|Monday, 18 May 2009|
My first indication that it was not to be the best of days was when Dick Cooper's girlfriend, Angela, woke me by saying, "Jerry, your pickup was stolen and it might be wrecked." I had stayed at Dick's house after many of his famous parties. This one I would never forget.
Neither Dick Cooper nor I can remember when we first met. Dick didn't get into the music business until the '70's. That's not to say that music was a new attraction. Dick told me, "I always remember loving music. Through much of my life I didnít watch television, but Iíve always listened to music. My father had a collection of Big Band Jazz, classical and show tunes. I listened to a lot of Glenn Miller, Beethoven, and Al Hurt growing up." He was raised on the Atlanta Highway (3rd Ave, South and 43rd street) in the Avondale part of Birmingham.
Dick Cooper has been there and done that with several drawers full of t-shirts as proof. His journalist career started as a general assignment reporter for The Birmingham-Post Herald in the mid-'60's and continued through the mid-'70's with jobs as the science & education reporter for The Decatur Daily, managing editor for The Scottsboro Daily Sentinel and editor for The Florence Times-Tri-Cities Daily.
Dick arrived in the Muscle Shoals area at the height of the regionís music success. I asked how he got into the music business, he smiles and said, "In my teens I listened to a lot of popular rock and roll, and soul music, but it wasnít until coming to Muscle Shoals that I considered music as a way to make a living." He continues, "After three years of writing a local gossip column for the Florence Times-Tri-Cities Daily, I was offered a management position with the paper. I would be required to relinquish my column, and after about three months of doubts, I quit the paper to hang out at the studio and do odd jobs for tips." He stops and smiles as if something from the far reaches of his mind has amused him. He continues, "During the transition from journalist to music, which took a couple of years, I wrote promotional material for local artists, took band pictures, worked as a play-by-play announcer & teleprompter operator for cable TV during broadcasts of the University of North Alabamaís basketball team and wrote freelance articles for a variety of magazines around the U.S.
In 1977, Pete Carr and Lenny LeBlanc signed with and released their first album on New Yorkís Big Tree label. While there, they visited Jerry Wexler and asked him if he knew a good road manager. Jerry said, go back to Muscle Shoals and hire Dick. They did, and he had his first real job in the Music Industry.
October 20, 1988, a year after the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash, LeBlanc Carr folded (they were the opening act for Lynryd Sknyrd's Tour of the Survivors), and Dick went to work for Barry Beckettís Beckett Productions at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Beckett was involved in the "Muscle Shoals Sound", being a member of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, and in 1969, one of the founders of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Beckett was a record producer, most notably producing albums by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Dire Straits, Joe Cocker, John Prine, McGuinn - Hillman, The Staple Singers, Phoebe Snow, Etta James, T. Graham Brown, Lorrie Morgan, Eddy Raven, Delbert McClinton, Frankie Miller, Jerry Jeff Walker, Alabama, Hank Williams, Jr., Neal McCoy, Confederate Railroad, Phish, Tammy Graham, Sonia Dada and others.
I asked about the fatal Skynyrd crash, "We opened the warm-up dates in Statesboro, Georgia, and the dates in Miami, St. Petersburg, and Lakeland. The night of Oct. 19th, we played a gig at the auditorium in Daytona Beach, Pete and Lenny's hometown, while Skynyrd flew to South Carolina for a gig. On the 20th, we were driving to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to rejoin the tour when the Skynyrd plane crashed near McCombs, Mississippi. Pete and the Eddie Struzick, the sound engineer, were writing a song in the car during the trip. We had a tape recorder rolling, and were totally unaware of the plane crash until we arrived in Baton Rouge. I was checking into the hotel, and the band was asleep in the car when the clerk in the motel said, 'Oh, I guess you know your show has been canceled.' I said, 'No. Why?' And the clerk said, 'Why because of the plane crash, of course.' That was a horrible night; we couldn't find out anything about Skynyrd. Many of our friends were in a near state of panic, because they weren't sure if any of us were on the plane. We had the same management company as Skynyrd, and we were suddenly abandoned, because everyone was focused on them. It was chaos."
Dick became the professional manager for Muscle Shoals Sound/Formula Music. He has managed Tuscaloosa great Eddie Hinton and James LeBlanc; was road manager for The Rossington Band, Fiddleworms and The Drive-By Truckers. He co-produced The Drive-By Truckers' Southern Rock Opera and Panama Red's Choice Buds.
I have only touched on the highlights of Dick Cooper's very busy life. If you have ever visited The Alabama Music Hall of Fame, the displays you saw were originated by Dick as curator. He just finished an exhibit at the Muscle Shoals Music Exhibit Tennessee Valley Art Center where he was part of the traveling Smithsonian display. I have not mentioned he is a Black Belt Shaolin Chuan Fa Kung Fu and member of Mensa. He was mentioned in Jerry Wexler's biography. He has been published in many national publications as both writer and photographer. We didn't have time for him to tell me of his motorcycle racing or bear fighting.
His photography covers years on the road and in the studios with the musicians we all admire. When did he find his talent in photography? He replied, "I began at the age of eight. My father was a commercial photographer, and I started helping him. I also started an elementary school newspaper that year." His photographs have appeared in Rolling Stone, Mojo, Zoo World, and many other music publications, and on MTV news. He's had pictures in a Dylan CD booklet, on record covers for Delbert McClinton, Lenny LeBlanc, and in Etta James's biography.
Right now he is managing and producing Sons of Roswell, Muscle Shoals hottest young band. I love to talk with Dick. He is a true music historian. I count him as a friend and advisor. Somewhat skeptical, I still look forward to Dick's next party, if I can get a ride.