Born in Los Angeles in 1947, Ry Cooder learnt directly from folk-blues singers like the Reverend Gary Davis and Sleepy John Estes, perfecting a technique that was academic at first but soon acquired a strikingly impressive individuality.
He made his first appearance at the Ash Grove Club in LA when he was 16, playing with Jackie DeShannon.
His first band, The Rising Sons, featured a similarly inclined blues singer/guitarist, Taj Mahal. They recorded one (unreleased) record for Columbia, and Cooder worked on Taj Mahal’s debut LP in 1967.
As a noted session player, and an acknowledged master of bottleneck guitar, he played with Captain Beefheart, Randy Newman and Little Feat before his virtuosity brought him to the attention of The Rolling Stones.
After assisting them with Let It Bleed in 1969 it was rumoured that Cooder might join the Stones, but at that time he professed little interest in rock showmanship.
After meeting arranger Jack Nitzsche, Cooder helped him score the films Candy (1968), Performance (1970) and Blue Collar. In later years he would provide his own film scores, including The Long Riders (1980) and Jack Nicholson’s The Border (1982).
As a solo artist Cooder recorded several excellent albums for Reprise, showing an ability to interpret a good song and uncovering a rich vein of blues, country and jazz numbers with authenticity and humour.
He was also responsible for bringing the public’s attention to a wider range of ethnic music than they might otherwise have encountered, though he has always belittled this worthy side of his work.
Nonetheless, his integrity always ensured that neglected figures like Sleepy John Estes received their first substantial royalties for many years.
In the later 70s and early 80s Cooder concentrated on his own writing and stepped up live performances, with the result that Bop Till You Drop (1979) and Borderline (1980), both digitally recorded, finally brought him a level of popularity to match his talent.
This was particularly true in Europe, where Cooder became a bona fide star.