Ry Cooder is attempting a one-man revival of a good bit of America’s music heritage. Everything from jug band tunes and Woody Guthrie songs to old country ballads and “Tex-Mex” is a part of his repertoire.
A native of Los Angeles, Cooder played in a band with fellow revivalist Taj Mahal called The Rising Sons. He also appeared on the Rolling Stones’ Jamming with Edward, played with Captain Beefheart for a short time, and has done numerous sessions with other folks as well.
He signed a contract with Reprise as a solo artist and his first album, Ry Cooder was released in 1972. This effort was neither as sophisticated or eclectic as his later albums were to be and was heavily blues based. Later that same year Into The Purple Valley was issued, and that was the album where Ry started to demonstrate his interest in different kinds of traditional American music.
In addition to his revival of musical Americana, Cooder also achieved fame for his bottleneck guitar work and was probably responsible for the increased popularity that style has received. He used it in a rather intriguing way on one track in his third album, Boomer’s Story. The arrangement is reminiscent of what Pentangle might have sounded like had they been more involved with blues. It’s a jazzy cut with a slight hint of the British folk sound.
That album captured a distinctive American electric folk sound with its blend of old-time country and blues influences; a sound as strictly American as that of Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention is British.
One cut on Boomer’s Story did contain a hint of what was to come: “Maria Elena” starts off simply as an acoustic guitar piece but later adds piano and strings along with a Latin rhythm.
1974 saw the release of Paradise and Lunch and some limited touring by Cooder as a solo act. Earlier, he had toured with a band, but what came out was basically blues, without the studio refinements and flavourings. The 1p was a marked change from the preceeding ones, as it demonstrated Cooder’s interest in gospel for the first time and also utilized a full vocal chorus along with more complex arrangements.
Incidentally, rarely has Cooder included an original tune in any of his albums,