This was from an interview of a few weeks ago, and may have lost its timeliness. I tried to get two of the state-wide-distributed music magazines to use it, but got no response back from either one I contacted. It wasn’t rejected, just ignored. Oh, well… Two of these pictures were taken by Mark Bickham (the better two) and two by Mary Jane Farmer.
“Welcome to the next chapter in my life, Hanks,” Johnny Cooper said through the mic, expectedly and confidently, as he opened the first gig with his new band on the Hank’s Bar & Grill stage in McKinney.
Cooper has shared his stages and his life with Cody Shaw (bass), Ben Shaw (lead guitar), Nick Ghanbari (keyboards), and Joe Cortez IV (drums) for several years. Cooper explained that the transition from that band to the new one began after he made plans to take some time off. He wanted to spend a little time “to work the business side of things and get the structure changed. And maybe get a good record label and good management group. And go write with some friends and maybe go back in the studio.”
He told his former band about that plan to go dormant at the end of June. He said,
“To be honest, when I sat down with everybody (in the band) I told them my plan and asked them to stay with them through the June gigs,” Cooper said. “We played that weekend, and on Monday, all three of them (both Shaws and Ghanbari) called, saying the next weekend would be their last. That put me in a bind, since there was a schedule to be met.” He explained that each of them had already made other work plans and needed to move on with those.
“But I had signed contracts and obligations. I always have to have a back-up plan.” Cooper said he had to kick that back-up plan into motion. He talked with a friend in Dallas about finding new musicians, and that friend introduced him to bass player Jay Sandford and keyboardist Cris Brenham. They talked, Cooper sent them his CDs, and everybody got to work lo the PDQ.
It was a quick changeover of musicians for the 23-year-old, and one that demanded the new musicians to quickly catch on to Cooper’s songs, style, and schedule.
Cooper is playing his own lead guitar, and for the first set, that night at Hank’s in McKinney, Brenham and Sandford played with music stands and charts in front of them. Cooper said that Brenham had gone to jazz music school and is very good at charting music. Cortez is still with Cooper in the 4-piece group.
Cooper said that before the Hank’s gig in McKinney, the band had a couple of rehearsals and some time playing before audiences, unofficially.
“It’s been really easy to begin working with them. These guys who are playing with me now grew up into what I’ve been trying to change my music into, and it’s been pretty smooth,” Cooper said.
And that is the crux of what Cooper mean when he said, “Welcome to the next chapter in my life.” The music is moving rapidly in the R&B direction. Coop took more than a little fan flak when his music became more pop than the average Red Dirt or Texas band. But, he’s persevered and not given into pressure, and this sidestep isn’t scaring him any at all.
Cortez, Cooper said, has been listening to R&B’s leading drummers and “This has been Joe’s new thing he’s been trying to conquer.” And R&B music has been the focus for Sandford and Brenham “for longer than me and Joe have. The two duos have the same ideas of what we can get accomplished. You don’t want to question that too much,” Cooper said that that direct-from-the-eyes smile.
“We are still in the building phases. With only a few rehearsals, it’s more of an organic feeling on stage. Given that, we’ve tried to make it more organized, more involved, to bring everything back to the basis.”
“If you have a passion and a dream, life is too short for you to give up on something. Better to go ahead and try it instead of falling,” the young Wichita Falls musician said.
Before he went on stage, Cooper said his biggest challenge was playing the lead guitar. “I’ve been working at
it for the past five years, and been blessed to have had great guitar players around me (Ben Shaw and Nick Ghanbari who has a degree in guitar even though he’s been on the keyboards in the Johnny Cooper Band).” He said that just being around Ben Shaw, through osmosis, he learned quite a bit, and has taken lessons since he was 15 years old. He added that he took back seat to the others in the field, but believed that his audience would be pleasantly surprised when they “see me do the full set.” He looked down at his guitar like a new papa looking at his baby, slight nervousness mixed with awe and confidence.
Cooper told Hank’s crowd, ”You are the first to see the show, and with that being said, let’s get a little crazy, huh.” And for the next 90 minutes, music seeped out through the shrugs of his shoulders, the soles of his feet as he rose onto his toes, and through the vocals that were stronger than ever. Unwinding, but not unwound.
At the end of that first set, Cooper walked off the stage with the crowd’s roar ringing its approval of the new chapter in Johnny Cooper’s life.