A family affair
BY JENNIFER CHANCELLOR World Scene Writer
Monday, November 16, 2009
11/16/09 at 10:04 AM
Album has some, and then some
SKIATOOK — Some people believe that everything old eventually becomes new again. But Tulsa musician Pat Cook swears it isn't true.
His band, the Electric Rag Band, combines nearly every genre and subgenre of music out there, including blues, Americana, country, ragtime and straight-up rock 'n' roll. And although the longtime act is steeped in the intoxicating bar-band tradition of rowdiness and sing-along capers, the Rag Band is constantly evolving into an undefinable — yet thoroughly original — Tulsa tradition.
The lineup's grown over the years, but so has its intensity. Rag Band recently recorded its first new album in half a decade, "If You Got Some," right from Cook's bedroom-slash-recording studio outside of Skiatook.
His home sits on seven acres out near the lake, along a winding road lined with wooden posts and barbed-wire fences. Tall grass tickles property lines. Stars twinkle brightly in the night sky as Cook walks out from his upstairs studio/bedroom for a break on his wooden deck. These days, in so many ways, the Electric Rag Band is a family affair.
About an hour earlier, Cook and his longtime friend (and on-again, off-again and now full-time girlfriend and band mate) Sara Bowersock sat down to a home-cooked dinner of spaghetti and meatballs.
Cook loaded another log into his wood-burning stove as he spoke about his son, Daniel, who now plays drums for the band. He's a senior at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.
"He grew up hearing our music and watching me play. He's been around this since he was a little baby. He's done the 'kid band' thing. But the first night he did a solo gig with me and earned a hundred bucks for himself, it was more than he'd earned at all his other house parties and all-ages gigs combined," he said with a laugh.
Said Daniel Cook, in an e-mail, about his earliest memories of playing guitar with his father, "He showed me a few songs that we would mess with."
The two he remembers most clearly? "Boom Boom" by John Lee Hooker and "Ghost Riders in the Sky" by Stan Jones.
Daniel Cook even remembers his father with the Johnny Walker Blues Band more than 15 years ago, back when his daddy was quite possibly the best-known Piedmont bluesman in Green Country. "I also remember the first CD being recorded and I got the idea to go play my drums. The drums were in the garage right below the room where all the CDs have been recorded.
"I got in a little trouble for that."
Fiddler Karen Naifeh Harmon turns her practice and recording time at Cook's Skiatook home into family time, too, she admitted. Harmon, married with a young child, tutors fiddle and plays with other Tulsa acts, The Four Fiddlers of the Apocalypse and Larkin. But she carves out valuable time for ERB.
"Lexy, my 3-year-old, is a violinist and she thinks she plays in the Rag Band, too. Her favorite songs are 'If You Got Some' and 'Across the Sea' — we listen to that song about 10 times in a row."
As for the distinctive sound on the album — the bottle clinks in the background, the unison whoops and yells — Harmon said: "You can't record a disc this cool in a normal setting. You
to go to Pat's."
Nearly all of the band's albums have been recorded in a room carpeted with '70s-era browns and paneled walls and computers at least a decade old, fed by even older analog recording equipment and warm-toned amps.
In the background on a recent Tuesday evening, a 1940s-era recording of Blind Willie McTell and Curley Weaver played softly on an old stereo.
Cook said McTell's early blues recordings showcase his 12-string, Piedmont bluesman's finger-picking style and play an influential role in the Electric Rag Band's music. McTell's music may be somewhat obscure, but his influence is vast, inspiring musicians such as Taj Mahal, Bob Dylan, The Allman Brothers Band and even the White Stripes.
"His influence is buried a little deeper than it used to be, but it's definitely there," Cook said.
ERB's influences run rampant, including country, blues, rock and also the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Howlin' Wolf and Hank Williams.
"I call our music blues, ragtime, hokum and moans," Cook said with a loud laugh.
Fanboys, and girls
Bowersock, 28, remembers seeing her first Electric Rag Band show when she was about 19.
"I didn't have an ID. I'm not sure how I got in there to see them. But I did," she said. "I've been a fan ever since."
She's also been writing — she co-wrote three new songs in "If You Got Some."
Shane Stewart, the band's bassist and vocalist, also remembers watching those early shows when Cook performed with the Johnny Walker Blues Band. Nearly 20 years ago, Stewart sneaked past the doorman with the help of a fake ID.
When he watched Cook play, he saw something more intense than perfection.
"They had a kind of raw intensity that I'd never seen," he said. "They weren't trying to be Stevie Ray Vaughn or one of those 'technically perfect' but boring bands that were around at that time."
And, when that band dissolved soon afterward, Stewart ran into Cook and learned about the Electric Rag Band.
"I was probably one of The Electric Rag Band's biggest fans for the next several years and was learning all the bass parts just for the heck of it," he said.
As luck would have it, bassist John Madix left the ERB in 1999, and Stewart stepped in. "I couldn't believe that I was actually playing bass with my favorite band."
Electric Rag Band live
Nov. 13: Opening for Split Lip Rayfield
at Crow Bar, Tahlequah.
Nov. 27: Mercury Lounge, 18th Street
and Boston Avenue
Dec. 10: With the Gourds, Pat Cook
and Sara Bowersock duo, Mercury
Lounge, 18th Street and Boston Avenue.
Dec. 11: With the Gourds, Electric Rag
Band at Crow Bar, Tahlequah.
Jennifer Chancellor 581-8346
The Electric Rag Band's members Shane Stewart (left), Karen Naifeh Harmon, Daniel Cook, Sara Bowersock and Pat Cook, sitting at the Mercury Lounge in early October, have a new album out and are preparing for several shows. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
Pat Cook and the Electric Rag band perform at the Mercury Lounge in 2008. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World