Interview With a Phantom....Jack Cook
Jack Cook was born in 1954 in Seattle. The first guitar Jack had a chance to fool with belonged to his father, Raymond. It’s a seven string Audio Vox lap steel from the late 30's that Jack still owns, but never really learned to play. Jack messed around with it most of his early years using a glass across the strings. There was an amplifier that matched the guitar. Unfortunately, Jack’s brother threw it, and the family dog, out the attic window one day. The dog survived. The amp didn’t.
Jack’s grandmother, aunt, and mother had 78 records. When the three of them would get together they’d play their music and start dancing. He especially remembers "When Banana Skins Are Falling, I’ll Come Sliding Back To You."
Jack’s older cousins had 45's that included Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Johnny and the Hurricanes and Northwest groups such as the Viceroys and the Frantics. His favorite record was "Werewolf," a guitar instrumental by the Frantics featuring growls by Kearney Barton. Jack still quotes the song in his own performances.
Like others in his age bracket, Jack came to blues through Mayall, Canned Heat, Butterfield, and R&B covers by Northwest bands. Then the Robert Johnson Columbia LP caught Jack’s attention. "When I got hold of the first Robert Johnson album I couldn’t get past the first side. I was amazed that one guy with a guitar could make so much racket. It was loose and on the edge but not out of control."
In 1971 Jack saw Albert Collins at Blanchet High School. Albert was touring with his own six-piece band.
Albert walked through the audience playing his Telecaster with his teeth and the kids went wild. When midnight rolled around the lights went on and Collins was standing on top of his amp. He didn’t quit playing for another 20 minutes. Around the same time a concert occurred at Hec-Edmundson Pavilion entitled The Heidelberg Blues Festival. It featured sets by Bee Houston, George Smith, J. B. Hutto, Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton and Muddy Waters. The show was great and Muddy Waters was astounding. The festival was recorded and the Muddy Waters set has been released on CD. "For years I wasn’t sure just how heavy the performance really was. Hearing the concert now it’s no wonder that many of us were converted."
Jack met Johnny Shines and Bukka White at performances in Seattle through Bob West. Bob West (and Bob Graf) had recorded Bukka White and Furry Lewis in Memphis and released an LP on the Asp label. Many of the old time blues singers that came to Seattle stayed at West’s houseboat (where they would have an informal jam session after the shows).
Jack met his infamous partners in crime, Daddy Treetops and Twist Turner in High School.
"We’d all been playing for a few years but really focused on traditional blues around this time. They were the first cats I met that wanted to play all the time. We played though old tube radios & tape recorders trying to get that sound we heard on the funky recordings we listened to. In 1973 Treetops and myself played the second annual Folklife Festival as The New Two Poor Boys. We did our renditions of Frank Stokes, Bo Carter, and Papa Charlie Jackson.
The same year I started playing in a band called Juke with Twist and Steve Bailey. Steve played real good harp & slide guitar and had the same musical direction as us. The band specialized in driving Chicago Blues and West Coast Jump Blues. We mostly played dives around Pike Place Market like Doc’s, Place Pigalle and the Victrola. We worked a little in the North End but usually drew small crowds. Blues wasn’t that popular with the middle class. The bums, low lifes & downtown characters were the ones that supported our cause."
In 1974 Jack took a roadtrip with Dave Voorhees. They were on the hunt for blues 78's and 45''s. Jack had addresses and phone numbers of some old time blues musicians he knew were still around. They drove to California and over to Texas together. They did a little junking, bought records from dealers and visited Willie Lane in Fort Worth. Jack headed to Memphis on his own. There, he looked up Bukka White, Gus Cannon, and Robert Wilkins. He got to jam with Joe Willie Wilkins and Houston Stackhouse at Joe Willie's house. Jack also visited Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon in Brownsville, Tennessee.
The next year on a similar journey Jack visited Bukka White, Gus Cannon, and Sleepy John, again. This trip he got to meet Furry Lewis. Jack dropped in on Big Joe Williams in Crawford, Mississippi, Mager Johnson (Tommy Johnson’s brother) in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, and Yank Rachell in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Jack followed 61 Highway up to Chicago, where Twist Turner had recently moved. Jack got to play with the Aces (Louis and Dave Myers and Fred Below) at the Southpark Lounge and with Willie Anderson, Jimmy Lee Robinson, and George Beasley at the Michigan Street Cafe. Amazingly, he even jammed with Jimmy Reed and John Brim in a tenement basement, plus got to see performances by Howlin’ Wolf, Buster Benton, and Lee Jackson.
Jack also did a blues show on KRAB-FM off and on throughout the 70's.
"I started out as a sub for Bob West who had a long running program he called King Biscuit Time. Back then nobody got paid but we played whatever we liked. Obscure recordings from our own collections; LPs, 45's and 78's. I met Carl Martin, Ted Bogan and Howard Armstrong when they came to town. We had Carl up at the radio station to do a show. Bukka (White), Furry (Lewis), (Johnny) Shines, and Mance Lipscomb also did spots on KRAB.
Through the mid to late 70's Jack played blues, hokum, and old timey music with Daniel Jacoubovitch, Mike Dumovich, Doug Royce, Tom Berghan, and others at the usual haunts...The Pig, The Victrola, The G-Note, etc.
"In 1978 I got itchy heels again. I took off with Jeff Poskin searching for vintage recordings & surviving blues heroes. We saw Henry Townsend and Doc Terry in St. Louis, Robert Jr. Lockwood in Cleveland, Yank (Rachel) in Indianapolis and Furry (Lewis) in Memphis. After an extended stop in Columbus, Georgia, Jeff flew back to Seattle and I headed down to New Orleans. I’d met Danny Barker and seen the Meters and James Booker there in '75. We’d just been to the Crescent City and I knew there was opportunity to play. Tipitina’s had opened and featured great local talent showcasing the return of Professor Longhair and a newly formed band. To be able to hear Fess anytime was enough reason to stick around. I landed a weekly gig for myself at Tyler’s Beer Garden on Magazine Street and played Tips & other uptown clubs with a group headed by Spencer Bohren. The ensemble included Ed Volker and Reggie Scanlin, both members of The Radiators, and Johnny Magnie from The Percolators. I performed solo at the Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1979, auditioning live for Quint Davis at his office. Johnny Adams, Irma Thomas and the Nevilles were all down there. I became good friends with Walter and Jerry Brock who were just getting WWOZ off the ground. A few months after I moved back to Seattle I got a call from Jerry. Fess had passed away. New Orleans just was never the same for me after that."
In 1980 Jack returned to Seattle and joined the Isaac Scott Band with Steve Bailey. Pioneer Square's music scene was on the rise and they worked Hibble & Hyde’s, the Old Timers, along with Mr. T’s on 1st Ave. In 1981 Jack was offered a job with Mike Lynch’s band, Nitelife. This led to a couple months in Ketchikan, Alaska at the Shamrock by the Sea (a titty bar). It was a wild time playing seven nights a week and making lots of money. Upon his return to Seattle, Blue Monday’s cranked up at the Owl Cafe, with Pat Lynch as ringleader. Jack met Ray Bonneville there. They started music at the Scarlet Tree. Jack, and Nitelife, made a second trip to Ketchikan in the summer of '82.
In 1983 Jack moved to L.A. to put a band together with drummer Ralph Victoria.
"At first I stayed in Cypress with harmonica player Henry Venegas. I started spending more time in Hollywood and ventured out to South LA to catch local blues acts. Pretty soon I was getting more work in that neighborhood and relocated to Hawthorne. I played in a band with Bobby Williams and his Balls of Fire featuring Curtis Tillman at Ricky & Laura’s on Central Ave. I also played with George Smith and Smokey Wilson.
In the early to mid 80’s Jack worked at the venerable Jolly Roger Roadhouse, run by Patrick Lynch. He played with Isaac Scott, Mike Lynch and the Blues Rockers, Kim Field, Leslie Milton, Mark Dalton, and backed Sunnyland Slim plus Valerie Wellington. In 1986, Jack started Hugh’s Blues with G. W. Levell, Sonny Boy Ardee, and Leon Campbell. Hugh’s Blues eventually was home to Darren Motamedy, Jimmy Free, Mike West, and Billy Spaulding. Jack left Hugh’s Blues in 1991.
During and after Hugh’s Blues, Jack was performing on an acoustic platform called The Phantoms of Soul. Various Phantoms included G. W. Levell, Sonny Boy Ardee, Greg Youmans, Mike West, Daddy Treetops, and John Marshall. The Phantoms reached back to ragtime, hokum, and rural blues. The Phantoms ranged the Northwest, with occasional forays as far east as Montana. Jack still performs with the current Phantoms, Johnnie Ward and Guy Quintino.
In the last four years Jack has visited Europe several times to play Amsterdam and parts of Germany. A CD by Marc Breitfelder (a harmonicist from Kiel, Germany) may soon see the light of day.
Nowadays, Jack can be found each Wednesday co-hosting a jam, with Greg Roberts and Guy Quintino, at Ballard’s Bit Tavern. The Phantoms are active, and Jack is in demand as a sideman in Portland and Seattle.
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