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Ryland "Ry" Peter Cooder (born on March 15, 1947) is an American guitarist, singer and composer, best known for his slide guitar work and his interest in various genres of American roots music.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Cooder first attracted attention in the 1960s, playing with Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, after previously having worked with Taj Mahal in The Rising Sons. He was a guest session guitarist on various recording sessions with the Rolling Stones in 1968 and 1969, and Cooder's contributions appear on the Stones' Let It Bleed, and (most significantly) Sticky Fingers, on which he contributed the haunting slide guitar solo to "Sister Morphine". He was briefly considered to fill the departed Brian Jones' place in the Rolling Stones, but reportedly Cooder and Richards did not get along very well. Cooder played gritty slide guitar for the infamous 1970 movie Performance, which contained Mick Jagger's first solo single, "Memo from Turner" on which Cooder played guitar. This soundtrack is a great stand alone recording, with the Stones, Randy Newman, Buffy Ste. Marie, Merry Clayton, The Last Poets.
Throughout the 1970s, Cooder released a series of Warner Brothers albums that showcased his guitar work, to some degree. In this respect, Cooder's guitar work on these records is not unlike the guitar playing of Robbie Robertson on the Band's albums: Both virtuosos emphasized song over solo. Cooder's '70's albums spotlight, more than anything, a wide-ranging taste in music. Cooder has been seen as almost a musicologist, exploring bygone musical genres with personalized and sensitive, updated reworkings of revered originals. Cooder's '70s albums (with the exception of Jazz) cannot be neatly pidgeonholed by genre, But — to generalize broadly — it might be fair to call Cooder's first album blues; Into the Purple Valley, Boomer's Story, and Paradise and Lunch, folk + blues; Chicken Skin Music and Showtime, a unique melange of Tex-Mex and Hawaiian; Jazz, 1920s jazz; Bop Till You Drop '50's R&B; and Borderline and Get Rhythm, eclectic rock-based excursions.
Cooder has worked as a studio musician and has also scored many film soundtracks, of which perhaps the best known is that for the 1984 Wim Wenders film Paris, Texas. Ry Cooder based this soundtrack on Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night (Cold Was the Ground)," which he described as "The most soulful, transcendent piece in all American music." His other film work includes Walter Hill's The Long Riders (1980) and Southern Comfort (1981).
In recent years, Cooder has played a role in the increased appreciation of traditional Cuban music, due to his collaboration as producer in the Buena Vista Social Club (1997) recording, which was a worldwide hit. Wim Wenders directed a documentary film of the musicians involved, Buena Vista Social Club (1999) which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2000. Cooder worked with Tuvan throat singers for the score to the 1993 film Geronimo: An American Legend.
Cooder's solo work has been an eclectic mix, taking in dust bowl folk, blues, Tex-Mex, soul, gospel, rock, and almost everything else. He has collaborated with many important musicians, including the Rolling Stones, Little Feat, the Chieftains, John Lee Hooker, Gabby Pahinui, and Ali Farka Toure. He formed the Little Village supergroup with Nick Lowe, John Hiatt, and Jim Keltner.
Cooder's 1979 album Bop Till You Drop was the first popular music album to be recorded digitally. It yielded his biggest hit, a Disco/R&B cover of Elvis Presley's 1960s recording "Little Sister".
Rolling Stone magazine named Ry Cooder the 8th Greatest Guitarist of All Time in their "100 Greatest Guitarists" list. Immediately behind Cooder in the list were Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards. Cooder notably taught Keith Richards how to play in the "open-G" tuning; Richards has used the tuning ever since, including on many of the Stones' greatest songs.
Cooder also stepped in for the recording of the slide guitar parts in the 1986 film Crossroads, a take on the infamous tale of the blues legend, Robert Johnson.
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