By Allison Brophy Champion
Virginia-born blues rock revisits the State Theatre stage Saturday night with a repeat performance by Nelson County native Eli Cook, fresh off a West Coast tour promoting his new album, Primitive Son.
The collaborative record is Cook’s first official label release, made available April 29 by L.A.-based Cleopatra Records. It features the self-taught Charlottesville-based guitarist and singer performing with industry heavy hitters like Wesley West from Mountain, Artimus Pyle from Lynrd Skynrd, Vinny Appice from Black Sabbath and Jorgon Carlson from Govt. Mule.
“It was a funny experience: I got to record in person in the studio with a lot of these people and everyone brought something very unique and different to the table,” Cook said during a recent pre-show interview at the State Theatre in downtown Culpeper. “Most of the work was in trying to make sure it all gelled into a cohesive musical statement, and I think it worked out.”
The new album, which took almost two years to make, fits into the Southern rock, blues category, eliciting a mix of modern and old-school blues with contemporary topics, an emphasis on lyricism and an arrangement in an epic bar-rock format, he said. It was mostly recorded in the Charlottesville area though Cook got to do one session in L.A. with Appice, former drummer with Ozzy Osbourne.
“It was very cool and he was a very cool guy,” Cook said.
Described as being in the vanguard of 21st century blues rockers, Eli is certainly no stranger to performing with the greats having opened for the likes of B.B. King and Parliament. Getting signed by Cleopatra Records last year has further expanded his reach with Primitive Son being released in England, France and Germany.
Saturday night in Culpeper, the up-and-coming Blue Ridge Mountain blues artist will perform much of the new record, a lot of oldies, some new songs and a few tracks by Jimi Hendrix. Cook loves playing at the upscale State Theatre.
Sunday night, he plays the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. opening for the legendary Taj Mahal, who wrote the opening theme to The Blues Brothers.
Cook is blown away.
“He’s so iconic, he’s one of maybe less than a dozen performers in the blues roots genre from that generation that came out in the mid to late ‘60s who’s still performing,” said Cook. “He inspired many of the early British blues rock guys – Clapton, Jeff Beck. They were first on the scene from the era of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.
“Taj Mahal would have been a young gun then so it’s a rare treat to share the stage with someone like that.”
Twenty-something Cook is a young gun himself who is working, with his family’s help, to further his own musical career. In the fall, he’ll be playing theaters up and down the East Coast promoting the new record.
“I’ll be doing the solo acoustic root things, but also with the band – sell some more records,” said Cook.
State Theatre programming chairman Collis Jenkins, show sponsor, is a big fan.
“From the first time I saw him open for BB King in Charlottesville, I loved him,” he said. “I am so proud to be able to bring Eli and his classic from of blues to the State Theatre for Culpeper to enjoy. Being a local and regional theatre, we pride ourselves on providing a variety of talent and Eli Cook is truly one of the best blues artists of his generation.”
Saturday night’s show features a preshow party upstairs in the black box theater that’s open to the public starting at 6 with dinner and a DJ. The show starts at 8 p.m. For ticket information, see culpepertheatre.org.