Eli Cook is an up and coming guitarist from Charlottesville, Virginia. While learning his craft, Eli melded a wide variety of influences such as: Led Zeppelin, John Lee Hooker, Waylon Jennings, Nirvana and Skip James into a harder edge blues style of guitar playing. With a few albums now under his belt, He has shared the stage with national acts such as B.B. King, Johnny Winter, Robin Trower, John Mayall and others. His current album "Primitive Son" is a fine collection of rockin' blues tunes and is loaded with special guests players. Some of the artist appearing on the album are: Leslie West, Artimus Pyle, Vinny Appice and many others. Look for Eli at major venues and festivals as he is currently touring to support the record.
R.V.B. - Hello Eli? Rob von Bernewitz from New York, how are you?
E.C. - I'm great, How are you doing man.
R.V.B. - I'm doing pretty good. Are you down in Virginia? Was it hot down there today?
E.C. - Yeah we have typically a jungle type summer. It's hot and humid.
R.V.B. - We got the same thing up here actually. What part of Virginia are you in?
E.C. - I'm in Charlottesville, which is where the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson and Dave Matthews is from.
R.V.B. - I have a nephew who is in Virginia Beach.
E.C. - That's just down the road about 2 1/2 hours from me.
R.V.B. - When you grew up in Virginia what was it like and how did you get involved in music.
E.C. - Well the area I'm in is really the best of both worlds. It's right in the mountains, so it's very rural but we're near the University so we have a pretty strong music scene in the town that's nearby. So I grew up in sort of a rural agrarian community with old gospel churches and a lot of revivals with a musical backround but at the same time it's a university town that exposed me to a lot of live music... like punk music, metal, rap, what have you. So as a teenager I was picking up all the different vibes and my parents record collection consisted of a lot of music from the 60's and 70's. They are basically old hippies. So I got classic blues and rock and country at home when I was listening to music.
R.V.B. - I see that some of your influences go way back.
R.V.B. - Yeah, that's a wide variety and you can actually hear it in your songs. I appreciate the heavy stuff and the early 20's blues and I definitely hear it in your music and it's refreshing. For example on your Primitive Son record... there's a couple that caught my ear, and the one I really liked was Burying Ground. That one had a real haunting backround guitar with expensive chords, and a heavy sound. I understand that this album took you quite a while to make. Did you have a theme in mind?
E.C. -You know it took a while because it I was trying to incorporate a lot of guest artists, and trying to make sure that everything fit together in a cohesive manner. So that aspect of it made it more time consuming but as far as the statement, I was really trying to do the impossible which is blend really traditional older rootsey' pre-war styles of blues music... and when I say that, I mean the vibe. You had mentioned burying Ground and to me, the vibe of that song is very much in keeping with sort of some old Skip James and very sort of somber pre-war hill country guys. The vibe is there even though it's kind of a "Zeppeliney'" modern sounding production. So my attempt with the record was to try to do that... try to blend the organic blues feeling as I interpret it and put it into a contemporary presentation, which is hard to do. You could end up losing a lot of purists in the rock camp and in the blues camp. Hopefully it pays off.
R.V.B. - Well somebody like me, who listens to a lot of music from Charlie Patton to Pantera and the first song on the album caught my eye.
E.C. - (hahaha) Nice.
R.V.B. - The name caught my attention "The Great Southern Love Kill".
E.C. - That's awesome that you actually picked up on that. I think you're the first person that I talked to that wasn't a friend of mine that knew what I was making a reference to with that. The reference is partly with the lyrics and also because of the guests. It was because Artimus Pyle and Pat Travers were big southern rock icons. I just wanted to fuse all of that together with the title.
R.V.B. - It's a good way to open the album.
E.C. - Thank you. It's funny that you mentioned Pantera because Phil Anselmo and Pepper Keenan from Down is one of my favorites of the modern rock guys. They talk about "Down"... their current project as being basically a blues band, in their opinion. I find that very interesting.
R.V.B. - I saw them once and you know, it wasn't Pantera but I liked it. So I understand that you got Leslie West in on something also.
E.C. - Yeah, he's probably the best known of the guests on the record. That was quite a cue. I didn't anticipate getting someone like that. It worked out and I was very excited. Leslie is a real big guitar legend and the tune we tried to get him on is called "Motor Queen". He's known for Mississippi Queen. It kind of fit that bar room rock vibe. I'm glad he's still out there rocking and putting out new material every couple of years and keeping it fresh.
R.V.B. - Yeah, he's from my area. I noticed that a lot of the songs have a mixture of the heavy riffs and slide work. Do you feel that the slide work tends to bring the music back to the older rootsey' feel?
E.C. - Well I hope so. In a lot of songs if it's leaning too far in the hard rock angle and it's supposed sort of a more blues album, like this one... I'll throw in an element like the slide or maybe have someone play harmonica for the solo. It will throw in that spice and it brings it back a little bit towards the blues. Slide guitar is an element that you don't hear that much in rock music. Not that you hear a lot of guitar period in contemporary pop radio. The last time you heard a slide on main stream radio I think was John Frusciante with Scar Tissue. It's a whole different ball game playing slide. I don't come anywhere near Sonny Landreith or Derek Trucks but it's good to shoot for. (Hahaha)
R.V.B. - Well you know maybe someday you will. I noticed that the song that I liked "Swing a Little Harder" had nice slide on it. What was behind the title of the album Primitive Son.
E.C. - I came up with the phrase first. I'm a big believer in the power of good titles. Once again with Pantera, Phil Anselmo is just a brilliant creator of names. You could anticipate the quality of the artwork based upon the quality of the name, a lot of times - I think. So I came up with the phrase Primitive Son and I decided I would name the record that. It has the connotations of the rootsy blues element in the primitive aspect. It also lends itself to some cool visuals and graphics. Then I wrote a song with that as they key phrase and that worked out as the title track.
R.V.B. - I see. Now you're in the process of supporting this record. Your touring here and there?
E.C. - Oh yeah, we did a run to the west coast and back in May and we're going out again in October to do some road trips across the country. We're going up to New Hampshire, Chicago, Alabama...
R.V.B. - How is it going so far? Are the people accepting the new album with a good positive vibe?
E.C. - They are. It's a good blend. We play most of the tracks from the record live and we mix it in with some covers and traditional blues and the cool thing about this record is, it gets a lot of young people... you see a lot of teenagers at shows, more so than you typically would at a traditional blues performance. That's inspiring and you get the same core guard as well. It's good to have some original music that reaches out and appeals to younger people in your audience while at the same time connecting with the same core fan base.
R.V.B. - Now I see that you've opened for some national acts such as Artimus Pyle and Sonny Landreith?
E.C. - Oh yeah, I actually opened for Sonny a couple of weeks ago. I've played with him a few times and Artimus as well. I've lined up a few gigs with Robin Trower in the fall for his east coast run.
R.V.B. - Wow, That's exciting. He seems to be like a fine wine. He gets better with age.
E.C. - It is, he's one of my favorites. He's brilliant. He's one of the greats who has remained great and still going out and doing it. So a lot of cool things have come about because of the record.
R.V.B. - That's awesome. I'd like to ask you a few things about some of your older stuff. What happened to the Queen? Because you have Ace, Jack and King.
E.C. - (Hahaha) Nice... good question. Well the Ace, Jack and King... I think I stole it from an old movie that had the quote in there, and it's just another instance of a quote that sounded very cool and very euphonious. You could apply a lot of imagery to it. It's got sort of an epic quality to it without being cheezey.
R.V.B. - I saw you performing Catfish Blues on youtube with your acoustic. Was that a 12 string?
E.C. - Yes sir. At acoustic shows, I typically play on a 12 string or a resonator. I'm a huge fan of the 12 string. It tricky to learn how to play but once you get the hang of it, it opens up a lot of doors. It creates a much fatter sound. If you ever listen to Leo Kottke or any of those guys. It's a different animal. It you play it in open tuning it creates a whole lot of noise.
R.V.B. - Would you throw that in with the set that you currently play?
E.C. - It depends on the venue. Occasionally we do. We try to do songs in multiple formats. We have arrangements for tunes in an acoustic setting and for a full band setting. That's also in keeping with trying to appeal to a rock crowd and blues at the same time. You can play the same song on a resonator guitar with a slide and just a kick drum and then also go plug in your Strat with a trio and rock it with a fuzz pedal. It's two completely different formats but the same tune.
R.V.B. - Do you primarily use a Strat when you play live?
E.C. - I typically do use a Strat live. It's always been the most versatile electric guitar I've ever played. I can switch between a lot of different types of sounds easier than I can with any other type of electric guitar. It's a workhorse.
R.V.B. - It seems to be the workingman's guitar.
E.C. - If you can play it on a Strat, then you can certainly play it on a Les Paul.
R.V.B. - So apart from the artists we've talked about, I see that you opened up for Johnny Winter.
E.C. - Yeah we got a chance to open for him back in March back at South, Southwest. That was the second time and he put on an awesome show. He came out and played two hours straight and never let up. He rocked out and was loud as hell. He played my amp and his amp on 10. He was rocking out up to the very end so that's cool.
R.V.B. - That was March of this year? So that was near the end and it's a shame. I also see you opened for B.B. King.
E.C. - I think I was 18 or 19 and I got to open up for B.B. in my home town. His management like m,e and we went and did several shows with him on the tour. I've opened for him five times now. That was very fortunate.
R.V.B. - Nice... what were some of the first songs that you played when you were learning the guitar. What did you tackle first?
E.C. - I think the very first things I tried to pick out were tunes I could play on the low E-string. Just one note at a time... bass lines basically. I tried to play the riff from Whole Lotta Love, Enter Sandman and Come as you are. Tunes like that (haha).
R.V.B. - You worked the blues in after that?
E.C. - Yeah, I just started building up, one string at a time. I started picking up on some Lightnin' Hopkins and some John Lee Hooker... real droney' basic stuff that has a real good feel.
R.V.B. - Now your first album that you made was all acoustic.
E.C. - It was... Miss Blues Child. That was a learning experience for sure. I realized in order to book shows and gigs, you had to have a recording of some kind. So I went in and recorded an album in one day. I recorded it live. I wrote a few songs just before going in and I never had really written before. It came out pretty well and got picked up for distribution. Looking back, I wish I had known more about what I was doing (haha) in the studio, but you learn by doing it I guess.
R.V.B. - So what are your current plans are you going back out on tour?
E.C. - Yeah, we're touring for all of October and November, and then things slow down around Christmas, and in January I'll be getting back in the studio and doing some new projects. Then I will be gearing up for the spring and the summer with the festival scenes and circuit and hopefully be having a new album out within the next twelve months.
R.V.B. - Sounds like you have a busy schedule ahead. Where did you record The Primitive Son? A local studio near you?
E.C. - For the most part, I worked in two or three studios in Charlottesville. A lot of the guest work was done long distance. With technology now, people can record at home and email tracks to each other. A lot of that was done remotely. A few people did it in person. Artimus Pyle came up and we did a show and then recorded. I went out to L.A. and recorded with Vinny and Jorgen Carlsson. So there were a few that recorded in person and that was a good learning experience.
R.V.B. - That had to be cool recording with Vinny because he has a good resume.
E.C. - He's a great guy. He's very funny and very laid back. It's good to see guy who have been around that long, and have that manner to them... it's inspiring.
R.V.B. - Kind of humble?
E.C. - Yeah, humble but fun. Very down to earth and cool.
R.V.B. - Well, congratulations on your album, thank you very much for chatting with me and good luck on your upcoming tour.
E.C. - Right on... thanks so much man
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
This interview may not be reproduced in any part or form without permission.
For more information on Eli Cook visit his website www.elicook.com/
Photos approved to use by Eli Cook. Credit Kaya Lee Berne
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