It's not easy being a Ry Cooder fan. The payoffs are great, given that he's one of the most soulful and distinctive guitarists on Earth, having absorbed the warmth and nuance of nearly every American music form, along with those of several other cultures for good measure.
But as bountiful a rain as a Cooder concert is, fans are more accustomed to drought. He rarely tours, and when he does, it typically is in Europe or Japan. If memory serves, he's made only one Southland performance under his own banner in the past decade. He may appear unannounced at a Chieftains concert here or John Lee Hooker performance there--as he has in recent months--but otherwise, Cooder has been in short supply.
So why is he, with scarcely a week's notice, popping up Sunday at the Coach House with longtime musical accomplice David Lindley and their respective offspring Joachim Cooder and Rosanne Lindley?
They are preparing to embark on a European tour, and Sunday's show, Cooder says, is "a shakedown cruise. We've got a lot to learn and to tighten up, so we're shaking it down so we can \o7 shake it down\f7 , you know?"
Unlike most musicians, who need to tour for a livelihood, Cooder has an active career scoring soundtracks--including "The Long Riders," "Trespass," "Crossroads" and "Paris, Texas"--and he's long been on record as disdaining the oftentimes hellish road life away from hearth and home.
Even his tour a few years back with the amiable supergroup Little Village--with John Hiatt, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner--was "horrendous, a true nightmare," he said by phone from his Santa Monica studio Wednesday.
Cooder, however, was gushing about the prospects of the new tour.
"This, I think, is different," he said. "This isn't like some horrible death march to Bataan, where you find yourself just out there hanging from the yardarm. This is \o7 family\f7 .
"It just has to do with another kind of dynamic and another kind of idea about playing music, for its own sake," he said. "And I'm hoping that will pay off emotionally for us. It should. If we can't make this work and have fun, then nothing will ever be fun. It's got to be fun 'cause I can't stand ever doing that other thing anymore."
He and Lindley are musical soul-mates, if ever there were, from their soaring mastery of the slide guitar to the way each explores exotic sonic cultures--from Madagascar to Hawaii--with an ear for the heartbeat rather than just the tourist trappings of those cultures.
The two have been crossing paths since the '60s, when both came up in the folk-music scene centered at Los Angeles' Ash Grove club. In the psychedelic era, Lindley played with the wildly eclectic Kaleidoscope while Cooder surfaced in Captain Beefheart's first Magic Band.
Both moved into studio work, and Lindley, after accompanying Jackson Browne for several fruitful years, followed Cooder into a solo career. They first recorded together on the 1980 "The Long Riders" soundtrack and have collaborated off and on ever since.
Lindley's daughter Rosanne had her own band, the Casual Girls, for a few years and last year performed with her father at the Coach House. Cooder's 16-year-old son, Joachim, backed him and Lindley on hand drums when they toured early in the decade.
In performing with their kids, Cooder doesn't think they're breaking any new ground.
"You know, if you go back to the 1800s, parlor family music was the main form of entertainment. Companies did a tremendous trade in pump organs, mandolins and things because people used to sit at home and play, singing church music and whatever else they knew.
"It's really where music is organic on that level, because in that kind of context you're \o7 sharing\f7 something," he said. "It must've been incredible to sit around for an evening or on the weekends like that. We don't do too much of that nowadays. Everybody's scattered running around or watching TV or doing what they do.
"I always thought, 'I wish I had somebody to play around here with. Drums would be great.' Lo and behold, that's what happened," he said. "And growing up with David, Rosanne became involved in music, because when music is what you do around the house, that's what your kids hear and come to understand.
"You have to have a cool time making music--it just isn't worth it otherwise--and if you can do it with your kids, that's about the best thing because families really do connect in non-linear ways that you can't package or promote. I think it's great. I think everybody should do this."
Playing music is something that necessitates approaching one's kids as equals, he said.
"If you were [an authoritarian parent], you couldn't do this. I never told Joachim how to play drums. I never told him \o7 to\f7 play drums, never even thought he would. But when he was 6, he started, so I said, 'Hey, let's play,' and we would sit at home and play music, and then he said he wanted to play onstage with me. So it was a nice evolving thing.