Categories: Arts Music Pop

Joachim Cooder grows his solo career

Los Angeles native Joachim Cooder, appearing this week with his father in The City, found his footing as a solo artist with “Fuchsia Machu Picchu,” a 2018 EP with laid-back confessionals like “Gaviota Drive” and “Everyone Sleeps in the Light,” colored by subtly exotic percussion and warm vocals.

Amazed every time he listens to it, he says, “I hadn’t ever sung or written my own songs before, and I’m almost 40. My voice was just never a thing. I hadn’t ever thought of myself as a singer.”

At age 4, Cooder was given his first drum kit by legendary percussionist Jim Keltner, a friend and frequent houseguest of his renowned guitarist father Ry Cooder, who saw how much precocious interest the kid took in rhythm.

Ever since, he’s been humbly, happily using his skills, onstage and in the studio, to support dad, his own wife Juliette Commagere, and countless other performers. He was featured on the Grammy-winning “Buena Vista Social Club” sessions.

But long before he began joining his father in concert, he says, “I traveled everywhere with him because I was an only child, and we went so many places.”

It was a unique upbringing. Since dad mastered a new musical style for almost every album, stringed instruments cluttered the family home, and junior seemed fated to eventually pick one up.

“But the guitar just never made any sense to me, and still doesn’t,” he says. “I was more fascinated by Jim Keltner’s drum set, which had Simmons electronic drum pads, shakers taped to everything.” With one fleeting pursuit as an apprentice chef, it’s been drums ever since. “Which is good, because you really wouldn’t want to be Ry Cooder’s not-as-good, depressing guitar player son,” he says, chuckling.

Cooder branched out into keyboards, as well, after hearing Tangerine Dream film soundtracks. With the help of songwriting chums like Matt Costa and Inara George, he compiled a low-key 2012 debut disc, “Love on a Real Train.”

But his inspiration for the more serious “Fuchsia” came from two sources: the birth of his daughter Paloma (he and Commagere also had son Mojave four months ago) and his switching to an electric model of the mbira, an acoustic thumb piano, which cemented the sound he’d been seeking.

As a toddler, Ry Cooder used to serenade his son on banjo. “And now he plays banjo for my daughter all the time; they’re a great little team,” Joachim says. “And I never thought about how awesome it is to be able to tour with your father until I had kids myself.”

Ry Cooder, Joachim Cooder
Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. July 19-20
Tickets: $65-$75 (sold out)
Contact: (415) 885-0759,

Tom Lanham
Published by
Tom Lanham

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