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“Get Out There and Make a Happy Sound”: The Electric Blues of Eli Cook

By Charlie Maybee

This reading of Alchemical Records content provides a multimedia experience for our audience while increasing the accessibility of our content to persons with hearing loss, low vision, dyslexia, physical or motor disabilities, or are on the autism spectrum.

In an era when social media reigns supreme, it’s refreshing to hear about musicians who grew up detached from technology like Eli Cook. Born and raised in the Virginia Appalachia, Cook didn’t have access to television nor the internet until much later in life, but he had a guitar, a radio, and the rockin’ spirit of the blues.

During a recent phone interview with Cook, he recalled that growing up in a rural community had a notable effect on the shape of his music because it was “just ahead of the advent of the internet becoming widespread and easily accessible to everyone. That was happening more at the tail end of my time in high school, so those early adolescent years were unencumbered by the sensory overload of the modern technical age.”

Eli Cook
Eli Cook – Clara Castle

Watching his brother play guitar at an early age, he decided that he would also try it out, piecing together knowledge by playing along to old school blues musicians and classic rockers, as well as the church. “I grew up in a rural community where the places to play live, because I was too young to jump into doing bar gigs live, were church performances. The sort of music I was playing was heavily blues influenced gospel music.”

Since then, the Charlottesville-based musician has built serious acclaim as an opener for legendary acts like B.B. King, Johnny Winter, and Robin Trower. With a sound that combines traditional blues with high-octane energy of 90’s grunge acts like Stone Temple Pilots, Cook is the kind of versatile songwriter who can enliven both large and intimate venues.

The shape of the band he travels with shifts and changes with the kind of energy required for any given gig. At times, he tours a three-piece band with the classic rock n’ roll set up of electric guitar, bass, and drums when there is a need for more volume. But when he’s flying solo, he uses a small foot drumming rig while simultaneously playing guitar giving a more earthy and personalized energy to the groove (as can be seen in his most recent video for “TROUBLEMAKER”). To have the rhythm and melody coming from the same body harkens to that blues spirit that drives Cook’s musical lineage and aesthetic.

Eli Cook
Eli Cook – Kaya Lee Berne

This has been the primary shape of his music since the onset of the pandemic, which limited the amount of money and capacity for social interaction that a tour usually requires. However, Cook has continued to play and is currently partaking in a more in-house tour right now, playing primarily in-state shows. Working together with a few close colleagues who help with promotion and marketing, he expects to do some out-of-state touring this coming spring (pandemic permitting).

And while the pandemic has also slowed any immediate progress toward his next official release, he is still writing and trying new things out on the road. “I like to test material live, unfettered, and unprovoked to see what the raw response of an uninvested listener is. I try to get people’s knee-jerk reaction to the songwriting as much as I can.”

While there’s still time before some of that new material gets committed to a record, there is an impressive catalog of songs Cook has crafted over the last several years, including his most recent album High Dollar Gospel, which received significant praise upon release.

Eli Cook
Eli Cook – Drew Stawin

Along with “TROUBLEMAKER,” the other lead single “All Night Thing” (properly pronounced “Thang”) brings all the southern twang one could ask for with a nice moderate tempo that is perfect for a night of dancing. For fans of rockabilly acts like Molly Hatchet, its mix of rock, blues, and country music aesthetics is wonderfully balanced and has a certain electricity that’s highly invigorating.

With the official music video, “All Night Thing” has the presentation of a live performance, starting with a personal introduction by Cook before diving into the music full force. Even in a highly produced official release, that sense of personal connection more often seen in live settings (rather than an album or music video) is still palpable and offers something more than just a single to be listened to; this is something precious that Eli is sharing with the listener.

“Part of getting older has made it easier for me to write with a sense of authority and honesty,” Eli Cook notes, “but also in a manner that allows the listener to feel involved with the story; like it pertains to them, and they can project their own experiences into the lyrics.” It is this generosity that makes up the spiritual bedrock of Cook’s music and gives it that warm authenticity tinged with electric current.

“More than anything, I know it’s important to live and interact with honesty and try to find the joy in everything you possibly can because it’s way too easy to do the opposite,” Eli contemplated as the interview began to conclude. “To bring a joyous noise into a theatrical setting and make people feel connected and happy is what I have always tried to do. And as the years go by, it becomes more apparent and more rewarding. I’m just trying get out there and make a happy sound.”

And those happy sounds are incredibly rewarding for the listener as well, so be sure to check his latest album High Dollar Gospel on major streaming platforms. News about upcoming performances and tours can be found on Eli Cook’s official website.

Charlie Maybee

Charlie Maybee is a dancer, musician, educator, and writer based in Charleston, South Carolina who currently teaches with the Dance Program at the College of Charleston. His primary work as an artist is with his performing collective, Polymath Performance Project, through which he makes interdisciplinary performance art that centers tap dance as the primary medium of expression and research. He also currently plays rhythm guitar for the Charleston-based punk band, Anergy, and releases music as a solo artist under the name Nox Eterna.

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