Cooper Brothers’ guitarist, chief songwriter, Dick Cooper doesn’t have to travel too far to get an instant critique on any new material he may have just completed. He simply turns to the students of his music/song writing class at Ottawa’s Algonquin College for their feedback.
Having taught class at the college for the past five years, Cooper has found his students to be a constructive soundboard for his latest compositions.
“I played `Radio Silence’ (the title track off the band’s latest album release) to them about two years ago, just me playing an acoustic guitar version and I said to them, “what do you think?” Their collective response was; “that’s awesome man, you should record that track.” These are 18-year old kids, when you get that kind of reaction, it kinda gets you juiced up.”
For those of you not in the know, The Cooper Brothers first came to prominence in 1978 when their producer, Gary Cape took a demo of their debut, self titled album to Phil Walden, then head of Macon Georgia’s influential Capricorn Records whose roster, which included the likes of The Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie and Elvin Bishop created a new Southern Rock sound.
Hearing the tape, Waldern thought he was actually listening to a new demo by The Eagles and had to be convinced by Cape that, no, this was a band from Ottawa Canada. The Cooper Brothers’ 1978 self-titled debut was given a top priority U.S release with “Dream Never Dies” and “Rock And Roll Cowboys” receiving U.S airplay and Billboard chart success.
As The Coopers (Dick, brother Brian, lead vocalist Don Bregg, Terry King, Al Serwa, Glenn Bell, Darryl Alguire) toured with the likes of the Allman Brothers, Black Oak Arkansas, Joe Cocker, Atlantic Rhythm Section and Charlie Daniels, they released a second album “Pitfalls Of The Ballroom” which included two more major hits; “I’ll Know Her When I See Her” and “Show Some Emotion”.
But unfortunately, the Coopers were unaware that Capricorn was in serious financial trouble and were literally hung out to dry when the label declared bankruptcy later in 1979.
“Talking about Capricorn is liking picking at an old scab,” noted Cooper ruefully. “We had the rug pulled out from underneath us but talk to any band from that era and they all have their own horror stories. Bands suffered from record company bankruptcies or being ripped off by bad managers, it was the price of doing business.”
Five Man Electrical Band frontman, Les Emerson, who had helped out during the band’s 1974 formation, stepped in to work with the Coopers on their 1982 release `Learning To Live With It’, but without Capricorn’s U.S push, the album generated little support and they dissolved before their 1983 effort, `Reach For The Sky’ even got a release.
“The reality is that our relationship with Capricorn didn’t end on our terms, it ended with other external forces that we had no control over,” allowed Cooper. “We all felt we had unfinished business.”
EMI offered the band a lifeline when they released a Best Of Cooper Brothers album in 2006 which pushed the band back on stage after almost 20 years. A performance before 25,000 fans opening for James Taylor at the Ottawa Blues Festival that summer re-charged Dick Cooper’s song writing creative juices and when Colin Linden heard some of Cooper’s material he convinced both brothers to travel down to Nashville to record the tracks with an elite group of session players including Audley Freed (Black Crowes, Jakob Dylan, Dixie Chicks), Dan Dugmore (Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor), Kevin McKendree (Brian Seltzer, Lee Roy Parnell) , Lynn Williams (John Hiatt, Delbert McClinton) and Steve Mackey (Trisha Yearwood).
With Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy, Delbert McClinton and Allman Brothers’ Chuck Leavell all performing on the new album, `In From The Cold’ was released in 2010 to solid critical success but by this time, the record industry landscape had changed drastically and reaching the general public required a whole new skill set.
“You can’t be just a musician anymore,” allowed Cooper. “You have to be prepared to go out there and sell your release and a lot of us are not wired for that purpose”.
The Coopers reformed their band to include keyboardist/vocalist Jeff Rogers, guitarist Darwin Demers, keyboardist Ed Bimm, pedal steel player Jeff Steele and drummer Rob Holtz to complement Brian (bass/vocals) and Dick (guitar), released their 2013 `Southbound’ album and have spent a full year recording `Radio Silence’.
“The truth is we would not be moving forward if I didn’t think I could still write but I have discovered a renewed interest in song writing,” Cooper explained. “Everyone I play my songs for seem to dig them so I said, let’s go back and add some more songs to the story.”
Check out the 12 tracks which comprise `Radio Silence’ and it’s obvious that their trademark country rock harmonies have been augmented by instrumentals which balance country with a strong infusion of R&B horn arrangements. The lead off title track, “Radio Silence” suggests country rock meets Tower Of Power with horns also strongly featured on other key tracks like “Mister One Percent” and “I’m Not Afraid”.
“There was no overall plan about a direction change, it was just that some of the songs lend themselves to horns, something we had never done before,” Cooper allowed. “With no record company telling us what to do it was liberating for us not to have a gun held to our heads. Our sole aim was to write and record the best album we possibly could.”
With keyboardist Jeff Rogers adding lead vocals to four of the tracks, The Cooper Brothers are anxious to hit the road but the biggest obstacle still facing them is the size of their lineup. “We need six or seven of us just to perform the basics and now we also have to accommodate the horn section. “Cooper admitted. “To tour with a full horn section is expensive but to perform the album and do it justice on stage, we do need a full complement of players.”