Personalities | Ry Cooder | Session & Solo Supremo | Guitar Heroes

Versatile American roots guitarist Ry Cooder was born in Los Angeles, California in 1947. As a child, he mastered the fundamentals of guitar, and at the age of 17, played in a blues outfit with singer/songwriter Jackie DeShannon.

In 1965, Cooder teamed up with blues legend Taj Mahal and future Spirit drummer Ed Cassidy in The Rising Sons. The project was short-lived, falling apart when the release of their album was vetoed by CBS.

Producer Terry Melcher later employed Cooder as a session player on many records, including some by Paul Revere & The Raiders. This led to his unique slide-guitar work gracing Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band’s first album Safe As Milk (1967). Cooder turned down the Captain’s offer to join the band permanently and continued his session career, working with Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks and Little Feat. Cooder was a candidate to replace Brian Jones in The Rolling Stones, but clashes with Keith Richards precluded that, although he did contribute to The Stones’ albums Let It Bleed (1969) and Sticky Fingers (1971).

His solo debut Ry Cooder (1971) featured covers of blues songs, while subsequent albums such as Into The Purple Valley (1971) and Paradise And Lunch (1974) showcased his guitar work, exploring folk music and establishing his place within the industry. Chicken Skin Music (1976) and Show Time (1977) blended Tex-Mex and Hawaiian, and Cooder turned his hand to Dixieland on Jazz (1978). Bop Till You Drop (1979), the first rock album to be recorded digitally, was more mainstream and yielded his biggest American hit, a cover of Elvis Presley’s ‘Little Sister’. Cooder has composed numerous soundtracks, notably for Wim Wenders’ 1984 movie Paris, Texas. The title piece’s haunting, atmospheric slide guitar, recorded on a 1950s Martin 000-18, was evocative of the American South.

He has continued to release live and studio albums, as well as collaborating on a number of world music crossover projects such as A Meeting By The River (1993) with V.M. Bhatt and the highly acclaimed Cuban recording, Buena Vista Social Club (1997).

Cooder’s main acoustic is a 1930s Gibson Roy Smeck model. His other guitars include a Fender Stratocaster (his foremost bottleneck guitar) and a Gibson ES-P. He has also played Japanese Guyatone models and a Ripley Stereo Guitar.

Essential Recordings

Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band: Safe As Milk

Solo: Paradise And Lunch

Solo: Bop Till You Drop

Solo: Paris, Texas

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