Having grown up in Kansas City, Cooper’s love of music began at just a few years old when he would listen to country legends Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb among other country legends.
His talents eventually led him to Los Angeles, where he signed to Elektra Records and recorded his first album. Cooper’s songwriting abilities have led him to collaborate with many notable writers, such as Kim Carnes and Don Henry, earning him many accolades throughout the years. Some of his achievements include winning the Indie Acoustic Project’s Best Male Songwriter Award in 2005 and The Tennessean’s Best Record Award in 2002.
Having been a staple to the Nashville scene for over three decades, he’s established himself as a seasoned performer and songwriter.
Cooper was able to take time out of his busy touring schedule to answer a few questions about his KC roots, his new album, and more.
What was it like growing up in Kansas City, and how did it influence your music career?
Kansas City in the 1950s and 1960s was a Mecca for a kid like me. I lived in Independence, MO, 18 miles away. There was little to do there except get in trouble, so early on I began riding the bus to Kansas City to play coffee houses like the Vanguard and The Sign. I cut my teeth in those venues, playing a mix of original songs and covers from different genres. I played in several bands: blues, country, soul, psychedelic. There were lots of incredible bands and singer songwriters around town who influenced me; Mystic Number National Bank, Bartok’s Mountain, The Chessmen, Danny Cox, and Brewer and Shipley to name a few.
I see at age 20 you went to LA and landed a record deal with Elektra. Reflecting back, can you talk about what you learned from that experience and seeing success at such a young age?
Recording my Elektra Records album was mind blowing. I worked with members of The Wrecking Crew and The Section, and those people showed me what it meant to be a true professional with a strong work ethic. Being surrounded by and playing live with such gifted musicians in the studio was a real high. Once I began touring in support of the record things got more complicated. With erratic label support, my own inexperience, and the influence of booze and drugs, I was eventually dropped. At first it seemed the worst thing that could have happened. About a year later, I realized it probably saved my life.
So you’ve got your latest single, “Bluebird,” that just dropped in January. Can you talk about the backstory and inspiration behind it?
Tom Kimmel is a long time friend and one of my favorite songwriters. Tom brought the idea for “Bluebird” to me one day years ago. We wrote it in one sitting and loved it so much we made a demo within a couple of days. Several times I planned to record the song, but for one reason or another it never made it onto any projects. When Dave Coleman and I got together with Chris Benelli on drums, I knew we had a rocking version. With several key changes in the instrumentals, I had to play five different harmonicas.
So how did you and Kimmel meet, and what made you want this particular track to be a single?
Tom and I met at a gig we shared for a live radio show in Nashville. We formed a mutual admiration, and for years occasionally toured together. “Bluebird” was the perfect song to include on I Can Face the Truth because of its raw, bluesy energy and mysterious lyrics.
You’ve received many accolades for your past albums. What feels different about your new album, I Can Face the Truth?
This was the most fun project I’ve recorded so far. I think when people hear this record they pick up on the shear fun we had “playing” music together with an amazing group of singers and musicians.
What was it like working with co-producer Dave Coleman on the new album, and what made him the right match to execute your vision?
Co-producer Dave Coleman and I locked into a creative energy right away. Dave is open to experimenting in the studio, and even though he is a world class guitarist, he encouraged me to play electric guitar again too. He brought in players I hadn’t worked with before, and we just let our hair down and served the songs as best we could.
What was the hardest song to write and/or record on the new album maybe emotionally or otherwise?
The most difficult song for me to write was “Laughing and Crying.” It’s about losing my mom, Betty, and how I carry the memory of her with me. One memory in particular is of her laughing and crying at the same time as I sang her a new song.
You’ve lived in California, Texas, and are clearly well-traveled. Perhaps other than the music scene, what makes Nashville so special compared to these other places?
Mostly what keeps me in Nashville is all the friendships we’ve forged here over the years. Of course, the music community and its wealth of talented musicians and songwriters makes it a wonderful place to create and record.
Who might you say has been the most impactful artist or songwriter in your life?
Again, there are too many artists to name who have influenced and inspired me. But The Beatles are at the top of the list. Their diversity and creative adventurousness amazes me still.
Do you have the wheels in motion for spring and summer 2022, or just taking it month-to-month?
My wheels are definitely in motion. With a new manager who keeps the gigs coming and the new CD release, I am busier than I’ve been in several years. Actually have a few dates on the books for 2023 and 2024.
What advice might you have for young up and coming songwriters who may look to take a musical path like yours?
Believe in yourself and surround yourself with people who give you good constructive criticism.