Head Southbound With Ottawa’s Cooper Brothers

Ottawa brothers Richard and Brian Cooper started their careers on the momentum of Beatlemania and played eastern Canada in such outfits as What The Cat Dragged In. They decided to form their own band in 1971 following Richard’s suspension from the University of Ottawa for spending too much time on the road instead of working on his Masters’ Degree in English Literature. By 1974, The Cooper Brothers had their own band and released three unsuccessful singles under the production guidance of Les Emmerson (he of the fabled Staccatos and Five Man Electrical Band). Richard Cooper felt that the material, which consisted entirely of cover tunes, wasn’t where they should be focusing and decided to start writing original material.

After attracting the attention of Polydor Records, The Cooper Brothers had a minor hit with their first release entitled Finally (With You). As a newly expanded seven-piece band, manager Alan Katz landed them a distribution deal in the US with Gary Cape’s Capricorn Records in Macon, Georgia. With Cape also acting as producer (right up through their final LP), by the summer of 1978 the Coopers finally had their first legitimate hit with Rock and Roll Cowboys. The follow-up The Dream Never Dies became an American hit for US country singer Bill Anderson but also charted on the Billboard Hot 100 for The Cooper Brothers as did Show Some Emotion and I’ll Know Her When I See Her.

With the collapse of Capricorn Records in 1980, the band lost its third album which was already completed – called Reach for the Stars – and floundered without a record deal. They brought in Les Emmerson as fresh blood and produced one more album – Learning to Live With It – on the indie label SALT, before the group disbanded following a long cross-Canada tour in 1983. They reunited for a one-off Children’s Wish Foundation charity fundraiser at the Ottawa Civic Centre in 1986.

In October 2006, The Best of the Cooper Brothers, under the supervision of Gary Cape, was released by Pacemaker/EMI and the band performed for the first time on stage in over 20 years. This led to a number of sold-out live dates throughout southern Ontario including a memorable Ottawa Bluesfest concert in front of 25,000 people while opening the show for James Taylor. The experience also sparked Dick Cooper’s songwriting muse and before long the Brothers had enough material for a new album.

In September 2009, with old friend Colin Linden in the production chair, the Cooper Brothers went to Masterlink Studio in Nashville to begin recording with session musicians including Audley Freed (The Black Crowes, Jakob Dylan, Dixie Chicks), Dan Dugmore (Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor), Kevin McKendree (Brian Seltzer, Lee Roy Parnell), Lynn Williams (John Hiatt, Delbert McClinton) and Steve Mackey (Trisha Yearwood). Special guests included Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy, Delbert McClinton and Chuck Leavell. After additional recording back in Ottawa and Toronto, the CD was mixed in Los Angeles by John Whynot (Colin James, Bruce Cockburn, Lucinda Williams). The 12-song album In From the Cold was released in October 2010 and was well received.

This past year, the brothers began work on a new CD at The Tragically Hip’s studio in Kingston with producer Colin Cripps (Blue Rodeo, Junkhouse, Crash Vegas) at the helm. From the opening title track and first single, Southbound, this new release by the brothers is an 11-song masterpiece of precision country-rock that ignores the slick and lifeless country cliché conventions being churned out from Nashville and revisits the 1970s pop-leaning country that gave the Coopers their distinctive commercial appeal.

In fact, to this listener’s ears, the Coopers’ transition well between the Southern Rock guitar boogie/slide work of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers and 461 Ocean Boulevard-period Clapton on tunes like Southbound, The Last Time I Saw Georgia (about their dealings with Capricorn Records), Maybe This Is the Night, Five Point Five and Club Shangri-La through the Southern California folk-rock of The Eagles, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Poco on the amazing spaghetti Western guitar-driven Bordertown, the bittersweet prairie haunt of What I Leave Behind and the beautiful heart-breaking balladry of Bridges and Love’s Been a Stranger.

And just to keep listeners on their toes, the real surprise on the disc is a sneaky little McCartney-esque pop ditty buried late on the album entitled Havana Nights which recalls the intimacy of Macca’s self-titled debut in 1970.

Colin Cripps has handled the production masterfully, focusing on a dry, crisp sound – vocals front and centre with not much on them but a touch of reverb – giving the songs an intimate immediacy. Dick Cooper’s lyrics come alive on the tongue of brother Brian; lyrics that are some of the most articulate to grace an album since Don Henley wrote Desperado.
The Cooper Brothers have created a thinking man’s country-rock fusion. Southbound is the new New Country album we’ve been waiting for.

To find out more, visit http://thecooperbrothers.com/