I really like your reflective style of songwriting. Some of your best works I feel are the songs speak the days of when you were growing up?
I have been writing ever since I was fifteen and I often draw on my formative years.
What was it that first inspired you to write?
I always liked a clever rhyme. Not that my songs are clever or anything, laughs the unassuming Cook because he knows otherwise. Because deep in his heart he knows his songs are good and likes nothing better than to see people react to them. For that is his greatest reward.
The clever way they can rhythm and fit together and make sense. I have been trying to do that since I was in school. Some of the recent songs on my albums were written when I was twenty or so.
It takes a special talent, patience, if you like for a songwriter to see the potential in an older song and finely tune it and resist the urge to go with something new?
I think my songs are all right. Some better than others like it is with all writers, and for the most part I feel I am getting better at it. For some people it is work and for others it comes more natural…for myself I have to get myself focused and not get lazy on a lyric. I came to realise if I am going to compete though music isn't a competition I have to get better as a writer and to write cleverer concedes Chris.
Going back to finishing a song?
It is work but it is like painting your room. You don't particularly enjoy doing it as much as looking back at what you have done afterwards. I like the ending and the recording process and think the hardest part is the writing. Getting the song down and the arrangement together.
Could you tell me a little about the song "Ezekiel's Wheel"; I understand it comes from the bible?
It does. A girl that I was in a band with, a lady named Tammy (Brackett) she had the lyric and I composed it and that was like 1993 – 1994 and a another friend of mine, Mark Abernathy who I was also in a band with me back then he did a piece of the music. The song is about how Ezekiel envisioned or saw fiery visions and all kind of visions in the sky, supposedly. A lot of people like to think he was seeing Aliens in aircraft and things like that. That was what sparked her idea of the lyric and if you listen to the record there is a swirling, cosmic feel to it.
"Old Suede Coat" is another exceptional song you have written what inspired it?
It is a song about not having anything in particular to write about and there is a line in there that says "don' t ask what this song is about just a few things I got out."
Talking about getting out — did you feel you had to get away from North Carolina?
Yeah, sure, I always did. I have been on the road, touring, going right at it for fifteen years and if I was honest with you I am ready for a break. I have been going steady at it since the mid-nineties and now ready to step back from it and do some writing. Most of my songs, at least half the record I wrote fifteen years ago! I now need to get back to Carolina, relax and write songs for my next record.
What do you do to relax?
Nothing. I watch a lot of movies. I still love playing my guitar and never tire of noodling on it around the house. I love to cook and photography. I love to do those three things. Playing my guitar, cooking and my photography. I love landscapes and like to shoot my cooked dishes, using different angles and then enhance on the computer.
Who were your heroes when you were growing up?
Guitar players! My first heroes were probably Ted Nugent or Jimmy Page one or the other. Then you had Ed King, Gary Rossington and Allen Collins; the three guys from (Lynyrd) Skynyrd were huge influences. Then when I was into my early twenties I got into Jerry Reed and learned all the chicken pickin' country guitar. Chet Atkins I listen to him too, although I am not that kind of player but love his jazzy stuff and there was Jeff Beck. Loads of guitar players —there were a whole bunch of them he laughs. Duane Allman, he was another who I liked.
When you mention Chet Atkins he was one of the all-time masters. He was a man who could play anything?
Master. He sure was, but in my opinion he was no Jerry Reed. I think Jerry was more on fire and this came through in his playing too. Chet was cleaner and more reserved. Jimi Hendrix and Albert Collins could not be excluded from the guys I like, either (he could go on and on when it comes to guitar devotees).
Hendrix, I feel took guitar playing (and showmanship to another level)?
He was great, but he was no Jeff Beck laughs Cook.
What was the big difference that you found when you stepped out of your native North Carolina?
Well, people… and not always been taken you for granted. For when you are around all of the time (a touch of familiarity breeds contempt?) people ten to do that so you have to spread yourself out a bit. I started off driving to the coast and the tourist cities and Charleston, South Carolina, Hilton Head Island and Myrtle Beach. Places like that. I found people take more notice of you when you play somewhere they have never heard from you. People into ‘music' like to take a risk and try something different. I know I do.
Who owns Tree O Records that you are with?
A guy in Boston Brian Budzinski operates it. He is a real nice guy and so far it has been good and we now have two records together. First we did Life Is Good, an acoustic, solo record followed by Remembering second record. The recordings are done at a place called Tree House just outside Nashville, Tennessee by the Carter Brothers. Tim and Danny Carter. Tim engineered and co-producer both records and they are great to work with and great friends too.
Talking about great people I understand you are a friend and admirer of singer-songwriter Chuck Brodsky?
He is one of my favourite songwriters. Anything he writes is good material and I cover some of his songs. I think he is a great writer and is every bit as good as Prine or Bob Dylan but he doesn't think so. I met him for the first time one night when we did a show together and said to him “I think you are every bit as good as Dylan! And he said say it again and he said, say it again. I liked hearing that. His songs have a lot of humour in them that is important while mine have not.
That isn't to say you don‘t share humour on stage with your audience because you do?
I feel it is important to give the audience what they want and for them to feel part of the show.
Playing solo does that push the range of styles and bases touched as a guitarist?
I find myself, reaching, because when you are with a band and rehearsed there is no room for you to step out on the edge because everyone knows their part and you don't want to throw any curve balls and mess the band up. But playing solo I probably don't play a song the same way twice. Especially if it is a funky kind of thing where I can play a little guitar or even harmonica. I might like try something new out, when I am up there nobody knows what I am doing but what I like to do the most, musically that is play my guitar.
So when you go out to play solo you are doing it for fun?
Yeah, I feel like I am in my living room. Noodlin'. What is wrong with noodlin'. I play it on stage, play it on my couch when I am at home and people still enjoy it. The biggest thing that has kept me playing and touring apart from the people who keep coming out to see me is the love of the guitar and get as much out of it as I can. Stretch it a bit.
How do you find the audiences in Europe?
I love it, I love coming over here. To be honest with you I have not had much experience playing before attentive audiences in the States because I have been doing it so long in my region. I am still mostly playing barroom saloons. Although some of them are pretty reputable saloons and I also play some small theatres. That is why I like to come over here because the audiences are so attentive. They appreciate me as I do them.
You making the effort alone to come over gains the respect of the music audience, what some American acts don't realise is that the European audience is most loyal and like yourself once you have a few cds out you can multiple the worth of each new follower you win?
Most certainly, because young artists who are playing I tell them they have got to get a record out. You have to somehow finance it and get your work out there, that way people have something to take home with them after a show (and help spread the word).
How tough is being on the road for you?
I am not quite as disciplined as a lot of people I know but when I am on stage I give everything I have got. I am still a self-managed, self-booked kind of a guy. I work as hard as I can without going totally insane. You can't do it all, you do the best you can with what you've got and make sure you deliver when you are on stage.
You have quite an interesting set of musicians on your new album?
We have Kenny Malone on drums (Ray Charles) who is a legend in our time, percussionist and drummer. on bass there is Drake Leonard who has played with every one from Sherri Austin to Sara Evans to Ricky Van Shelton. Plus, we have Jeff Coffin on saxophone and has worked with King Creole and the Coconuts and we had Johnny Neel on keyboards —he was once with the Allman Brothers.
With your story songs, songs with a groove I feel there is a good cross-section of material?
I would think my records are more towards a John Hiatt or a JJ Cale record opposed to Delbert McClinton because you might find a folk song on there, a good rocker too. Not that I'm wanting to make a record like a John Hiatt record but something with a variety to it. People sometimes might come up to me and say there isn't a vein to it but I don't want it to have a vein! I just want to be true to myself.
For more info on Chris Cook, please go to Chriscookmusic.com