1981)
* The Slide Area (Warner Brothers, 1982)
* Paris, Texas, soundtrack (Warner Brothers, 1985)
* Music from Alamo Bay, soundtrack (1985)
* Blue City, soundtrack (1986)
* Crossroads, soundtrack (Warner Brothers, 1986)
* Why Don’t You Try Me Tonight, compilation (Warner Brothers, 1986)
* Get Rhythm (Warner Brothers, 1987)
* Pecos Bill (Windham Hill, 1988)
* Johnny Handsome, soundtrack (1989)
* Rising Sons, with Taj Mahal(recorded 1965/66, released 1992)
* A Meeting By The River, with Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (Water Lily Acoustics, 1993)
* Trespass, soundtrack (Warner Brothers, 1993)
* Geronimo: An American Legend, soundtrack (Sony, 1993)
* River Rescue – The Very Best Of Ry Cooder (1994)
* Talking Timbuktu, with Ali Farka Touré (Hannibal, 1994)
* Music by Ry Cooder, film music (1Warner Brothers, 1995)
* Last Man Standing, soundtrack (Polygram Records, 1996)
* The End of Violence, soundtrack (Outpost Records, 1997)
* Buena Vista Social Club (World Circuit/Nonesuch, 1997)
* Primary Colors, soundtrack (1998)
* Mambo Sinuendo, with Manuel Galbán (Nonesuch, 2003)
* Chávez Ravine (Nonesuch Records, 2005)
* My Name Is Buddy (Nonesuch Records, 2007)
* I, Flathead (Nonesuch Records,2008)
* The Ry Cooder Anthology: The UFO Has Landed (2008)
* San Patricio, with The Chieftains (2010)
* Live On Air (2010)
* Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down (Mobile Fidelity, 2011)
* Election Special (Nonesuch, 2012)
* Live in San Francisco, with Corridos Famosos (Nonesuch, 2013)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.

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