AL COOK – PIONEER AND LEGEND
Al Cook was born as Alois Kurt Koch on February 27th, 1945 in Bad Ischl, Upper Austria.
At the close of the second World War, he was brought back to Vienna, where he was raised in a working-class family, where his life went the unspectacular and average way until he was 15.
Al wanted to become a scientist, studying astronomy and physics, but his family could not afford any higher education and he had to take a job as a mechanic in a nearby factory, that left him completely dissatisfied and certainly was not the place to live up to his being as a natural born individualist.
But inside the young boy grew a desirable power to take off from the ground and liberate himself from slaving among blockheaded proletarians and to live a life, he simply did not enjoy.
But the evening of his first day at work resulted in a do-or-die decision, when Al Cook dropped into a local movie-theater to watch Elvis Presley, playing the role of Deke Rivers in „Loving You“, a catchy teen melodram from 1957.
Al heard about Elvis, but at that time, he was still unaware of the singer’s meaning in the world of his generation. But when he left the cinema, the idea of becoming a Rock n Roll Star in order to escape social inferiority, changed his attitudes for the rest of his life.
After several years of intensive studies of Elvis‘ recordings, Al bought a cheap „campfire“ guitar and made himself aquainted with the rudimentary requirements of self-backing.
On October 17th 1964, Al Cook was ready to perform at a local variety show, but his appearance failed to impact, because his music was played before the wrong audience. Younger people had already followed the upcoming advent of Beatlemania and Rock n Roll music simply turned obsolete.
Just at that time, the kick to another direction was given by listening to some odd tape recordings, containing vintage blues by black rural singers of the 20s and 30s.
From this day on, Al Cook was convinced, that this kind of music was the perfect vehicle to transcribe his feelings into song. The purity and primitive savageness of the country-blues seemed to take hold of the young man and he began to walk the rocky road of self-education.
There was neither anybody to teach him how to play and sing the blues, nor any educational material at local record stores.
When Al Cook purchased his first blues albums, he had to learn all that stuff by ear. Even the technique of the bottleneck and other slide guitar styles, then still unknown in the german-speaking countries had to be discovered by the aspiring bluesman.
But within a solid year, Al Cook mastered the art of the blues guitar and showed a puzzled dancefloor-crowd, what the sound of Robert Johnson and Elmore James was all about. But again, there was no audience for Al…not yet. So he was fired from the dance-band, that lost a slight chance to win a local contest.
After that, he decided to work as a solo-performer, but found himself in a dilemma, because the british blues boom took over and rock guitarists like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix were setting the pace what to file under blues, but that was certainly not the stuff for Al Cook.
But the uprising folkmusic-movement finally made it possible for him to be recognized by a bigger audience and six years after his first performance, Al Cook finally got the opportunity to cut his first record, „Working Man Blues“, that helped to make him known nationwide.
His second album, „Slide Guitar Foolin’“ was highly appreciated by expert magazines and Al Cook was crowned „White King Of Black Blues“ and even received top reviews by the german „Jazz Podium“ in its 1974 April issue.
Al Cook jammed with a respectable lineup of original blues-greats during their European tour.
Among them, there was his idolized piano player Roosevelt Sykes, as well as Johnny Shines and Honeyboy Edwards. Both had been close buddies of the legendary Robert Johnson, when he recorded his famous sides during the 30s.
John Jackson and Doctor Ross, who knew the teenage Elvis while at Sun-Records, were sharing the stage with Al Cook at Viennas first rate club „Jazzland“.
Cooks sudden rise to local stardom grew a small follow-up of musicians, who became at last noted artists by themselves. Watching Cook on stage was giving them a first encounter, how it was played, what they heard on records.
Erik Trauner, who followed Al Cook in 1975, worked to form his highly successful formation, known worldwide as the „Mojo Blues Band“, while another pioneer, Martin Pyrker led us to the wonderful art of classical boogie-woogie piano, like Axel Zwingenberger did in Germany.
A further lineup of other great artists followed in the second and third generation, leaving their imprints on the blues players of the closing 20th century. But a lot of these artists drifted away from the real blues, because the were more into rock and pop-music.
During the mid-eighties, Al Cook flirted briefly with the short-lived Rockabilly Revival, forming a trio with bass and drums, that’s still today known as „Al Cook with Harry and Mike“.
The band executed a powered-up version of the classic Rockabilly trio and was in its concept as controversial as Elvis in the mid-fifties. After a fairly successful period, Al broke the complete project up, because his audience moved towards redneck-racism and booed his blues performances due to its black content. Practically overnight, Al Cook decided to return to the black side of the road, never to play white stuff again. But his Rockabilly years again left a deep impression on a number of young musicians, who carried along, what had been started. The Salty Dogs and a number of other bands walked the road, that Al Cook paved some years before.
When bassist Mike Jerry left the band, he was replaced by Charlie Lloyd, an enthusiastic and creative piano-player, whom Al Cook taught the requirements of the classic blues piano.
In 1993, Al signed up with Wolf Records, a top label in classical and Chicago-Blues and released seven albums since.
His vinyls are by now highly rated collectors classics and hard to get.
Al Cooks birthplace Bad Ischl awarded his faith with the Golden Medal for cultural engagement in 2005 and following his uncompromising work during four decades of pioneering work, Al Cook was decorated with the Golden Cross Of Honor in May 2006, granted by the mayor of Vienna.
In 2008, Al Cook was nominated for the „Amadeus Award“ for his album „The Barrelhouse Man“.
Al Cook is still going strong and celebrated his 45th year on stage, when all the local blues artists joined him at the „Great Blues Jamboree“, at Viennas Metropol-Theatre on November 7th, 2009.