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Jordan Cook

by Dave Yanko

Cook on stage at Montreux with Kim Wilson (The Fabulous Thunderbirds) on harmonica and Ted Harvey on drums.

[Blast from the past: this story ran a long time ago. But we're keeping it posted for "heritage value'' because Jordan's star just keeps on rising (see link at bottom)- ed.]

At an age when most of us were trying to refrain from calling the teacher "mom", Jordan Cook was making money playing blues guitar. Ten years later, at 16, he shared the main stage with B.B. King at the 1999 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

Cook won't soon forget how the blues legend came over and hugged him while the audience applauded the old and the new.

"That's real pickin','' King reportedly told Cook as the audience applauded.

It was indeed.

The Jordan Cook Band, comprised of Cook, bass guitarist S.J. Kardash and drummer Danny White, was named "the revelation band'' of the festival. Organizers scrambled to print posters trumpeting the presence of a striking new talent.

The band's European debut at Montreux was scheduled to last eight days, but with extra club dates and appearances it stretched to two weeks. It could have gone on for months had the boys been able to accept blues artist Gary Moore's invitation to join him on what became a sold-out tour of the continent. But school and other responsibilities had to be given priority.

Meeting and playing with people like King, Moore, Taj Mahal, Rick Derringer and Edgar Winter was a huge thrill, Cook said in an interview at his Saskatoon home. He was amazed to hear that, two months after Montreux, Winter told the widely-syndicated American radio program Rockline that Cook was his favorite guitar player.

Montreux was the highlight. But it was the highlight of a 10-year career that's really only just beginning for the young Saskatchewan blues musician.

Cook, who was born in 1983, has been playing with a guitar for longer than he can remember. He was one or two when he started fiddling with his father's guitar, purchased when Bob Cook decided to take blues guitar lessons just after Jordan was born.

"Dad saw me having an interest in his Fender Stratocaster and he just went out and bought me a guitar,'' says Cook, who adds with a chuckle: "He probably didn't want me breaking his.''

From the beginning, two things were clear: Jordan Cook loved the guitar; and Jordan Cook loved the blues. Both passions, no doubt, were stoked by the guitar-based blues that permeated the Cook household.

An early blues disciple.

By 6, the youngster had a band that practised on a stage built by his father in the basement of the family home. The buzz began when the band started making appearances at local venues. And by the tender age of 8, Cook was playing gigs at the blues clubs.

Listening to him perform for a hometown crowd at Bud's on Broadway recently was a raunchy ride through some of the best blues and rock of all time, sprinkled with Cook originals. He's a precise and energetic player who can mesmerize with fast finger work, or drop jaws by playing his guitar behind his head without missing a note. But he can also slow it down to a funky, soulful wail.

Muddy Waters, Traffic, Taj Mahal, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, The Alman Brothers - Cook's tastes and influences are varied and legion. But musically, at least, no one has had more influence on the young guitar player than Stevie Ray Vaughan, the late blues great credited with reviving the genre in the 1980s with hits like Crossfire, Tightrope and Cold Shot.

"He was always the hero for me. When he died, I cried for the whole day."

Bob Cook concedes it was he who planted the Stevie Ray seed in his son's head. The senior Cook says he went to see the Texan at a 1984 concert and was "blown away" by the performance. Stevie Ray went into heavy rotation on the Cook family stereo system.

"I played his discs for months afterwards,'' Bob said.

A seasoned performer.

The younger Cook writes most of his band's original material and he admits it can be a painstaking process. He went down to Florida for some helpful writing sessions with Derringer not long ago. And he's had some good advice on the subject from fellow Saskatchewan blues guitarist Colin James.

"(Colin) always told me to stay in school. He told me it's (also) an important thing for strong songwriting. English, but even history, too.''

Cook, who'll be entering Grade 11 at Saskatoon's Marion Graham Collegiate Institute in the fall of 2000, is aware many people his age use their high school years to decide on careers. For the band, however, education is insurance.

"We know what we want to do. I stay in school because you always have to have something to fall back on.''

Cook, with Danny White on drums and S.J. Kardash on bass, at Montreux.

Balancing a budding music career with high school studies can be tricky. The gigs seldom fall neatly into weekend slots and, as a result, Cook misses an average five days of school every month. His teachers help him catch up with missed work, and they're supportive when the band appears on a local stage -- he publicly thanked one who was in the audience during the band's performance at Bud's.

He's had other help along the way, too.

Winnipeg bluesman Big Dave McLean has been a big musical influence, and a good friend, since Cook was 6.

"When (Dave) comes to town we jam, we hang out together during the day. . . He's always been really good to me.''

Cook often sits in as a sideman when McLean plays Saskatoon.

"He's a very intelligent player,'' the affable McLean said in a phone interview. "He kind of waits for you to give him the nod, and then he rips the paint off the walls.''

-courtesy Stony Plain Recording Company
Long-time friend Big Dave McLean.

McLean said some people used to have trouble seeing past Cook's youthfulness. They thought he was too young to play the blues.

"People would say 'what the hell do you know about losing your baby, or losing your job, or drinking too much?','' said McLean.

"But that's not what Jordan tried to get across. He usually didn't do tunes that referred to stuff he couldn't relate to. And some that he did do, well, it's the song, you know?''

Cook's overcome most of that now, McLean says, adding a maturing voice probably hasn't hurt. Today, he says, Jordan Cook is judged for what he is.

"He's a great blues guitarist.''

Check out Jordan's website here.

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