Lee Cooper

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Lee Cooper is an oft-overlooked and highly underrated blues guitarist who spent most of his prime years playing around Chicago, recording for Chess and other labels. Born Echford Cooper, he began playing…
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Lee Cooper is an oft-overlooked and highly underrated blues guitarist who spent most of his prime years playing around Chicago, recording for Chess and other labels. Born Echford Cooper, he began playing in Chicago in the 1940s, and was proficient enough on the electric guitar to start turning up at sessions for Chess Records at the start of the following decade. In 1953, when Big Bill Broonzy and Washboard Sam were brought together in the studio for a set of joint sessions, Cooper was the electric guitarist on the recordings, augmenting Broonzy's older style of playing with aggressive and highly advanced licks that, in the estimation of the late Cub Koda, anticipated the work of Chuck Berry, still two years away from arriving at Chess. Cooper was an early master of the preferred bold style of Chicago blues guitar, so much so that he became the first successor to Howlin' Wolf's original lead guitarist, Willie Johnson. When Wolf was persuaded to come to Chicago to record, it was Cooper whose playing was mated to his unique vocal attack on that brace of legendary mid-'50s sides, which later filled up the Wolf's early LPs. He was later succeeded by Hubert Sumlin, but Cooper's playing stood out very favorably on those early Chess-recorded sides by Wolf. He also played on sessions for Jimmy Witherspoon, Big Walter Horton, and other mainstays of the mid-'50s Chess stable, and was occasionally engaged for sessions on behalf of rival labels such as Parrot. As a result of the anonymity of session musicians in those days, and the fact that very few blues people had albums released of their work until the '60s, Cooper never achieved the same status among the music's enthusiasts enjoyed by Sumlin and other players. But one of the artists in whose band he did play, Eddie Boyd, went out of his way to praise Cooper -- in a 1971 interview in Blues Unlimited, Boyd called him the "best" of all the guitarists who played for him, adding, "He could play anything playable."