Pioneer and Legend Baumwolle Baumwolle
LOOKING BACK IN HISTORY
Biographie
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LOOKING BACK IN HISTORY

That 27th of July was a lonesome midsummer evening in 1960 and I could not stay at home. It was my first day at work as a mechanic in a viennese factory and I disliked the job, because I wanted to study astronomy and physics. The last thing I was craving for, was to become a working man, unable to escape a proletarian life. So I let my feet carry me downtown to get me some entertainment in order to forget about my upcoming future....and they led me to a destination, where I made a fateful do or die decision, that changed my dreams and attidudes for the rest of my life. I became a musician and had not even touched an instrument.
Dropping in a local cinema, I happened to see Elvis Presley starring in "Loving You", a Rock'n'Roll musical from 1957....and that was it! Just shake your feet, gyrate your hips, bang a few chords, look brooding and you make it. But that turned out to be nothing but a ridiculous daydream of a terribly naive 15 year old teenager, that’s got a lot of livin' to do.

At that time, Elvis was already back from the US Army and the taste of popular music changed drastically. Clean-cut highschool-bobbies dominated the scene and Elvis followed, but I did not give a damn about all that upcoming sixties stuff, planning to become a Rock'n Roll star.
From the beginning, I decided to compose my own material and started writing Rock and Roll songs, in order to mail it to my idol, but was quickly discouraged by reality, because nobody would listen to a foolish teenage boy in those days.
After I realized, that there was no way out of the dumps, I purchased my first guitar in 1963 and in lack of a backing band, I taught myself the rudiments of self accompaniment. After I got possession over the basic chords, I was ready to push myself forward, whatever may happen. I was fooled, ridiculed and often the subject of  mocking and laughter, when I first performed among workmates, but again, I did not care.
On October 17th 1964, my very first appearance on a real stage took place in a local concert hall. I was part of a variety show and gave all I had. With daring enthusiasm, I was banging out three golden Elvis hits....complete with the required show elements.

Needless to say, that my debut as a Rock n Roll singer ended up in perfect failure. Not only performing before the wrong audience, I was at last asked, if I did’nt know about the Beatles, who had recently conquered the world of pop-music. However, I did’nt pay them no mind either....


It was literally some long old lonesome day, when I came in touch with a neighbor, who lived next door. After we shook hands, he showed me a tape, containing some dixie-jazz and other similar stuff. But sandwiched between the tracks, I discovered music, that was completely unknown to me, but it went straight to my bones....it was the BLUES. That was the second time, my life made a change, but this time, my attitude to music was motivated by artistical means rather than entertainment. That was decidedly the perfect vehicle to tell my story. To become a passable blues guitarist, I taught myself the required basics by studying all the different styles by ear. Exploring the techniques of authentic Mississippi slide guitar, I quickly became an expert, although there have not been anybody to show me anything. When I came home from work, I took up my box and practiced until after midnight. When I got tired of playing, I laid down with earphones on my head, drumming the blues in my youthful ears, that were still used to the sounds of Elvis' golden records. Meanwhile, the music outside my little world changed again. The british blues boom was about to take over in Continental Europe and the cercle around it’s founder Alexis Korner was setting the pace. John Mayall and his protegee Eric Clapton with his sensational trio, called "Cream" were telling the audience, what to file under blues.
But again, I did not care...
My universe was the authentic blues culture, that grew giants from Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charley Patton to Lightning Hopkins and Robert Johnson and I was deeply convinced, that I had to carry out the legacy of their music and began to feel as to be "one of them". In fact I was lightyears away from being a real bluesman. I still stuck too much to the fifties and my image of the blues was’nt far from picturesque showboat-romantics. But "The Bluesmen", a book by Sam Charters helped me along, to know about the real thing.


So I took an odd job, playing lead guitar in a local no-name dance band to gather some helpful stage experience. I was given a feature to play some Elvis stuff, but daringly banged out a handful of self penned blues pieces. Naturally, the audience, consisting of unprepared folks off the street nearly booed my performance, but finally received me, astonished and uncertain what to do with me. I smiled the whole thing off and did the next gig....until one day in 1966, the band fired me, when I made them lose a slight chance to win a dance-band contest. As the band was giving in to play one of my chicago-styled numbers, I showed off with a touch of Elmore James, but that was the wrong vehicle to please five o’clock tea dancers. It was certainly the first demonstration of electric slide-guitar blues in Austria, but it was turned down by the audience, expecting a decent dance band, instead of a shuffle-driven overdrive-guitar. Sharp edged guitar sounds, quite common with todays popular music, were still unknown at that time, but the twang of Duane Eddy and The Shadows were soon to be replaced by Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.
Towards the end of the sixties, I did’nt care of any payment and played my music, where ever they let me give them a few songs. After two or three numbers, hardly a handful of people remained listening and I became aware, that acoustical music had turned obsolete in those days of screaming wah wah guitars. Parties were dominated by spinning records of so called psychedelic rock bands, featuring orgiastic lead guitarists, that were in most cases, as stoned as their audience. It was the advent of  drug-culture and hippie-movement, indicating the dawn of the aquarius-age.



In 1968, I tried to form a trio, that was supposed to rhythmisize country blues, like Johnny Shines and the young Muddy Waters did in post-war Chicago, but after a few gigs, the project broke up, because my sidemen were more into Clapton and Mayall, than going for Robert Johnson and Son House.
Just at that time, I happened to come in touch with Johnny Parth, then founder of "Roots Records", a first rate label, specializing in all styles of authentic prewar blues. From then on, I could dig into the music like I never could before. Still today, I admire Johnnys "Document Records" along with the later founded vintage series of "Wolf" as the most representative collections of all time. With Johnny’s Roots-Records in my hand, I swore, never to touch the world of music-entertainment again and establish my name as introductor and trademark for living blues artistry. I was in my early twenties and steamed up with creative power.
First thing, I had to manage, was to wash out my viennese accent and get rid of my Elvis-flavor, when it came to sing the blues. The other problem was to find a stylish direction, not to be visually mistaken for an Elvis clone. Finally, I gave it up to be somebody else, because I could'nt get black anyway and I knew very well, that Elvis' upcoming was also deeply rooted in the country-blues. So I carried on with my fifties style, but playing strictly prewar blues, slightly flavored with some of Elvis' early stage antics. In fact, this produced some additional confusion and my life wound up in some kind of social isolation, because I simply did not fit the stylish requirements of the era. So I stood there, amidst hippies and bob dylan clones, displaying my slicked back hair, complete with sideburns, slacks and two-toned shoes....but hell, I was different. And that was I wanted to be.
But the times, they were a-changin, as Bob Dylan once stated and some unheard artists came to light, as the mass media jumped the bandwagon in 1967. The Austrian Broadcasting Company founded a progressive sidekick to ist formal program, called Ö3. The station’s broadcasting concept followed the change towards the upcoming rock-revolution of the late 60s and informed about the latest political trends of the `68 students movement.


Fortunately, a journalist, who worked occassionally as a folk-music host at Ö3, discovered me appearing at viennas only folk-club, the "Golden Gate" and brought me straight before the microphone of a radio station. Unprepared, but with my do-or-die mentality, I did a six minute song about the loss of my first girlfriend. Executing the limits of my slide-guitar skills, I caused quite an overnight sensation, impressing hosts and listeners alike.
But it took the british bluesband Fleetwood Mac, featuring their slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer, to open the ears of a bigger audience, but folks, I already did that stunt for years without being noticed.
Right after that, the technique of slide guitar playing became a standard gimmick with folk and rock guitarists alike. To me, that was simple abuse and had nothing to do with its original meaning as an extension of the human voice.
But it finally took me off the ground and within a few months, I starred as the headliner at almost every cultural event, that was held at least in Austria. Broadcasting radio and television spots in so called "progressive" music-scene reports helped me, to become nationwide popularity. I was even promised an international career equal to Joe Zawinul, but in fact, there had been spoken such a lot of bullshit in those days and I did’nt even bother to listen. But something happened and that was allright with me.
In the fall of 1970, the first pure blues record by a non-american, that was’nt even black, had been presented by a local label, named "Amadeo". Since my upbringing was not the intellectual student-scene, the producers focused on my proletarian working-class heritage.

"Working Man Blues" was the featured title of my first longplay record, pressed yet in black vinyl, but the song was far away from any political working class content. I penned that number, that mistakingly became my most requested song at that time, in 1965. Fortunately, a scholar picked me from a private appearance and recorded a couple of my songs on semiprofessional equipment. This are among the first tapings, long before I happen to be put into studios for commercial recording.
"Working Man Blues" tells about my life as an outcast, who had been displaced to work in a factory and desperately looking for a girlfriend that could’nt be found due to my uncompromising attitude towards popular lifestyles. Regardless of the songs real content, I seemed to become popular anyway. Today, I think my popularity was simply based on some kind of alien-effect, cause everybody wanted to see that Elvis-styled anachronism, carrying out such fabulous country-blues guitar.
The following years were offering me a lot of opportunities, I never had before. Within a year, I came under management and my name was known all over the country. Even in some of the remotest villages of Austria, Al Cook posters could be found among local countrydance-bands of the period.
But Amadeo-Records wanted me to lean towards popular blues tastes, in order to brush up my style and needless to say, their sale-figures. In fact, they wanted me to team up with the british blues connection and contacted Alexis Korner to arrange some sessions with John Mayall and Eric Clapton, who was freelancing after "Cream" broke up at the close of the sixties.
My answer was as clear as sunrise: "No, not at all" . I just did not want my music to be drowned by tons of fuzz and wah-wah. At least, I was’nt fond of working with "long-haired drug addicts", as I used to call them.
From Clapton to Hendrix, they were great musicians, but had nothing to do with the stuff, I would file under blues. So I wiped off my last chance to make it probably on international stages.

 
I always disliked professional studio work, because all the producers and engineers work on some techno-economical basis and have no mind for the arts. That’s why I switched from studio work to my cheap tape recorder and simply did all by home recording. The result was cut onto vinyl and wrapped in a cheap cardboard cover. That was it ! Today, the cover-design is widely appreciated and the record is the most valuable among collectors.
Within a few months, I received top-rated reviews from many magazines and the German "Jazz Podium" declared me the world's top country-blues and slide guitar player among white artists. "Slide Guitar Foolin", as the record was called, contained not only first rate slide guitar solos, but sounded perfectly like vintage material by native black Mississippians. Jazz columnists and blues enthusiasts provided with a lineup of positive reviews, which were useful as public relation material and one of the magazines fervently crowned me "White King Of Black Blues", a privilege, serving years later as some sort of provocative slogan against so called "blues fascists".
From 1972 to 1978, I jammed and briefly teamed up with a string of still surviving black blues artists, among them pianist Roosevelt Sykes and Delta legend Johnny Shines, who hoboed with Robert Johnson, before he made his famous recordings. In the mid-seventies, a then very young and ambicious guitar player came up and asked me for a few lessons and I rejected him, because I did’nt take him any serious and on the side I was’nt too fond of raising my own competitors at last. But in fact, that youngster turned out to be the young Erik Trauner, who had become a legend by himself. Erik attended many of my early blues concerts, but I simply did’nt know, that he was as serious with his music as I was with mine. Erik’s formative inspiration was a blues program, called "Living Blues", hosted by Hans Maitner, a collector and bluesexpert par excellance. My "job" within this steady growing blues circus was, to show them live, what they heard on record.


The close of the 70s were marked by another sudden change, that had not been helpful for music outside of commercials. It was the birth of disco-music and within a short time, the "progressive" programs were canceled from the mass media one by one. Hans Maitner’s "Living Blues" disappeared from the radio and my records were dropped from the playlists. But the seed of our work bore rich fruit and Erik Trauner with his Mojo Bluesband soon covered the European Continent. They played a rather danceable easy to listen Chicago Style, while I remained the tough hardcore bluesman I ever had been, since I first heard Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charley Patton.
Until the early 80s, I tried myself on various band-projects but wound up simply dissatisfied with the results. There had been a growing pool of sometimes excellent musicians, but I never happened to find perfect sidemen, for to bring on stage, what was on my mind. But will there ever be a light at the end of the road ?
Yes, it was. In the summer of 1983, a rockabilly revival was kicked loose by a retro-trio named Stray Cats and their Hit "Rock This Town" was skyrocketing up the charts. I remembered, that one of my early compositions, called "Hop Bop And Ball" had a similar melody. I realized, that my roots were in the music of the fifties and I would not suffer artistic pain, giving my Rock n Roll soul another chance. To go back to the blues would be just an easy step backwards and I'll be on the road again.
But where could I get the perfect backup ?

Accidentally, I came in touch with two musicians, who had boring jobs in a dance band, looking for some adventure. Hell, I was adventurous enogh and we managed to work out a powerful version of the classic rockabilly trio. On October 6th we had our debut as "Al Cook with Harry and Mike" at the legendary "Papas Tapas" Club in Vienna and from that day on, we shook our little universe with the wildest and most uncompromising rockabilly-sound on the continent. Finally, the audience lifted from their seats and sometimes we had screeching girls in front of the stage. My slogan at that time was: "Just burn the candle on both sides, as long as there is still some wax".My music had never been mere entertainment and after all, no food for nostalgia-events.


Causing controversy had always been the salt of my concerts, because some loved it and some hated it, because we were too hard, even for Elvis Fans. The generation, that damaged the Berliner Sportpalast in 1958 became soft steppin' baldheads by now, but I remained a powerhouse of Rock and Roll at the age of 40.
After four years, the revival of the 50s turned out to be a passing fad, as it was later with the 40's and 60's. The audience of 1984 was not the same as 1954. Just a passing fad...Soon after I realized, what was to happen in the music business, I dropped Rockabilly-Music practically over night, when some rednecks saw me playing black blues music during one of my gigs, yelling: "Quit that nigger shit and play white music!" The seriousness of such statement forced me to make one of my final decisions....and changed over, to the black side of the road, never to play Rockabilly in my life.
But again, my playing inspired another trio of young, aspiring musicians, taking over a few years later and calling themselves "Salty Dogs". Nearly everywhere I went, some young musicians were among my following, but most of them went often different paths, that led them to pop and rock music.
1993, I finally could stop my odyssey from one record company to another, signing up with "Wolf Records", where I was granted total artistic liberty and from now on, I could work as my own producer and sound engineer. Just a few years ago, another of my dreams came true, when my landlord left me a room in the basement to use it as "Al Cook’s Blues Kitchen", where all my material is carefully recorded, completely with the sound, authentic blues records require.
But after all the years, the tastes regarding Blues-Music had changed towards a strange direction and it goes quite without saying, that upcoming generations might alienate step by step and finally loose their lead to the roots of this wonderful music. But as long as I execute my stuff on stage and records, there is at last somebody, that will never forget about the real thing.From time to time, I gather all our great musicians around me, to celebrate another anniversary. This time it’s my 45th year on stage and I hope to make my 50th in 2014.
                                                                  Al Cook © September 2009