Dana Cooper has boiled the singer/songwriter thing down to its essentials. He’s got the songs he has written, the guitar he plays them on, and the voice he sings them with. What more do you need?
“A few good stories now and then,” he said.
Cooper, who has been performing for 40 years, recorded his debut album in 1973 in Los Angeles. His career has had ups and down since then, but he has in recent years settled in as a well-regarded songwriter. He will be one of the main attractions at Saturday’s Americana Showcase at Rochester Civic Theatre, sharing the stage with Ray Wylie Hubbard and members of Six Mile Grove.
“It’s a nice place to be in,” Cooper said of his current status. “I don’t stress out about it anymore. I’m fairly driven in what I do, I always have been. But I allow myself to have fallow spots. I don’t worry about writer’s block. I’m more concerned about remembering all the songs I’ve written.”
“He makes his music sound brand new with every new song he writes,” said Brandon Sampson, of Six Mile Grove, who has brought Cooper to Minnesota for a series of gigs. “He approaches tender subjects with very strong and descriptive images.”
Perhaps that’s because Cooper originally wrote poetry and planned to become a painter.
“My songwriting came out of poetry I’d written, and I’d put music to it,” he said during a telephone interview. “Now I tend to write from a musical place and often the lyrics start coming from what the music implies.”
When Cooper’s initial run of success in the 1970s ended, he found himself without a record contract. He went back to school to study horticulture. “I thought I would do that when I didn’t want to be in the music business anymore,” he said. “But I never really quit playing music for very long.”
In the past decade, Cooper has developed a reputation as a man of literate lyrics and tastefully produced songs. “I probably write a lot less about the attraction phase of love than I did in my 20s,” he said. “I’ve always had this recurring theme: Seize the day, make the most of the time you’ve got. Most of what I write about sort of hovers around that theme. Musically, it’s a bit of a challenge to take a different approach.”
After 40 years in the music business, Cooper has seen it all. “I’ve been trying to find the niche I’ve carved out for myself now,” he said. “I’m in a good place.”
Headlining the concert will be Ray Wylie Hubbard, a Texas songwriter who also demonstrates a way with words. “I can say that Muddy Waters is as deep as William Blake,” he sings on his new album, and then sets out to prove it with a mix of blues, country and folk and song titles like “Drunken Poet’s Dream” and “Down Home Country Blues”