Musicians get noticed for a wide array 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 can not be ignored.
Johnny Cooper is one of those artists.
The front man of the band that bears his name, Cooper already has reached 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 — Cooper already has sold more than 50,000 albums — so quickly is hardly surprising, considering he is thriving in the environment in which he was raised. With a mother who was a dance choreographer and a father who owned nightclubs and wrote songs with him, 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 carry a performer only so far. At his core, Cooper is an extraordinarily gifted musician whose versatility belies his youth. His rich voice is both exceedingly 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 virtuoso guitarist who can dazzle 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 booking more than 200 shows a year and creating music for numerous projects. “I like to write to a challenge,” Cooper says. “A producer called me and said he needed a song for a movie. He said it needed to be ‘kind of honky-tonk, kind of George Jones-ish.’ So I told him to send me the scene — no music, just audio — and I would write a song that fits the scene. I started listening to a bunch of George Jones music and came up with a song, Devil in Glass, that got accepted into the movie.”
Cooper’s band is as diverse 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 had been needing.” The final piece to the puzzle was the band’s “utility player,” Matt Puckett, who plays violin and lead/backup guitar and sings backup vocals. “We had an opportunity to play Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth, and every time we play Billy Bob’s, we do it up big — we have backup singers, we bring in a horn section — and I wanted to add someone who could play a really good guitar, sing backup vocals and play the violin. 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 array 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.
Scheduled times are general estimates and are subject to change. Many shows do not begin on time and may include an opening act the before featured performance begins.