Come out this Thursday and tube the Trinity with an experienced Rockin’ the River veteran. This will be Johnny Cooper’s third performance at Panther Island Pavilion on the only waterfront stage in Texas. Here’s the lowdown on what you can expect from Mr. Cooper:
Musicians get noticed for a wide range of reasons. Some win various competitions, while others seem to have as much in the way of connections as in pure talent. Then there are those who simply demand attention through performances so dynamic and powerful that they simply cannot be ignored.
Johnny Cooper is one of those artists.
The front man of the band that bears his name, Cooper already has achieved dual-threat status: he has rare talent that has earned him critical acclaim for his recordings and live shows, and he performs with an energy that captivates audiences in venues of all sizes.
That he has grown so successful so quickly is hardly unexpected, considering he is thriving in the environment in which he was raised. With a mom who was a dance choreographer and a dad who was a songwriter and owned nightclubs, Cooper has been around entertainers throughout his life, and now features a sound that draws on his enormous range of musical influences — a list that includes pop, classic rock, R&B, hip-hop and country — and features an irresistible energy. “That’s what my whole thing’s about,” Cooper says. “I can’t tell you that tomorrow, I’m not going to write a country song, or a funk song, or team up with a rapper. I love it when you tell me I can’t write a certain kind of song, because then I’m going to show up and say, ‘glad you said I can’t do it — here it is.’
“I like a lot of different artists. I listened to a lot of Queen growing up, and Stevie Wonder has had a big effect on my life, but I can’t put on Art Garfunkel and shake my ass. When I first heard Stevie Wonder, I wanted to get up and move. I’m drawn to people who get up there and play with cajones. If I want to hear you sing, I can stay at home and listen to a recording, but if I want to see a show, I want to see a show. That’s the way I am on stage.”
Of course, on-stage theatrics can only carry an artist so far. At his core, Cooper is an extremely gifted musician whose versatility denies his youth. His rich voice is both exceptionally talented and well trained; few singers are willing to perform covers of artists like Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson, TLC and James Brown, as Cooper did (largely while building up his library of his own compositions) and he does so with a confidence and style worthy of the original artists. He also is a skillful guitarist who can astound with his full band, in duo performances with a drummer or as a solo acoustic artist. While recording his first several albums, Cooper has become an in-demand performer, often playing more than 200 shows a year.
Cooper’s band is as varied as its leader. Cooper had worked on previous projects with drummer Joe Cortez IV (“the best drummer I’ve ever seen in my life,” Cooper says) and was eager to continue their working relationship. He had no intention of adding a keyboard player until his search for a new bassist led him to Jay Sandford, who in turn introduced keyboardist Cris Brenham. “They came in and blew me away,” Cooper says. “Right away, they laid down what my music was missing. It was exciting because it was different. I realized they were exactly what we needed.” The last piece to the puzzle was the band’s “utility player,” Matt Puckett, who plays violin and lead/backup guitar and sings backup vocals, “There’s nothing more exciting than someone who can play a lot of instruments, who can fill a lot of roles. Matt can do all of those things, and he does them really well. He’s phenomenal, and he makes us all better.”
With his band complete, Cooper’s focus is on what he enjoys most: creating and performing his unique brand of music that features often-requested signature songs like “Texas to You” and “Crazy,” drawing comparisons to an range of artists, from John Mayer to Maroon 5. “Go big or go home,” Cooper says. “My whole thing is that I want to keep writing music and writing different kinds of music, writing stuff that appeals to more people, not just one type of people. As long as you surround yourself with creative people — and I have done that — I’ll continue to write more music … and better music.”
Cooper’s sound has evolved since his first album, which had a Texas country/southern rock feel. Moving forward, he added more funk and R&B influences, earning comparisons to Lenny Kravitz. His next offering, Red Sessions, is a hybrid of several musical genres and is being supported through pledgemusic.com, which allows fans to help fund the creation of the album. “It’s a hands-on way for people to help make music,” Cooper says. “Fans get to hear our music and make donations toward the next recording, and in return, they get things back, a bunch of personalized stuff. It’s a great way of allowing our fans to help us make the music they enjoy.”
That’s exactly what fans are doing, and in rapidly growing numbers: enjoying the music of Johnny Cooper, whose song writing, on-stage charisma and unique talent has to be seen and heard to be believed.