The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Joachim Cooder. Photo by Amanda Charchian.

 Ry Cooder with Joachim Cooder and Band

When: Tuesday, June 12, 8 p.m. 
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Londonderry
Tickets: $70 to $90 at

Born to it
Joachim Cooder on tour with famed guitarist father


 By Michael Witthaus
Ry Cooder once said in an interview that his son Joachim was a born collaborator. As a toddler, he’d sneak into his dad’s home studio to play Jim Keltner’s drums, until the day Keltner heard him and bought the youngster a kit of his own. From then on, Joachim willingly provided rhythm to Ry’s legendary guitar prowess; he began joining him on stage in his teens and at 15 he played on the Grammy-winning album A Meeting by the River. 
The younger Cooder waited until his mid-30s to make a record of his own, tthough even that was a collaboration. For Love on a Real Train, released in 2012, he wrote instrumental tracks and gave them to Petra Haden, Matt Costa, Inara George and others, including his wife, Juliette Commagere. Each added lyrics and vocals.
Finally, Joachim Cooder has a true solo record. Fuschia Machu Picchu was released in March. The spark for the seven-song EP was becoming a father. 
“It made me look at myself in a different way, take myself less seriously,” he said in a recent phone interview. “Before, I never in a million years thought I was anything but a drummer, an accompanist, or somebody on the side.”
He wrote the percussive title track without realizing it, as he tried to sing life into a plant purchased for the yard of a new home in northeast Los Angeles. 
“It was hard-packed, sun-baked dirt, and we didn’t know much about plants, or what we were getting ourselves into,” Cooder said. “I put it in the ground and then I just found myself singing to it every day, chanting this song.”
While in Nashville producing an album for childhood friend Carly Ritter, Cooder couldn’t get the song out of his head, so he came up with a chorus. 
“That’s when I thought, oh, I’m going to sing ‘Fuschia Machu Picchu’ for people, not just my plants,” he said with a laugh.
The record’s most endearing track, “Elevated Boy,” grew from an interaction with his daughter Paloma when she had a cold at age 1. 
“I was raising her up on her pillow higher and I told her, ‘I’m just getting your head elevated.’ She was looking at me and I didn’t think anything of it at the time … I was just saying words,” he said.
Some months later, Paloma was playing with a doll she refers to as ‘her boy,’ Cooder said. 
“She was scooting it up on this pillow in her little play area. After a while she looked over at us, pointed at it and just said, ‘Elevated boy.’ I was so knocked out by that, because it’s such a perfect song title ... it made me think, I want to tell the story of the elevated boy, what his journey is and what seeing our world through his eyes is like.”
An exotic electric thumb piano called an array mbira features on many of the songs. A wooden rectangular box with multiple metal tines, the contraption looks like a kalimba designed by Beetlejuice. Cooder played an acoustic version of the African-inspired instrument on many film scores. He couldn’t play it live until San Diego inventor Bill Wesley built a solid body model. 
“I tried to, but you have to turn the mike up too much and it gets lost or feeds back,” he said. “Once I was able to plug it into a guitar amp, I could play it on stage. I don’t play guitar, and I don’t really play piano enough, so it enabled me to do these songs in a real way.”
Unlike Dweezil Zappa, who’s made a career recreating Mothers of Invention songs note for note, Cooder never wanted to emulate his father. 
“Guitar has never made any sense to me,” he said. “Which is a good thing, because I would be so sad trying to be a guitar player. And my dad and I get to play together, so it all works.”
The two have jammed for as long as he can remember. 
“He’s always had a studio in the house, and if I would hear him, I would just go in and play with him,” Cooder said. “As I got older, I was able to jump up on stage. He did a tour with David Lindley, the other guitar player who I have always loved so much. Lindley gave me this Turkish hand drum called a doumbek. It’s metal and kind of looks like a goblet. ... That’s how I started getting up with them.”
At an upcoming Tupelo Music Hall show, Cooder will open with his band, then back his father’s headlining set, which will include songs from a newly released album, The Prodigal Son. 

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