Ryland "Ry" Peter Cooder (born 15 March 1947, in Los Angeles, California) is an American guitarist, singer and composer, known for his slide guitar work, his interest in the American roots music and, more recently, for his collaborations with traditional musicians from many countries.
Cooder first attracted attention in the 1960s, playing with Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, after previously having worked with Taj Mahal in The Rising Sons.
He was a guest session guitarist on various recording sessions with the Rolling Stones in 1968 and 1969, and Cooder's contributions appear on the Stones' Let It Bleed (mandolin on "Love in Vain"), and Sticky Fingers, on which he contributed the slide guitar to "Sister Morphine". During this period, Cooder joined with Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, and longtime Rolling Stones sideman Nicky Hopkins to record "Jamming with Edward". Shortly after the sessions, Cooder accused Keith Richards of musical plagiarism, but has since refused to comment on his accusations. Cooder also played slide guitar for the 1970 movie, Performance, which contained Mick Jagger's first solo single, "Memo from Turner" on which Cooder played slide guitar. The 1975 Rolling Stones compilation album Metamorphosis features an uncredited Cooder on Bill Wyman's "Downtown Suzie", which is also the first Rolling Stones song played and recorded in the open G tuning.
Throughout the 1970s, Cooder released a series of Warner Bros. Records albums that showcased his guitar work, to some degree. Cooder has been compared to a musicologist, exploring bygone musical genres with personalized and sensitive, updated reworkings of revered originals. Cooder's '70s albums (with the exception of Jazz) do not fall under a single genre description, But — to generalize broadly — it might be fair to call Cooder's first album blues; Into the Purple Valley, Boomer's Story, and Paradise and Lunch, folk + blues; Chicken Skin Music and Showtime, a unique melange of Tex-Mex and Hawaiian; Jazz, 1920s jazz; Bop Till You Drop '50's R&B; and Borderline and Get Rhythm, eclectic rock based excursions. Cooder's 1979 album Bop Till You Drop was the first popular music album to be recorded digitally. It yielded his biggest hit, an R&B cover version of Elvis Presley's 1960s recording "Little Sister".
Cooder has worked as a studio musician and has also scored many film soundtracks, of which perhaps the best known is that for the 1984 Wim Wenders film Paris, Texas. Cooder based this soundtrack, and the haunting title song "Paris, Texas" on Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night (Cold Was the Ground)", which he described as "The most soulful, transcendent piece in all American music." His other film work includes Walter Hill's The Long Riders (1980) and Southern Comfort (1981), Last Man Standing (1996) and Mike Nichols' Primary Colors (1998).
In recent years, Cooder has played a role in the increased appreciation of traditional Cuban music, due to his collaboration as producer in the Buena Vista Social Club (1997) recording, which was a worldwide hit. Wim Wenders directed a documentary film of the musicians involved, Buena Vista Social Club (1999) which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2000. Cooder worked with Tuvan throat singers for the score to the 1993 film Geronimo: An American Legend. Cooder also stepped in for the recording of the slide guitar parts in the 1986 film Crossroads, a take on the infamous tale of the blues legend, Robert Johnson.
Cooder's solo work has been an eclectic mix, taking in dust bowl folk, blues, Tex-Mex, soul, gospel, rock, and almost everything else. He has collaborated with many important musicians, including The Rolling Stones, Little Feat, Trevor Whittaker, Captain Beefheart, The Chieftains, John Lee Hooker, Gabby Pahinui, Flaco Jimenez and Ali Farka Toure. He formed the Little Village supergroup with Nick Lowe, John Hiatt, and Jim Keltner.
His 2005 album Chavez Ravine was touted by his record label as being "a post-World War II-era American narrative of “cool cats,” radios, UFO sightings, J. Edgar Hoover, red scares, and baseball" - the record is a tribute to the long-gone Los Angeles Latino enclave known as Chávez Ravine. Using real and imagined historical characters, Cooder and friends created an album that recollects various aspects of the poor but vibrant hillside Chicano community, which was bulldozed by developers in the 1950s in the interest of “progress;” Dodgers Stadium ultimately was built on the site. Cooder says, “Here is some music for a place you don’t know, up a road you don’t go. Chávez Ravine, where the sidewalk ends.” Drawing from the various musical strains of Los Angeles, including conjunto, corrido, R&B, Latin pop, and jazz, Cooder and friends conjure the ghosts of Chávez Ravine and Los Angeles at mid-century. On this fifteen-track album, sung in Spanish and English, Cooder is joined by East L.A. legends like Chicano music patriarch Lalo Guerrero, Pachuco boogie king Don Tosti, Three Midniters front man Little Willie G, and Ersi Arvizu, of The Sisters and El Chicano.
His next record will be released in 2007. Entitled My Name Is Buddy, it tells the story of a cat who travels and sees the world. My Name Is Buddy will be accompanied by a booklet featuring a story and illustration (by Vincent Valdez) for each track, providing additional context to Buddy's adventures.
Cooder was ranked number 8 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.