News Column

Local musicians to honor music of Ry Cooder

May 7, 2013

YellowBrix

May 07--DURHAM -- You might know Ry Cooder as the musician who played the mandolin part on the Rolling Stones' arrangement of "Love in Vain," the Robert Johnson blues song. Or you might know his mournful slide guitar soundtrack to "Paris, Texas" and other movies. He also introduced the world to Cuban musicians in the recording and documentary "Buena Vista Social Club."

Phil Cook -- who plays banjo, guitar, keyboards and sings -- said if you don't know anything of Cooder's work, you should "because we're really lucky to have him. ... I think as a figure he influences me because he's always pushing down boundaries. ... I think he's someone who truly understands American music," Cook said.

For about a year, Cook has wanted to do a tribute to Cooder. He has formed a band called the Guitarheels, who will perform the complete 1972 Cooder album "Boomer's Story" Friday at the Haw River Ballroom.

The musicians in Guitarheels are well-known members of local and North Carolina groups that have carried on, and re-interpreted, the American folk tradition for a new generation. Cook is known for his work with Megafaun and his band Phil Cook and his Feat. His brother and fellow Megafaun musician Brad Cook will perform on bass. Other musicians scheduled to perform are John Teer of Chatham County Line on mandolin, fiddle and guitar; Terry Lonergan of Hiss Golden Messenger on drums; Andrew Marlin of Mandolin Orange on guitar and mandolin; and James Wallace of Mount Moriah on keyboards. Vocalist Christy Smith of the duo Tender Fruit is a scheduled guest performer.

Teer shares Cook's love of Cooder's music, and his contribution to American music. During his early 20s, he listened extensively to Cooder's recordings, Teer said. "The vibe he gave off was so addictive," Teer said. His earliest guitar influence was Clarence White, but Teer later discovered Cooder's blues-influenced playing. "That was like early Americana for me. That's what I was searching for and I felt I found it in early Ry Cooder recordings," he said.

The Guitarheels will perform the entire "Boomer's Story" release, although some of the songs will get different arrangements and treatment, "making it North Carolina style," Cook said. Creating the arrangements has been "a sharing process," he said. Because many of the musicians tour extensively, Cook asked them to perform in the concert about a year ago to allow them to set aside the time.

The band has been rehearsing about a month now in Cook's living room, and recently taped a segment for Eric Hodge's "Last Motel" music show on WUNC FM. "We got to play some of the tunes. ... We were just grinning at each other and laughing," Cook said.

Cook first heard Cooder's music from tapes his father would play in the car when Cook and his brother were growing up in Wisconsin. The brothers learned about soul, blues, folk and other American music from their father's collection, Phil Cook said.

Cook discovered "Boomer's Story" on his own. The record has no credits or song list on the cover, making it "like a package you soak up and try to understand. I put it on every morning. It became this record I have invested so much into."

After soaking up so much of the recording, he decided to do something to express his admiration for the music. He called the musicians, who "were crazy enough to follow me," Cook said.

"Boomer's Story" has 10 songs, among them the title song, "Crow Black Chicken" (by Lawrence Wilson), "Ax Sweet Mama" (by Sleepy John Estes), and Skip James' "Cherry Ball Blues," the latter tune one that Cook said he really loves to play.

Cook contacted Cooder, who replied by email stating that while he will not be able to attend the tribute, he is honored, Teer said. "Just getting a message from Ry was such an honor for us," Teer said. "We were doing back flips."

Go and Do

WHAT: "Boomer's Story: A Tribute to Ry Cooder"

WHEN: Friday 8-11:30 p.m.

WHERE: Haw River Ballroom, 1711 Saxapahaw-Bethlehem Church Road, Saxapahaw

ADMISSION: Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 day of show. For information, visit www.hawriverballroom.com.

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