Monday, March 05, 2007

Interview with Ry Cooder

If Ry Cooder were English, it's near certainty that he'd have a sizeable shed at the bottom of his garden in which to potter about. As it is, the 59-year-old singer, guitarist and producer - he celebrates his 60th birthday later this month - has lived most of his life in Santa Monica, California, and a few years back took possession of a small hangar at the local airfield in which to potter about. It is where 'Okies and Arkies' - migrant workers from Oklahoma and Arkansas - flocked during the Second World War to build Douglas fighter jets, but now it more suggests tumbleweed.

The taxi driver ferrying me from west Hollywood, near where Cooder briefly experimented putting down roots when he married (later writing the funky 'Down in Hollywood': 'You better hope that you don't run out of gas!'), certainly has no clue where he's going. But when we eventually find the site, there's a weathered figure, in a red, zip-up corduroy jacket, blinking in the early spring sunshine, already waiting. Cooder leads me into the small, dark room, perches himself on the leather sofa and starts talking.

Cooder doesn't like to dwell on the past, can be cranky, cantankerous even; on the walls, there is nothing to suggest that this is one of the most influential figures in the history of contemporary popular song. No old photographs posing with Captain Beefheart or the Rolling Stones (Cooder played on Let it Bleed, but fell into a dispute with Keith Richards, who confessed he took him 'for all that he knew', over ownership of the 'Honky Tonk Woman' riff); no gold discs commemorating his string of classic Seventies solo albums such as Chicken Skin Music; no framed guitar from the soundtrack sessions for the Wim Wenders movie Paris, Texas, the most feted of several film scores he wrote in the Eighties; nothing to mark his ground-breaking collaborations with Malian bluesman Ali Farka Toure or Hindustani musician VM Bhatt in the 1990s, never mind his work with Cuba's Buena Vista Social Club, whom he helped rediscover and produce. Put it to Cooder that he's nothing if not versatile and he says genially: 'Well, I'm sort of an osmotic fellow.'
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