Monday, November 16, 2015

Ry Cooder

Had a chance last night to see Ry Cooder playing with Ricky Scaggs and The Whites.  If there is any player who I think could relate to the instruments on this blog, it would probably be Ry.  Though known and constantly connected to his famed Coodercasters, there are countless photos and recordings of Ry making use of some off the beaten path instruments.

I believe in an earlier part of the tour, Ry was carrying a 1950's Kay Barney Kessel electric archtop with the kelvinator headstock.  Unfortunately, he didn't have that with him last night as it seems he might have traded up for a big 'ol Gretsch Hollowbody.  He was carrying his Guyatone LG-200t with him and showcased some slide on this guitar.  I had previously read his description regarding the tone of this guitar - rich and muscular.  He wasn't lying - It was a super thick tone that you couldn't pin to any guitar.  It certainly wasn't any tele or strat.

Though I have seen Ricky Scaggs before and have been blown away by his versatility and exceptional musicianship, this was the first time I had seen Ry.  Like many of the people there, I was hoping to get to see him cut loose  on that slide.  But this was a different type of show where old time country and gospel music was on display.  Obviously that doesn't leave a whole lot of room for wailing slide work.

What I did get to see though was something more impressive.  What I saw was a musician who remains completely capable of being an evolving artist.  Ry only broke the slide out once on the aforementioned Guyatone.  The rest of the evening was spent playing swelling hollow bodies, funky 8 string instruments and 5 string banjo - not just background banjo, but up front, take a solo, bluegrass banjo.  One of his main jobs throughout the evening was to hold down the bass part in a 4 part gospel harmony.

There was a little chit chat on stage about him gaining confidence in this role as bass singer.  I thought it was a gutsy performance.  He completely took himself out of his comfort zone and held his own in the company of some pretty fine old time singers.  He showed an audience what its like to be a real artist, one who instead of falling back on his applause getter, walked into a new realm with the possibility of falling flat(which he didn't).  You won't see Bruce Springsteen do this, or Adele or Prince or any of the "Stars" in todays horrendous country music market.  In all these cases, image supercedes artistry, disallowing for any real chances to be taken.  Instead of worrying about being the leader of a band, we all got to watch Ry really seem to enjoy simply being part of a band.

Would have loved to interview Ry for this blog and i suspect that I got as close as I ever will when he signed a concert poster for me at the end of the night.  He looked tired as i was the last of at least 150 people in line at the after show signing.  I'm just not the kind of guy who could start bombing him with questions about Chicago made guitars after he had just dealt with every Tom, Dick and Harry who wanted to tell him their story(I'm sure he had to deal with a few cuckoo birds in the course of that signing)

He had given enough that night, instructing all those Tom, Dick, Harry's, Marie's and Debbie's to do it for the art and to keep on evolving.  One can only wonder what will be next for Ry.