The acoustic ballad of Shep Cooke

This page is from the “Entertaining Tucson Across the Decades,” a three volume set that cover Tucson, Arizona music entertainment from the 1950s through 1990s. Download a free sample of the book.

The acoustic ballad of Shep Cooke
By John Thompson
July 1991 – Entertainment Magazine. Page 15.

Shep Cooke has seen it all. After working for over 25 years in the music business, Cooke has seen the proverbial “big breaks” come and go. On a recent Saturday morning, Cooke was in his den watching NASCAR races on television. Cooke looks a little dangerous, with long hair, beard, tattoo and skull-and-crossbones earring. This makes for an interesting contrast, as Cooke plays what is probably the prettiest and the most technically correct acoustic music in Tucson.

In 1965, Cooke was recruited to play bass guitar with the Dearly Beloved, a local band. Those were the days when local bands could still get airplay on Tucson commercial radio stations, and the Dearly Beloved had two local hit songs.

“We had a Columbia record contract with the Dearly Beloved, and we went to Los Angeles to do some promotional gigs. Our lead singer, Larry Cox, decided he wanted to get married, and on the drive back from Tucson I rolled the car about 53 miles this side of Yuma, and Larry was killed. That was pretty much the end of that band, because he was the star, he was a blue-eyed soul singer and a hell of a showman. The heart went out of the band when he was killed.
“So that’s when 1 went off and joined Linda Ronstadt in LA for the Stone Poney tour. She went to LA, put a band together, got a Capitol recording contract and made the first Stone Poneys album. Then the second one carne out, the one with “Different Drum” on it, and that got to be a hit. Linda called and said she wanted me to come join the band In fact, she wrote me a letter. I wish I still had it!”

Cooke’s first taste of the big time as guitarist for the Stone Poneys was not to last. “The management saw that Linda was the obvious star of the band, was going to go places, and nobody else in the band was, at least in that formation.” Before breaking up, the Stone Poneys went on tour, appeared on the “Johnny Carson Show,” and opened concerts for the Doors and the Yardbirds before playing their last concert at Rincon High School back in Tucson.
Cooke briefly rejoined the Dearly Beloved for bar gigs around Tucson, but quit after a motorcycle accident. He soon started working on folk music again, playing solo gigs in Tucson and LA. He eventually joined an acoustic
His guitar work is impeccable, with a light touch and ringing tones. His voice is smooth and pleasant, complementing his guitar work perfectly.

As Cooke and I talked about his career, the race on the TV hummed along in the background. Cooke’s story seemed to parallel the events on the screen: sudden bursts of speed, long straight runs followed by tight curves, and the ever present threat of wiping out.

Shep Cooke began his tale: “In the early sixties, I started singing folk music around Tucson. 1 did a couple radio shows with a trio called the Floating House Band which cut a record for John Fahey’s Takoma label, After that band broke up Cooke began working on a solo album, but that fell through. Cooke retrieved the tapes that later served as the basis for his first solo album release, “Shep Cooke,” in 1976.

Cooke played in various other bands, with varying measures of success, and at one point found himself providing guitar and vocal parts for Tom Waits’ first album, “Closing Time.” After that he went back to solo work until 1984, when he joined a revamped version of the New Seekers.

“This was a bogus band. None of the real New Seekers were in the band. A production company in LA bought the name and the songs and then put a band together.” The band only held together for about six months. “We did 64 shows in 90 days, with 200 or 300 miles between shows and not enough roadies. I was getting too old for that kind of stuff.”

Cooke returned to Tucson and solo gigs. He performed with Anne English for a year, and has recently gone back to being a part-time bass player in the rock group General Delivery. “So now I’m doing both,” he says. “I get to play bass in a good rock and roll band, and 1 get to play solo at the Bambi Lounge 15 two nights a week.”

Cooke describes his solo repertoire as “Country, Folk, Light Rock, Ballads, Oldies and Originals.” Cooke’s musical talents allow him to duplicate the sound of any song he covers, though he usually adds some creative arranging. As if he knows that his versions are almost too perfect, threatening to drift into the background.

Cooke specializes in customizing the lyrics of well-known songs to add a regional touch (lots of songs take place in Eloy) or a slightly off-color twist. Cooke is an accomplished songwriter as well, and is starting to put his original tunes into his show.

Shep Cooke plays at the Bambi Lounge every Monday and Thursday night from 8:00PM to 12:00AM. Cooke’s second album, “Concert Tour Of Mars, “ is available at his shows or at Workshop Music Store.

This page is from the “Entertaining Tucson Across the Decades,” a three volume set that cover Tucson, Arizona music entertainment from the 1950s through 1990s. Download a free sample of the book.

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