69. Ry why?

Posted on 25/09/2017

69. Ry  Why?

I have always been grateful to Ry Cooder for the Buena Vista Social Club. If he had not been to Havana and discovered all these neglected and hopeless geniuses, the world would be a much poorer place. Take Compay Segundo: he was an elderly cigar factory worker who had been well known in the 1940’s as the bass singer in a combo in the then party going Havana. Cooder made him a world star, as he deserved to be. As with a dozen others. He got fined 25,000 dollars for breaking the ban on contacting Cuba: brave man.

But I had always found Cooder annoyingly derivative. So it proved in the film of Buena Vista. Although the various tars implored Cooder to come up front and play, he rightly stayed at the back. Even at the back he was redundant. His son was better value, playing the drums.

But he is a great slide guitarist, as the following song shows:

This is a much younger Cooder singing a song of social protest. He sounds more convincing in that protest role.

But here is the old Co0oder, singing an old Fats Domino song with great enthusiasm:

Here is a middle aged Cooder sliding his guitar with Carlos Santana:

Cooder is renowned more for working with other musicians than being just himself. This makes sense as he does not have a vivid individual voice but does have great skill as a soloist and accompanist:

No video, but Ali Farkar is always great, and Cooder helps him along.

Now for Cooder’s life achievement: resuscitating and spreading the fame of the old Cuban stars. This video shows Compay Secundo and the rest playing along in the Cuban way, with Cooder slightly apologetically playing down beside them.

Aside from the deep voice of Compay, the voice of Ibrahim Ferrer is the piano playing of the snowy haired but brilliant Ruben Gonzales can be seen.

And another Buena Vista track with bits of the film of Buena Vista:

Playing the Carnegie Hall was the dream of all their lives. For that alone Cooder deserves great praise.

An earlier aspect of Cooder was his guitar virtuosity: here he wins a duel with the incredibly showy Steve Vai:

This final track is a wonderful groove, with the backing singers really making the blues guitar sound great.

I must say that I admire Cooder far more for having listened to a wide range of his material. He does not have a brilliant ‘voice’ in the way that many musicians do. But that makes him a great accompanist and mood creator. And his guitar playing really is something to reckon with



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