mwe3.com presents an interview with ELI COOK
ELI COOK: On this project I wanted to maintain the energy and organic quality of a raw, very basic recording of material that was written/arranged either in the studio or only just prior to it. This I feel is a key element in achieving a genuine rootsy, non-polished blues-based recording. I think that the entire album has an air of that, even on the tracks that sound more contemporary... Snake Charm, Death Rattle pt. 2, Crow Jane... etc . In some ways the album is very much modern blues because of these songs in particular. The music is completely original and not based at all upon the traditional blues formats of 12-bars, etc. Simultaneously, a number of the other tracks are extremely traditional in arrangement / instrumentation, though all of them have something very unique and original thrown in to keep it fresh. Over the years I have learned that leaving some songs a bit open-ended while going into the studio can be very important in getting a recording that feels authentic. Others can be extremely arranged and rehearsed. Its sort of like planned chaos, so while it may seem like less thought was put into it, the fact is that a very great deal of thought and experience over the years has gone into learning when and how to use this technique effectively.
mwe3: What is it about the music of the early blues masters such as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker that shifted your attention from rock music to the blues as such a young age? And how about favorite albums in your music collection?
mwe3: Also there’s several covers on the Ace, Jack & King CD of Skip James, an often overlooked artist and composer who was so influential to
EC: Skip James music is very haunting and melancholy. His playing style is also totally original and complex. I remember reading the lyrics to Crow Jane before I heard it, and thinking how wonderfully dark and violent they were. The version we recorded sounds nothing like the original, but I think it really captured that earthy, dark, angsty tone that Skip emanated throughout all of his songs. The first generation of white blues-rock bands were the ones that drew attention to music like this by making it appeal to a younger generation with original arrangements. This is something that I feel is very important and try to do myself.
EC: There are 4 acoustic guitars and one electric used on the album. The electric is a 1982 Fender ‘57 Strat reissue with over-wound Lindy Fralin pickups. That guitar is my work horse; high action, jumbo frets, and 13 gauge strings. It gets a nice SRV/Tom Morello tone when I want it.
I used a Taylor Auditorium style guitar for most of the mellower acoustic songs (Afrossippi Breakdown, Driftin, ) and a National Tri-cone Resonator for most of the slide parts, as well as Suicide King, Draggin my Dogs, Better Man, Sugar & Rain and Cocaine Blues. My 1969 Gibson J-50 is kept in open drop-C# tuning, and is featured on the opening track, Death Rattle. The final guitar is a Washburn 12-string (model unknown) that can be heard on Black Eyed Dog, Catfish Blues and Suicide King. I definitely choose the instruments for each song based upon the overall tone/feel that I am trying to achieve. For example, Cocaine Blues was intentionally made to sound like a 1930’s-esque throwback, complete with room-echo and the resonator. The 12-string added a wonderful dark and earthy tone to the tunes that featured it, and each one really calls for that. My Strat has a very aggressive, dark tone; great for creating an air of reckless, raw physical presence. This really comes across on the tunes like Snake Charm, Crow Jane, and Death Rattle (slight return).
mwe3: Why do you think the blues still maintains such a widespread appeal, even today, among rockers, jazzers and even country musicians?
mwe3: How do you balance your time recording and performing your own music with your ongoing work as a guitar instructor and teacher?
EC: Unfortunately, working as a guitar teacher is pretty sporadic and unpredictable when it comes to demand. Students come and go constantly, which means that I have plenty of time for my other musical pursuits. I usually record during the slower months of the year between December and February, and spend the rest of the year promoting and performing. Of course I write every day, even if it’s only in my head, so there is always plenty of new material to pull from.
mwe3: What guitarists and musicians recording today still influence your guitar playing and recording?
EC: I try to maintain a very open mind to all new music that I hear. I try to learn from it and pay attention to the writing, the production, the arrangement, etc. There is a vast amount to study in any song besides the notes and the lyrics. Some of my favorite contemporary artists include Down, Clutch, Chris Cornell, Philip Sayce, Tab Benoit, Everlast, any of the grunge acts still going (STP, etc...) and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
EC: Right now I am beginning a new recording project of more contemporary blues-based rock. Hopefully that should be released by this summer in time for the festival season and I can begin promoting at shows around the