It was fifty years ago that Ry Cooder’s career began. He was a member of The Rising Sons, a six piece blues band. They signed to Columbia Records in 1964. Two years later, The Rising Sons split-up. Their legacy was an album that was released twenty-eight years later.
This was Rising Sons featuring Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. Belatedly, it was released in 1992, on Columbia Records. It features most of the music The Rising Sons recorded. It’s a tantalising taste of an underrated band.
After all, The Rising Sons featured two of the greatest guitarists of their generation, Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. Despite this being the start of their careers, it’s apparent that both men were destined for greatness. The Rising Sons was the start of two illustrious careers.
After leaving The Rising Sons, Ry Cooder joined Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. He featured on their 1967 album Safe As Milk. However, Ry left Captain Beefheart’s employ after the legendary bandleader claimed to have seen a woman in the audience metamorphosis into a goldfish. That was too much for Ry.
Having left The Magic Band, Ry Cooder worked with some of the biggest names in music. This includes the Rolling Stones. Ry played on sessions during 1968 and 1969. His playing features on 1969s Let It Bleed and 1971s Sticky Fingers. The Rolling Stones were just one of many groups and artists Ry Cooder played alongside.
During the late sixties and seventies, Ry Cooder was a session player to the stars. He also accompanied Randy Newman and Van Dyke Parks. Ry featured on Randy Newman’s 1970 sophomore album 12 Songs. By the time 12 songs was released, Ry Cooder had embarked upon a solo career.
Ry Cooder’s solo career can be separated into two parts. There’s his studio albums and the soundtracks he’s recorded. In total, Ry Cooder has released sixteen soundtrack albums. The first soundtrack Ry Cooder featured on was Performance.
Performance was a 1970 film that featured Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammel. The man responsible for the soundtrack was Jack Nitzsche. He was brought onboard to produce the soundtrack. Jack also put together an all-star cast.
Jack Nitzsche’s band included Ry Cooder, Mick Jagger, Little Feat’s guitarist Lowell George, Byrds’ bassist Gene Parsons and percussionist Russ Titelman. was brought onboard to produce the soundtrack. The final piece of the musical jigsaw was Randy Newman, who conducted the soundtrack. It was released in September 1970.
Released in September 1970, Performance soundtrack’s was released to critical acclaim. Jack Nitzsche’s all-star cast had come good. One of the cast would get a taste for soundtracks.
This was Ry Cooder. Ten years after the release of Performance, Ry Cooder had released nine album. He was still working as a session musician. As if that wasn’t enough, Ry was about to add another string to his musical bow. Ry was about to write, record and produce his first soundtrack in 1970, The Long Riders.
The Long Riders is one of seven soundtracks that feature on the the recently released seven disc box set Soundtracks. It was released by Warner Bros. on 29th September 2014. Soundtracks features seven soundtracks released between 1980 and 1993. This starts with The Long Riders and closes with 1993s Johnny Handsome.
The Long Riders.
Unlike Performance, Ry Cooder was given the job of writing, recording and producing The Long Riders. It tells the story of James-Younger gang in the years following the American Civil War. The Long Riders was directed by Walter Hill and produced by James Keach, Stacey Keach and Tim Zinnemann. Playing starring roles were James Keach, Stacey Keach, David Guest and Randy Quaid. With such a compelling story, and an all-star cast, Ry Cooder was brought in to provide the soundtrack to The Long Riders.
Ry Cooder wrote the soundtrack to The Long Riders and brought together some of the most talented session players. This included drummer Jim Keltner, guitarist David Lindley, pianist Jim Dickinson and trombonist George Bohanon. They recorded the thirteen tracks on The Long Riders’ soundtrack. The film was released on May 16th 1980.
When The Long Riders was released, it grossed nearly sixteen million dollars. The film was well received by critics. So much so, The Long Riders was entered in the 1980 Cannes Film Festival. Just as well received was Ry Cooder’s soundtrack.
The soundtrack to The Long Riders complimented the screenplay. Ry’s decision to use an eclectic selection of instruments was hailed a masterstroke. This helped Ry provide an authentic backdrop to the screenplay. Critics realised this.
Ry Cooder won the Best Music Award in 1980. It was award by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Despite The Long Riders being Ry’s screenplay debut, it proved a successful start to his “other” career.
Four years after writing the score to The Long Riders, Ry Cooder was asked by director Wim Wenders to write the score to future cult classic, Paris Texas.
It was written by L.M. Kit Carson and Sam Sheppard. Paris, Texas stated Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell and Hunter Carson. They play their part in a truly compelling plot.
Essentially, the story focuses on an amnesiac Travis Henderson, whose played by Harry Dean Stanton. He’s walked out of the desert to try and rekindle familial relationships. Especially, the relationship between his brother and seven-year-old son. The other part of the plot is the attempt by Travis Henderson to find his former wife. She left her family years previously. Travis Henderson heads off in search of her. Providing the backdrop is Ry Cooder’s haunting, evocative soundtrack.
Given Paris, Texas’ much more understated sound, it’s no surprise that Ry Cooder only brought onboard guitarist David Lindley and pianist Jim Dickinson. They provided a soundtrack that’s without doubt, one of Ry Cooder’s best.
Without Ry Cooder’s soundtrack, Paris, Texas wouldn’t have been such a successful movie. It grossed $2,181,987 on its release in November 1984. Paris, Texas won some of the most prestigious awards. This included awards at the Cannes and Sundance film festival. Just as critically acclaimed was the soundtrack to Paris, Texas.
Looking back at Ry Cooder’s back-catalogue, Paris, Texas is one of his finest albums. It’s best described as evocative, haunting, mesmeric and spacious. Paris, Texas is Ry Cooder at his very best. This was the finest soundtrack of his career. Others came close though.
By 1985, Ry Cooder had written five soundtracks. Alamo Bay was his latest project. It was a low budget film written by Alice Arlen. Louis Malle directed and produced Alamo Bay. It starred Ed Harris and Amy Madigan. Ed plays the part of a Vietnam War veteran who clashes with a group of Vietnamese immigrants in his Texas hometown. This may have seemed liked a good storyline, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.
For Alamo Bay, Ry Cooder wrote nine tracks. To record them, he brought onboard some familiar faces. This included drummer Jim Keltner, bassist Chris Ethridge, guitarist David Lindley and pianists Jim Dickinson and Van Dyke Parks. They fused blues, country and rock over nine tracks, which were produced by Ry. When Alamo Bay was released on 3rd April 1985, the soundtrack fared better than the film.
When Alamo Bay was released, it grossed only $380,970. No wonder. Reviews of Alamo Bay weren’t positive. The New York Times referred to Alamo Bay as “manufactured ‘art” that “is an unhappy experience that never becomes illuminating.” The film had no chance. For some critics, a small crumb of comfort was Ry Cooder’s soundtrack. It made the viewing experience worthwhile.
1986 was one of the busiest years of Ry Cooder’s career. He worked on two soundtracks, Blue City and Crossroads. The first of these soundtracks was Blue City.
Blue City was a film adaptation of Ross Macdonald’s novel. It was published in 1947 Thirty-nine years later, it was adapted as a film. Michelle Manning directed Blue City. Walter Hill, who Ry had worked with before, and William Hayward produced Blue City, which is a tale of revenge.
In Blue City, a young man returns to a small Florida town seeking justice. His father has been murdered. When the police won’t help, the young man seeks revenge. He’s determined to avenge the death of his father. However, the film didn’t go down well with critics.
When the original version of Blue City was shown to an invited audience, they disliked the film so much that parts were reshot.
Even after parts of the film were reshot, it wasn’t well received by critics. On its release on February 1985, critics disliked the film. Their reviews were poor, sometimes disparaging. So it’s no surprise, that Blue City only grossed just seven, of the ten million dollars, it cost to make. The only good thing about Blue City was the soundtrack.
The soundtrack to Blue City is one of the oft overlooked albums Ry Cooder recorded. Just like previous albums, Ry called upon many of the same musicians, including Jim Dickinson and Jim Keltner. They were joined by Miguel Cruz, David Paich and Steve Porcaro. This small, tight band recorded what’s without doubt one of the real hidden gems in Ry Cooder’s extensive discography.
If Paris, Texas was Ry Cooder’s finest hours, then Crossroads comes a very close second. The Crossroads soundtrack allows Ry Cooder to showcase his mastery of the blues guitar. He delivers a series of blues’ masterclasses on Crossroads. Just like Paris, Texas, Ry’s soundtrack is crucial to the success of Crossroads.
Crossroads is another film directed Walter Hill. John Fusco wrote the script and Mark Carline produced Crossroads. It stars Ralph Macchio, Joe Seneca and Jami Gertz. The plot is loosely based around the story of Robert Johnson.
In Crossroad, Eugene Martone is a blues obsessed, classically trained guitarist. He claims to have “sold his soul to the devil at the Crossroads.” In return, he’s able to play like blues legend Robert Johnson. The other part of the plot surrounds the long lost Robert Johnson song. and Eugene Martone’s search for it. During Crossroads, Eugene Martone’s character delivers some stunning blues. They come courtesy of Ry and another legendary guitarist, Stevie Vai.
For the recording of the Crossroads soundtrack, Ry and Stevie Vai were joined by harmonica player Sonny Terry, drummer Jim Keltner, bassist Nathan East and pianist Jim Dickinson. This all-star cast whip up a bluesy storm on Crossroads. This soundtrack was crucial to the critical acclaim, commercial success and awards that came Crossroads’ way.
On Crossroads release on 15th March 1986, the film and soundtrack were released to widespread critical acclaim. Crossroads grossed nearly six million dollars. For a low budget movie, this was good going. Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to Crossroads won the Georges Delerue Prize for Best Original Music at the 1986 Flanders International Film Festival Ghent. This was fitting.
There’s no doubt that Crossroads is one of Ry Cooder’s finest soundtrack albums. For me, it’s up there vying with Paris, Texas for the number one spot. However, Paris, Texas just shades it. Coming a very close second in Crossroads. This isn’t the end of the Soundtracks box set.
Johnny Handsome saw Ry Cooder and director Walter Hill join forces again in 1989. The film was based on John Godey’s book The Three Worlds of Johnny Handsome. It was produced by Charles Roven and features Mickey Rourke, Morgan Freeman and Ellen Barkin. The plot features a double cross and revenge.
The central character is John Sedley. He has a disfigured face, and is mocked by others as Johnny Handsome. Johnny and his friend plot to commit a crime with two other people. These two others double-crossed Johnny and his friend. They’re caught and sent to jail. When Johnny gets out, he swears to get even. It was this plot that Ry Cooder had to provide the soundtrack to.
For Johnny Handsome, Ry Cooder was accompanied by just drummer and percussionist Jim Keltner and saxophonist Steve Douglas. Ry a true multi-instrumentalist, played guitar, keyboards, bass, accordion, fiddle and percussion. He also produced Johnny Handsome, which was released in September 1989.
On the release of Johnny Handsome, it wasn’t a commercial success. Johnny Handsome wasn’t well received by critics. At the box office, Johnny Handsome grossed $7,237,794. However, it cost twenty million dollars. For director Walter Hill, this was a disaster. At least Ry Cooder’s part in Johnny Handsome was a success.
Although Johnny Handsome wasn’t Ry Cooder’s most successful soundtrack album, it was well received. Critics marvelled at Ry’s ability to switch between musical genres for the various soundtracks he wrote, recorded and produced. Johnny Handsome was another example of this. It showcased one of the most talented soundtrack composers of his generation. Mind you, Johnny Handsome was Ry’s eleventh soundtrack. Number twelve came four years later in 1993. This was Trespass.
Trespass saw Ry Cooder change direction musically. His music headed in the direction of experimental and avant garde jazz. His cohorts in the Tresspass project were drummer Jim Keltner and trumpeter Jon Hassell.
For Trespass, Ry and Walter Hill renewed their working relationship. Previously, they’d worked on a number of films. The success of these films varied. Trespass was very different to anything they’d worked on before.
It was written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale. Producing Trespass was Neil Canton. Trespass features can hardly be described as an all-star cast. The biggest names were the Emmy Award winning Bill Paxton and William Stadler. Their costars in what was described as an action crime thriller were Ice T and Ice Cube. This didn’t bode well.
When Trespass was released reviews varied. They ranged from mixed to favourable and positive. The public had the casting vote. Eventually, Trespass grossed $13,747,138. This presented a problem. Trespass cost seventeen million dollars to make. Even Ry Cooder’s groundbreaking soundtrack couldn’t save Trespass.
Ry Cooder has forever been a musical chameleon. That’s apparent throughout his soundtrack career. On Trespass, Ry brought onboard a band that featured familiar faces and new names. The familiar faces included drummer Jim Keltner and new names included trumpeter Jon Hassell. He’s a disciple of Karlheinz Stockhausen. Jon played an important part in Trespass’ sound.
When Trespass was released, it was described dark, moody, experimental and innovative. This marked a change in direction and sound for Ry Cooder. Just like the movie, Ry’s soundtrack divided the opinion of critics. Now opinions are beginning to change.
Twenty-one years after the release of Trespass, and this groundbreaking soundtrack has aged well. Its experimental, avant garde jazz sound was way ahead of its time. The other problem was that Tresspass wasn’t what people expected of Ry Cooder. Only now are people realising just how ambitious and innovative an album Trespass was.
It’s fitting that such a groundbreaking album like Trespass closes Ry Cooder’s Soundtracks’ box set. It showcases yet another side to Ry Cooder’s music. Since he released his 1970 eponymous debut album, Ry Cooder has been a musical chameleon. Especially, on the myriad of Soundtracks Ry Cooder has released.
Throughout the seven discs in the Soundtracks box set, which was released by Warner Bros. on 29th September 2014, Ry Cooder’s versatility is showcased. His music never stands still. It’s constantly evolving. Never does he resort to releasing the same album twice. No. He’s determined to push musical boundaries. That’s been the case throughout a career that’s spanned fifty years.
That’s apparent on Soundtracks. There’s elements of everything from ambient, blues, country, experimental, free jazz, jazz and rock. Soundtracks is a truly eclectic collection of albums. However, these seven albums are just the tip of a musical iceberg. Ry Cooder has released many more soundtracks. There’s more than enough for a Soundtracks II. However, the albums that feature in the Soundtracks box set are some of Ry Cooder’s best work.
This includes Ry Cooder’s finest soundtrack album Paris, Texas. It played a huge part in the success of Paris, Texas. That’s the case with Crossroads. Without its award winning soundtrack, Crossroads wouldn’t be such a cult classic. Then there’s Ry’s soundtrack debut The Long Riders, the underrated Blue City and the groundbreaking Johnny Handsome. These Soundtracks are the perfect introduction to Ry Cooder’s soundtrack career.