By Tom Baldino
My good friend and brother in Corvettes and guitars, Barry Cooper was a player from youth, gave it up in midlife, and found a renewed passion for the instrument about twenty years ago. Once he decided to play again, he realized in order to reach the level he wished to attain, lessons would be needed. He has studied under several teachers including a dear departed friend to both me and the JSJBF, Jerry Topinka. He upped his game to the point where he composed several tunes and desired to create an instrumental CD of his originals as well as some very well-known Jazz, Blues, Rock and songs from the great American songbook.
The recording process started back in February of 2020 and, due to the pandemic, was not completed until that October. I was asked if I would write the liner notes and he welcomed the idea. Having never done this before, I was both excited and a bit nervous at the prospect, not sure if I was up to the task. After much deliberation and research, the following liner notes appear on the finished product:
“Barry Cooper and I became friends almost thirty years ago but it wasn’t until ten years later that I found out he was a musician! He was preparing for his 50th birthday party and decided he wanted to sit in on guitar with musical guests, the David Spinozza Band. That night they played an instrumental version of “Summertime”. I was impressed and surprised that a friend I had known for so long had this talent and had put it on the shelf all those years. Fast forward twenty years and, with much practice and many lessons, Barry decided to go into the studio and record some of the classic rock, blues and jazz tunes he enjoyed playing and listening to. He also wrote three tracks featured here, which hold up well amongst the others.
The first question was what guitar and amp combination to use. Being a connoisseur of fine guitars, Barry had curated an outstanding collection over the years. Would it be a Gibson, a Fender, maybe a Gretsch or a Rickenbacker? No, it was his Ibanez Prestige RGR5220MTFG played through a Mesa Boogie Mark V 35 head into a 4×12 Marshall cabinet. To achieve the sound he envisioned would take the help of other seasoned musicians. Here, drummer Rick DeKovessey, whose primary gig is with singer Jane Stuart, keyboardist Mitch Schechter, and Bassist Jommy Martinus complement and enrich the sound on these tunes.
“House of the Rising Sun” was a traditional folk song long before the massive success of the 1964 version by the Animals. Here the band holds the listener’s interest with superb drum and organ to accentuate Cooper’s effects-laden guitar. Never straying too far from the melody, they manage to put their own stamp on this song.
The Gershwin tune “I Got Rhythm “, written in 1930, is given a more traditional arrangement with good results. This song pays homage to that era yet it still sounds relevant and pleasing to the ear. Mitch’s old time piano is allowed to stretch out before the song fades out.
The original tune “Blues for Joan” has a great vibe with satisfying results. Barry’s signature guitar is highlighted with the counterpoint of Mitch’s keyboards. The separation of the two instruments, in the left and the right channels, really adds to the sonic ambiance of this original offering.
“Song for My Father”, the Horace Silver composition, is at once familiar but has the fresh sound of that clean Ibanez with Rick’s solid backbeat. The familiar piano fills from Mitch’s Kurzweil coupled with Jommy’s bass lines complete a fine ensemble rendition with which I’m sure the composer would nod in agreement.
“Give Me Strength” was the “B” side of the hit single “I Shot the Sheriff” from Eric Clapton’s 1974 release “461 Ocean Boulevard.” The overdriven sound of the guitar is employed to highlight Cooper’s excellent solo work. Barry is up to the task and, without sounding like a tribute band, the group anchors the song at just the right pace.
The track “Blue Tears” is the second of Cooper’s originals. This song highlights how Barry has progressed over the years in his ability as both a player and composer. His ability to get the best out of his band mates and have them mesh as a cohesive unit makes this song both new and emotionally familiar at the same time.
Any blues aficionado will recognize “The Thrill is Gone” from the opening notes. The song that resurrected BB King’s career, won him a Grammy in 1971 and since then has been covered by every group that considers themselves a blues band. Barry puts his stamp on this song with an arrangement that highlights his emotive fret work. The spirit of the song shines.
“Summertime,” the aria composed by George Gershwin for the opera “Porgy and Bess” in 1934, is an updated version that really swings. Here the tune is carried by the rhythm section with some understated organ fills as that clean guitar virtually floats over the top. I can envision sitting on the porch with a cool drink on a warm summer’s day listening to this as time rolls by.
“Watermelon Man,” the timeless jazz classic written by then 22-year-old Herbie Hancock, is “Cooperized” here to great effect. His soaring solos over the infectious groove of the band are a delight to the ears. My only regret was that it ended too soon.
Completing the trilogy of original tunes, “Coop’s Blues” sounds like it stepped out of a smoky fifties’ bar. Again, the separation of guitar and keyboards is used with great effect as the instruments play off one another. Rick also gets to show off his drumming prowess within the structure of the song. Fun stuff!
You can sense bad weather coming with the opening notes of “Riders On The Storm” from the Doors’ 1971 release “L.A. Woman”. The band propels the song forward with the urgency that something bad is brewing, however, in this case something good, musically, is what you get. Some of Barry’s most compelling soloing pushes this song to musical heights not reached in the original. It is a standout track.
On the whole, this is an impressive debut from a seasoned musician who has turned his passion for guitar into a collection of songs very pleasing to hear. Well done Mr. Cooper.”
Once the raw sound was mastered, the professional photography seen here was incorporated and the discs were pressed. The finished product, a self-titled album “Barry Cooper,” included six panels to accommodate the line notes presented above.
For those of you who are fans of the late blues guitar great, Johnny Winter, you will get the homage to his first album cover as well as the picture with the reverse Firebird. In the process, I gained some music history and a great appreciation as to the process of creating this marvelous art form.