Mike Cooper

Do I Know You?

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Guitarist Mike Cooper is as responsible as anyone else -- and more so than many -- for ushering in the blues boom in the U.K. in the late '60s. His use of a '20s National Steel didn't hurt, but neither did his knowledge of the techniques of Fred McDowell and Blind Boy Fuller; or his rock-solid songwriting in both the folk and blues genres. His debut, recorded on the Pye label in 1969, was a largely forgettable affair due to dodgy production, but it was auspicious enough to land him a deal with Dawn Records, for whom he recorded four astonishing records between 1970 -1973, the first of which is Do I Know You?. On his debut for Dawn, Cooper hybridized his use of the blues in his songs. The opener, "The Link," and Journey to the East," are open, modal pieces, which use open tunings and drones produced by a 12-string tuned in open-A. They are wide-open country romps -- meaning the English countryside, not Nash Vegas -- and full of a driving power and fluency with the traditional languages to make them both breezy and muscular. It isn't until "Theme in C" that Cooper's legendary slide playing makes an appearance. Using his National Steel and some weird sound effect, he begins with a near-Travis-style picking technique, followed by Fred McDowell's high-end, slip-and-slide method of vibrato, always returning to an open-E to end the phrase. Again, Cooper's style is trademarked by the ease with which he attacks the instrument, and makes his playing sound like water running over rocks. It's hum-able, percussive, and full of shimmering glissando as well. On his vocal tunes, such as "First Song" and "Thinking Black," it's the blues tunes; with their thin, reedy, vocal qualities, that work best,. But even here there are exceptions to that rule. The closing track, "Looking Back," is a folk song underlying a gorgeous, soul-music feeling that is enhanced by the use of an upright bass played by Harry Miller. In the mournful, drifter tradition, Cooper traces the same lyrical territory his good friend Mike Chapman had mined a year before with '"Rainmaker," but his voice is lighter, freer, less-weighted by the mournful, bitter edge that was Chapman's trademark; and therefore more palatable, if not believable. As an album, Do I Know You? proves that Cooper was a major talent, who, if given the chance, would have had staying power due to his musical restlessness; and it provided a mere hint of the things to come on the legendary Trout Steel a year later.