Ryland Peter Cooder, 15 March 1947, Los Angeles, California, USA. One of popular music's premier talents, Cooder mastered the rudiments of guitar while still a child. He learned the techniques of traditional music from Rev. Gary Davis and by the age of 17 was part of a blues act with singer Jackie DeShannon. In 1965, he formed the Rising Sons with Taj Mahal and veteran Spirit drummer Ed Cassidy, but this promising group broke up when the release of a completed album was cancelled. However, the sessions brought Cooder into contact with producer Terry Melcher, who in turn employed the guitarist on several sessions, notably with Paul Revere And The Raiders. Cooder enjoyed a brief, but fruitful, association with Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band; his distinctive slide work is apparent on the group's debut album, Safe As Milk, but the artist declined an offer to join on a permanent basis. Instead, he continued his studio work, guesting on sessions for Randy Newman, Little Feat and Van Dyke Parks, as well as to the soundtracks of Candy and Performance. Cooder also contributed to the Rolling Stones' album Let It Bleed, and was tipped as a likely replacement for Brian Jones until clashes with Keith Richard, primarily over the authorship of the riff to Honky Tonk Woman, precluded further involvement.
Cooder's impressive debut album included material by Lead Belly, Sleepy John Estes and Blind Willie Johnson, and offered a patchwork of Americana that became his trademark. A second collection, Into The Purple Valley, established his vision more fully and introduced a tight but sympathetic band, which included long-standing collaborators Jim Keltner and Jim Dickinson. By contrast, several selections employed the barest instrumentation, resulting in one of the artist's finest releases. The rather desolate Boomer's Story completed Cooder's early trilogy and in 1974 he released the buoyant Paradise And Lunch. His confidence was immediately apparent on the reggae interpretation of It's All Over Now and the silky Ditty Wa Ditty, and it was this acclaimed collection that established him as a major talent. A fascination with 30s topical songs was now muted in favour of a greater eclecticism, which in turn anticipated Cooder's subsequent direction. Chicken Skin Music was marked by two distinct preoccupation's. Contributions from Flaco Jiminez and Gabby Pahuini enhanced its mixture of Tex-Mex and Hawaiian styles, while Cooder's seamless playing and inspired arrangements created a sympathetic setting. The guitarist's relationship with Jiminez was maintained on a fine in-concert set, Show Time, but Cooder then abandoned this direction with the reverential Jazz. This curiously unsatisfying album paid homage to the Dixieland era, but a crafted meticulousness denied the project life and its creator has since disowned it.