Tours are no place for parents even if you arent anywhere near Mötley Crüe levels of debauchery but when youre a red-dirt musician playing in bars and havent hit the legal drinking age, theres not much of a choice.
Those were some good ol times, having my mom or dad right there with me, said Johnny Cooper, now 22. Ive been gigging since I was 17, if that shows you how many shows Ive played in bars before I was old enough to be in them. I had to have my mother or father with me, and one of my band members was signed up as my legal guardian if they couldnt be there. I even had to have an affidavit that said I was there strictly to work. Some venues wouldnt even let me come out from backstage.
The Texas native no longer needs legal documentation to take the stage, but hes still younger than your average country singer. In a genre where the biggest names are well into their 30s and 40s, Cooper is making his mark at a remarkably fresh age. Thanks in part to a childhood flooded with music, he realized quickly what hed be doing for a living.
I was either in a dance studio or hanging out with my dad, who was running nightclubs and having live music come through, he said. It was one of those things that felt like I was supposed to be in the realm of what my parents were doing. It just felt right.
So he took up the drums around 15 before a chance encounter with a show promoter led him to pick up the guitar and take a stab at singing to nab his first paid gig. Coopers dad encouraged him to try his hand at songwriting; he hasnt looked back since, playing upward of 180 shows a year. After performing Friday at Wormy Dog Saloon, hell record a live disc over the two days following in Wichita Falls, Texas.
Youth has allowed him to avoid the heavy tolls of sustained time on the road, but its also come with other advantages, like a willingness and desire to deviate from the norm. His sophomore album, 2009s Follow, brought in funk, R&B and pop influences to the tried-and-true red-dirt sound in which he began.
I wanted a sound that didnt sound like anything else around me, Cooper said. My whole thing since Ive started was taking all that I love and finding a way to mend it together.
He certainly dove into decidedly non-red-dirt fare when seeking inspiration. He went with Sly and the Family Stone, The Roots and John Mayer, finishing with a genre-bending record that might have turned away the purists, but appealed to a wider spectrum.
Thats understandable, and I can see why, but it seems like most people are still right there with us. For me, it comes back to an old Willie Nelson saying, something like, Bring the hippies and rednecks, and bring them all together, he said. Id love to be that guy that is 70 years old, still out onstage playing music for people. I look forward to that more than anything.