Mike Cooper :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

In the early ‘60s, Mick Jagger wanted British guitarist Mike Cooper for a band he was starting — a band that would go on to be the Rolling Stones — but Cooper had his eyes on a different path, one that has found him incorporating blues, folk, pop, progressive jazz, and exotica into his songs for 40 years.

Cooper’s work has been hard to get a hold on, and long hard to get a hold of, but the crew at Paradise of Bachelors, folks who’ve helped bring to light underexposed gems from genre-defying misfits like Chance and the Red Rippers, have shined a light on some of Cooper’s key albums, 1970’s Trout Steel, 71’s The Places I Know, and ‘72’s The Machine Gun Co. with Mike Cooper, the latter two packaged together in the double album format Cooper originally intended.

The albums — and his upcoming collaborative LP with Steve Gunn, due later this year on RVNG Intl. — showcase the work of a unique artist, one whose songcraft is always bolstered by relentless experimentation. Cooper answered Aquarium Drunkard’s questions from Rome, Italy. Like his songs, his answers are detailed, wry, and unexpected.

Mike Cooper :: The Singing Tree

Aquarium Drunkard: I want to start by asking you about the title of Trout Steel, which references Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America. How did you become familiar with the book?

Mike Cooper: I was in my 30s by the time I made these records -- the point being that I was pretty well “worldly” by then. I had travelled and read extensively. I was reading Garcî­a Lorca at the same time for instance, as well as Gurdjieff and Brautigan. I had gone through the “beats” as they happened, not retrospectively. I have a feeling someone in Spain recommended Brautigan to me. I had ex-pat artist friends there... both English and American. One of them suggested I might like Brautigan, maybe?

AD: "Pharaoh's March" from Trout Steel is dedicated to Pharoah Sanders. How did you become familiar with his work?

MC: I was pretty hip to the “new jazz” scene (Ornette, etc) right from the start in the early sixties. My sax player friend Geoff Hawkins turned me on to it. I was also an avid record buyer. I bought American imports from a shop in London by the bucket loads. I also discovered Sonny Sharrock via a Herbie Mann record and so I bought anything that he was featured on. I had all the Herbie Mann records and then Tauhid, of course. I had the New York Jazz Composers Orchestra box set with all the wonderful photographs of the recording sessions -- Cecil Taylor, Pharoah, etc. That set had a fantastic Larry Coryell guitar solo track as well. He never did anything like it ever again after that. Very Hendrix inspired.

AD: Free jazz seems to have influenced you work as much as folk and blues. What about the sounds of free jazz spoke to you?

Mike Cooper: I have a trio called Truth In The Abstract Blues. I always thought that free jazz was the natural extension of country blues and we try to elaborate on that idea...Blind Boy Fuller and Charlie Patton meets Sun Ra and Stockhausen or Robert Johnson meets Ornette at the crossroads where Pendereki is waiting for the bus to the terminal beach to go surfing one more time.

Only the good shit. Aquarium Drunkard is powered by its patrons. Keep the servers humming and help us continue doing it by pledging your support.

To continue reading, become a member or log in.