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Ry Cooder On World Cafe

Ry Cooder
Joachim Cooder
/
Courtesy of the artist
Ry Cooder

For Ry Cooder, records were not only a first love, but an escape. As a boy growing up in Santa Monica, Calif. in the 1950's, listening to records was a lens into a wider world. He says the first albums that caught his imagination were from traveling blues and gospel musicians.

"First of all I wanted to get out," Cooder says, "You know, where should I go? You know, what would I like to do? I'd like to go meet these people, see them and play their guitar and learn to play. That's what I wanted to do. Well, I'm still on that road."

The virtuoso guitarist and composer has been on that road for nearly 50 years now. He's used music to explore places far and wide, perhaps most famously with the Cuban all-stars of the Buena Vista Social Club.

But his latest album, Prodigal Son, out now, finds him back home. Cooder and his band re-imagine some of those classic blues and gospel songs he loved as boy alongside a few originals. Some of the covers are pulled from the gospel quartet tradition, drawing from groups like the Pilgrim Travelers and The Heavenly Gospel Singers. While the blues numbers are drawn from legendary figures like Blind Willie Johnson and Blind Alfred Reed.

Cooder's versions of these songs depart from their original style, but his love of the source material shines through. In this session, Cooder discusses the music that influenced him as a California kid, gives a history lesson or two on American blues and gospel music, and talks about how Prodigal Son is ultimately about reverence.

Copyright 2018 XPN

Talia Schlanger hosts World Cafe, which is distributed by NPR and produced by WXPN, the public radio service of the University of Pennsylvania. She got her start in broadcasting at the CBC, Canada's national public broadcaster. She hosted CBC Radio 2 Weekend Mornings on radio and was the on-camera host for two seasons of the television series CBC Music: Backstage, as well as several prime-time music TV specials for CBC, including the Quietest Concert Ever: On Fundy's Ocean Floor. Schlanger also guest hosted various flagship shows on CBC Radio One, including As It Happens, Day 6 and Because News. Schlanger also won a Canadian Screen Award as a producer for CBC Music Presents: The Beetle Roadtrip Sessions, a cross-country rock 'n' roll road trip.
Alex Lewis is an independent radio producer based in Philadelphia. He's written and produced longform audio documentaries including The Gospel Roots of Rock & Soul (nominated for a 2020 Peabody Award) - with WXPN and NPR Music - and Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio (winner of a 2015 National Edward R. Murrow Award).