Randy Cooke Interview

June 11, 2006

Who would ever have guessed that I would be interviewing a guy that has appeared on Hillary Duff and Kelly Clarkson albums? But Randy Cooke‘s appearances don’t begin and end with teen heart-throbs. Randy has also made a career out of drumming for legends such as The Four Horsemen, Triumph’s Rik Emmett and countless others. Endlessly crossing musical genres, Randy has been involved with more projects then you can count and in this exclusive interview touches on them all.

SR: Judging by the vast amount of stuff you have worked on, have you ever thought of patenting the name of ‘the hardest working Canadian in music’?

RC: That’s pretty funny – I think there’s a compliment in there somewhere eh? Actually, I’d be lying if I said that’s the first time I heard that said about me. I think I’m going to leave that patent process to someone else and just silently go back to being ‘one’ of the hardest working Canadians in music.

SR: You’ve been everything from a band member to live sidekick to session musician. Do you prefer any one in particular and how is each different?

Randy CookeRC: It’s hard sometimes to have a preference because each of those positions offers something unique each time I’m in them. I love the comradery (sp?) of being in a band and becoming good friends with the people I play with because of the type of time spent in that situation.
   I also love playing live with as many different artists/bands I can for obvious reasons, such as rounding one’s musicality, gaining a larger musical network which of course causes more future work and generally keeping things fresh for me. Sometimes playing the same music with the same group over and over can become a little stale.
   And as for studio work, that’s a completely different world. Because what you play becomes etched in stone forever, the pressure and responsibility of those situations can be quite higher. But that’s what I love about it. There are some additional skills required for becoming an in demand session guy and if armed with those, you end up having a fairly rewarding experience knowing that someone has trusted your performance abilities with their project enough to not only have you as part of their musical historic photograph but also paying you in the process!
   In the end I still don’t have a preference. They say “The grass is greener on the other side” and I tend to agree. Once you’re in one situation you usually end up missing another…

SR: What projects are you currently working on?

RC: I’m doing the ‘Pointer Sisters’ gig (they don’t play often though), on 2 different Hilary Duff CD’s, on 1 track on the new Veronica CD, on 4 tracks on Jessie McCartney’s last CD, on 2 tracks on the new Kelly Clarkson CD (one of them is on the radio right now, “Walk Away”), on 3 tracks on the new Andrew Strong CD (he’s the dude from that band/movie ‘The Commitments’), on the new Stacey Oricco CD, on the soundtrack to ‘Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’, and just finished a CD for a great new British artist named Jason Rowe – watch out for him this year…

SR: You’ve played almost every style of music known to man, are there certain genres you enjoy more then others and some you haven’t tried yet but would like to?

RC: I would have to say old school R&B, funk, and reggae are my fav’s. Probably because that’s what I grew up playing strictly for the first 4 or 5 years of my career. I’ve always (like most other drummers) wanted to take some time at some point and explore more jazz and jazz fusion techniques and styles. I find those to be in a world all of their own taking much more time and dedication.

SR: Fans of my website are going to be wondering why I’m interviewing someone that is working with Hilary Duff and Kelly Clarkson, but what is it like working with young upstarts like that?

RC: Funny, I’ve not met most of them! When I do those sessions it’s usually just myself, the studio engineer, and the producer. I play to prerecorded guide tracks then they add everyone else on top of me later.
   As for your ‘rockin’ readers, let’m know I’m playing tonight with Toronto’s Phil X. He’s in Tommy Lee’s solo band as well as having done some studio and live stuff for Rob Zombie. We’re gonna RAWK hard…

SR: Out of all the people you have worked with, who are some of the most memorable and why?

RC: I think one of them would be Rik Emmett from Triumph because I’ve been in his camp for so long now that we’ve become family, and of course because his solo career has come full circle from hard rock to pop to smooth jazz and I’ve been able to keep up every step of the way musically. It’s been very enriching both musically and personally.
   And another important mention is Lisa Dalbello. I was fortunate enough to meet her years ago when I did one of her CD’s and really was humbled by how talented she was/is as a musician, singer, songwriter, and producer. Once again, it didn’t hurt either that she’s the ‘salt of the earth’ as a person and I’m very fortunate to be able to call her a good friend. She single handedly inducted me into the world of recording ‘jingles’ (television and radio commercials) with one phone call as well as recommending me for numerous other projects throughout the years.

SR: It’s funny you should mention Rik Emmett, because the only time I saw you live was with him and it seemed like everyone has having so much fun. Also, only being a casual Triumph fan I was surprised at how incredible he is on the guitar.

RC: Yeah, we’ve always had that vibe amongst us… isn’t that the way music’s supposed to be? If it’s not fun, it just isn’t worth being involved in!

SR: Does Rik Emmett ever talk about his Triumph days and with all the bad blood there do you think a reunion will ever happen?

RC: No. He’s very respectful about that and doesn’t involve his band mates, but based on common knowledge, I don’t see a reunion happening anytime soon.

SR: One of the first rock albums you appeared on is by another of my favorites. What do you remember about working with Lee Aaron on her self titled 1987 album?

Randy CookeRC: Those days were absolutely great. Our ambitions were large, and our hair styles were larger! It’s pretty much a blur at this point with so many CD’s under my belt, but I do know for certain that we were all a tight knit family and all got along really well. I also appeared on her next CD after that (“Some Girls Do”) as well as toured Europe a couple of times with her.

SR: What was it like hitting the road with the ‘Metal Queen’? Any stories that stick out?

RC: It was insanely fun. There were so many cool moments of course. There isn’t just one that sticks out. From accidentally leaving band members at rest stops in Germany, to partying with the Scorpions, to seeing many ‘red light’ districts for the first time (brought the term ‘window shopping’ to a new level) it was just a helluva time.

SR: You also played with a band called Gypsy Rose, how did you get involved with them?

RC: A good friend of mine who’s a killer bass player (Alannah Myles, Tom Cochrane, etc), Rob Laidlaw, pulled me into that project. We cut that CD awhile back. Those guys were ultra cool. We also did a few live dates around that time as well. They rocked!

SR: If you played live with the band, does that mean you were a member at one time? Because the album makes it look as if you were just a guest musician.

RC: No. I wasn’t a member. Playing live as a side musician sometimes helps a band temporarily when they’re in between deciding on a permanent member.

SR: Now onto one of my favorite bands ever, The Four Horsemen. How did you get hooked up with them?

RC: Well, since you know them very well, you know they’ve had their ups and downs regarding band members. My good friend and talented writer, guitarist, engineer and producer Rich Chycki (Jeff Healey, Aerosmith) was producing their CD and they needed a drummer so off I went! It was a blast recording it and also great to get to know Frank like I did because we lost him soon after the recording of that CD. I went on to tour that CD across Canada shortly thereafter.

SR: Frank C. Starr always seemed to have an image of a bad boy. What was he really like and what are some of your memories of him?

RC: I remember Frank as being a cool and likeable guy. I’m not sure about any “bad boy” episodes but when you’re the singer of a rock and roll band you have that charismatic “live life on the edge” thing going on and that was Frank. Remember, I don’t have typical “out on the road” stories because he wasn’t able to tour with us. He was around for the studio sessions and we went out drinking a couple of nights after the studio but it was the standard “drink a lot, get drunk, act crazy” shit.

SR: How did the Four Horsemen tour with Ron Young go? Was he well received?

RC: Before every show, we’d make an announcement to the crowd about how Frank was doing and how we’d dedicate each show to him, so Ron was welcomed with open arms each and every time. It was really cool how people received Ron. And of course Ron brought his game completely… It was so killer to listen to Ron do his own thing yet pay homage to Frank at the same time.

SR: Were any of Ron’s Little Caesar tunes thrown into the setlist? Also, do you know if the Horsemen recorded anything (live or studio) with Ron on vocals?

Randy CookeRC: If my memory serves me, it was just Four Horsemen material. But I have the worst memory on the planet, so there’s always the possibility that I’m wrong about that…. As for Ron recording anything, there was talk of that but it never came about.

SR: You also worked with Phil Naro in Blood Red Flower, what was that project like?

RC: Songs were great, Phil was outstanding, and the band was made up of guys who all knew each other well and could play their asses off. I wasn’t particularly happy with the mix of the CD, but when we hit the stage we really took people’s heads off. There were some tunes in odd time, and places for all of us to solo etc… was so intense at times. And how could ya not dig Phil’s voice? He had such a personalized vocal sound. I miss playin with those dudes…

SR: Another artist you helped out was Sass Jordan. How did that go, and do you have any idea why she had changed her name to Sas for Hot Gossip?

RC: No idea why she changed her name. She’s a kick-ass singer. It was with her that I was fortunate enough to perform at the world’s largest ticketed event ever. It was called “Toronto Rocks” and featured acts like AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Guess Who etc… we played to almost 500,000 paid listeners… it was the experience of a lifetime and I have her to thank for it.

SR: What was it like to perform in front of so many people?

RC: Kind of like falling from a plane without a parachute. Scary, exciting, phenomenal. It was over before it began. Time feels like it’s standing still in moments like that.

SR: OK, the last rock band I can think of that you’ve worked with is Honeymoon Suite. What all have you done with them?

RC: I did do a couple of local live dates in Toronto with them a few years back, but other than that, I recorded not only their last CD but Johnny D’s solo CD as well.

SR: I didn’t realize Johnnie Dee had a solo album. How does it compare soundwise to Honeymoon Suite?

RC: There are some obvious similarities, but Johnnie manages to put a fresh twist on his new CD – he still completely rocks of course!

SR: After playing on so much music, has there ever been a song you looked back at and thought, “why the fuck did I record THAT?”

RC: Dude – there are MANY CD’s I’ve played on that I wished I could’ve erased my name on after hearing them… but – that door swings both ways right? When you play on something that sounds amazing, you’re glad history can’t be erased – but when you’ve polished a turd – there ain’t NUTHIN you can do about it but look ahead and not back… hahaha…

SR: Do you ever wish you could have been part of a successful band with the longevity of say Aerosmith, or would you find that too confining?

RC: Absolutely. In fact, could you mention to Aerosmith that I’d love to replace their current drummer? Being a session guy has its benefits, but in the end, I’d actually like to be in one band and concentrate my efforts that way. We’ll see what happens.

SR: If you could pick any rock bands to work with, who would be at the top of your list and why?

RC: If we’re talking about rock bands that are still together, I’d have to say Rush – for obvious drumming reasons!

SR: When your career eventually comes to an end, what do you hope to be remembered for as a musician?

RC: I think (and hope) I’d like to be remembered as one of my generations most versatile and musical drummers. It’s not common to cross as many musical genres as I’ve been lucky enough to do. Or, “he was a great fucking drummer” would equally be as satisfying…

Thanks to Randy Cooke