Ry Cooder: Roots Music in Many Soils

I must confess, I discovered Ry Cooder late. Better late than never.

I recall exactly where I was: a movie theater in Durham, North Carolina. It was 1978. I had just watched Jack Nicholson in a piece of fluff: Goin’ South. The movie closed with a panoramic scene of a desert. Then a song started. It had nothing to do with the closing scene. I could not believe my ears.

The credits started to roll. The song was still playing. I always stay for credits, but this time, nothing could have tempted me to leave. I waited for the end, where the songs are listed. The song was “Available Space.” The performer was Ry Cooder. I became an instant convert to the Cooder cult.

The man is a master of the slide blues guitar. I am a sucker for the slide blues guitar.

This was recorded a year before Goin’ South: 1977. It was an early video. The theology, while simple, is sound. The sound, while simple, is inspired.

There is a montage of his slide guitar work here. It has had over a million hits.

This one I first heard by Elvis. That was in 1956. This version is better. Cooder plays all the stringed instruments — if you don’t count the piano as a stringed instrument.

He has done movie soundtracks. One of them was Crossroads (1986). It is the familiar story of a transaction with the devil. But this is the blues version. Did Robert Johnson make a deal at the crossroads?

Can someone get out of such a deal? This is the theme of the movie.

Switch to the scene of a young guitarist who attends Juilliard, the great New York school for musicians. The young man cannot decide: classical guitar or blues guitar?

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