“In Search of Home.” “It is a departure from my first three in that it’s a solo guitar album. No rhythm section, no string section and no horn section. As I was writing and arranging these songs, every idea had to be considered not only for it’s musical worth but whether I could technically pull it off. But limitations set you free, as Stravinsky said, and it feels like I’ve found a new form of expression on an instrument I’ve been playing for over 50 years.”
Purchase my new CD In Search of Home here and get a free transcription of track #9 Girls of Joy and Wonder!
“In what is surely one of the longest and musically richest partnerships in Nashville, Bill Cooley has been playing guitar in Kathy Mattea’s band for 20 years.” So wrote the dean of Nashville’s music critics, Robert K. Oermann, 7 years ago. As Kathy and Bill start their 27th year together, they are out on the road with the Acoustic Living Room Tour. Just the two of them onstage, playing new songs they’ve worked up at their regular Thursday afternoon rehearsals, as well as her classic hits and requests.
Meanwhile, Bill has just released his fourth CD, “In Search of Home.” “It is a departure from my first three in that it’s a solo guitar album. No rhythm section, no string section and no horn section. As I was writing and arranging these songs, every idea had to be considered not only for it’s musical worth but whether I could technically pull it off. But limitations set you free, as Stravinsky said, and it feels like I’ve found a new form of expression on an instrument I’ve been playing for over 50 years.”
Andy Ellis, senior editor of Premier Guitar Magazine, has this to say of “In Search of Home:” “It’s so beautiful. Make that honest. No wait, powerful…..this is magnificent music-draws me right in. And as a player, I’m inspired.”
There are a couple exceptions on this CD. Bill’s youngest son, Aaron, trades guitar licks with him on “Dad’s Blues.” Aaron is 32 and an up and coming musical force to be reckoned with. This track was thrown together last minute and the spontaneous interplay between them makes for an exciting ride.
And Kathy sings “That’s What Makes You Strong,” a wonderful Jesse Winchester song, to close the album. Along with Kathy’s stunning vocal, the track features producer Paul Martin on tasteful B3 and an overdubbed guitar solo by Bill as the tune fades out.
The approach Bill took on this CD feels right. This album was about stripping everything else away and playing simply and directly. Getting to the emotional essence of what he wants to say. That is reflected in the artwork by his wife, Nancy. Andy Ellis again: “When I opened up the package and saw the cover artwork, I thought “I’m going to love this album.” A gorgeous line drawing (a 1-string guitar!)–it’s a fabulous, coherent visual theme that enfolds the entire CD.”
Bill has had a 40 year career as a working professional. Originally from Santa Barbara, CA, he moved to Nashville in 1985. A dozen years later he was called “one of Nashville’s most respected sidemen” by Guitar Player Magazine. He has toured and recorded with Merle Haggard, Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson and Hal Ketchum, in addition to Kathy. As a songwriter, he’s had cuts by Kathy and Reba, among others. As an arranger, Bill has played an important role on Kathy’s albums, including the last two, “Coal” and “Calling Me Home” where Kathy explored her Appalachian heritage.
Bill has recorded three other critically acclaimed albums: His first CD, titled “Unravel’d” was released in 1997 and nominated for Instrumental Album of the Year at the Nashville Music Awards (he lost to Chet Atkins!) Music Row Magazine called it “….a magical gem of a guitar record.”
His second CD, “A Turn In the Road,” was released in 2004. Acoustic Guitar Magazine wrote, “few guitarists cover as much musical ground as thoroughly as Bill Cooley does on his second solo disc.”
In 2009, he released “The Return Journey,” to more acclaim. “A record full of gorgeous instrumentals.” – Vintage Guitar Magazine
“The only wish I had for this record that wasn’t met was that it were longer. Bill Cooley’s music makes you want to listen.” – Minor7th.com
“His acoustic instrumentals on his new, third collection are consistently dazzling.” – MusicRow.com After two years of intense work, Kathy and Bill are preparing to go into the studio and record her next album. Their partnership continues. It is still musically rich, creative and stronger than ever as they dig deep into the new collection of songs they’ve found.
Discography – Selected Albums
Kathy Mattea (Sugar Hill Records)
- Calling Me Home by
Kathy Mattea (Mercury Records)
- Time Passes By
- Lonesome Standard Time
- Love Travels
- Innocent Years
Katy Mattea (Narada Records)
- Joy for Christmas Day
- Right Out of Nowhere
Kathy Mattea (Captain Potato Records)
Hal Ketchum (Curb Records)
- King of Love
Reba McEntire (MCA Records)
- What Am I Gonna Do About You
- The Last to Know
- Merry Christmas to You
Danny O’Keefe (Miramax Records)
- Runnin’ with the Devil
Remembering Kate Wolf (Red House Records)
- Treasures Left Behind
Sounds of Wood & Steel (Windham Records)
- Vol.1 & Vol.2
Beth Chorneau (Gaff Records)
- Sliver of Time
Celeste Krenz (High Horse Records)
- Beautiful Soup
Jim Brock (Independent)
- The Nature of Drumming (DVD & CD)
Check It Out! I was invited to Guitar Gathering and here’s the video!
May 9, 2022, After 40 years of touring, I’ve retired from the road. I now offer private online guitar lessons (via Zoom) on a weekly basis. I teach all styles and all levels. Email me at: email@example.com for more information.
This review of the newest album! It’s from the April-June 2017 issue of The Nashville Musician Magazine:
It has to be a challenge to make a solo acoustic guitar record, knowing that so many iconic players have walked this path before. Bill Cooley, longtime sideman for Kathy Mattea, has taken this daunting task on before and has once again come up with his own unique twist on this time-honored concept. For his fourth solo project, Cooley has stripped things down to the essence and pulled off a winner. Most tunes are true solo pieces, and a few are fleshed out with tasty overdubs that don’t detract from the intimate vibe. Co-produced with Paul Martin and mixed by Mick Conley, the sound is clear, full and inviting.
Playing solo gives a musician the chance to stretch out the rhythmic and melodic aspects of a tune, and Cooley takes full advantage of that freedom. The title track opens the record, and immediately sets the tone with it’s dynamic blend of folk strumming, classical harmonies and bluesy licks. Cooley is able to incorporate these seeming opposites into a seamless whole. “Sacred Ruins” continues the exploration with a gently insistent low-string pulse and sweet minor key melody. “After Hours” picks up the tempo with some jazz-influenced harmony and modulations reminiscent of some of Chet Atkins’ solo pieces.
Other highlights include “Dad’s Blues” which features his son Aaron Cooley trading licks on a funky string-bending groove fest. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, for sure, and the energy between the two acoustic guitars is contagious. Other highlights include “Bana” which conjures up memories of Duane Allman’s “Little Martha” in a good way. “Girls of Joy and Wonder” is a charming tune that once again demonstrates Cooley’s ability to blend rhythm, melody and harmony. “Uprising Redux” has an insistent pulse that rises and falls with unexpected twists and turns. The record closes with Kathy Mattea guesting on vocals and producer Martin on B-3 for the only cover tune, an uplifting version of the late great Jesse Winchester’s “That’s What Makes You Strong” which pretty much sums it all up beautifully. The album cover art, incidentally, was drawn by Cooley’s wife Nancy – and CD design is by his son Grant. Available at billcooleymusic.com
Best known as Grammy-winner Kathy Mattea’s longtime 6-string wingman, Bill Cooley proves he’s a superb solo acoustic guitarist with “In Search of Home.” Weaving strands of Celtic music, West Coast impressionism, blues, and wistful folk into his 11 originals, Cooley makes his Bryan Galloup and James Olson flattops shimmer and ring. With impeccable technique, he drapes precisely articulated melodies over inventive bass lines and gorgeous counterpoint. Mattea joins Cooley to sing the album’s one vocal number, a moving reading of Jesse Winchester’s “That’s What Makes You Strong.” If you’ve been craving inspiring fingerstyle guitar work, you’ll find it here.Primier Guitar Magazine – Editor’s Pick – Best Music 2016
Minor7th.com review of “In Search of Home.”
Bill Cooley is a consummate fingerstyle guitarist. His 4th solo CD, “In Search of Home,” is an assured, subtle collection of eleven originals and one cover that quietly dazzle in their pristine execution, crisp technique, and range of color. The versatile Cooley is adept at seemingly any style; “Sacred Ruins” shows off his delicacy, “After Hours” and “In Search of Home” display his playfulness and virtuosity, and the show-stopping “Uprising Redux” and “Dad’s Blues (with Aaron Cooley) expose his jazzy bluesy eloquence and envy-inducing fast clean runs. In general, he favors the softer side of the spectrum, with meditative pieces like “Face to Face,” “Under the Pin Oak” and “Half Light,” pieces that coax the listener to relax and give over to the beauty of the music. As a composer and arranger Cooley is every bit as talented, offering strong melodies and thoughtful arrangements that toss up small surprises to keep the ear engaged. Cooley is well known as a sideman for many music legends, including Merle Haggard and Alan Jackson, and has been a part of Kathy Mattea’s band for decades, contributing greatly to her sound. The last song on the CD features her vocals on a wonderful rendition of Jesse Winchester’s “That’s What Makes You Strong,” which also highlights Cooley’s masterful fills and intuitive interplay. While guitarists and guitar music lovers will especially appreciate Cooley’s strengths, this is a CD sure to please just about anyone. Cooley is a sideman every bit as rewarding to listen to as any solo guitarist on stage today.
c. Celine Keating