Chicago guitar genius Pete Cosey dead at 68 | Bleader

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Chicago guitar genius Pete Cosey dead at 68

Posted By on 05.30.12 at 12:26 PM

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Pete Cosey in the Reader in 1997
  • Pete Cosey in the Reader in 1997
Guitar fans have had a rough couple of days. Yesterday brilliant folk and country guitarist Doc Watson died at age 89. This morning, according to the private Facebook page of fellow guitarist and collaborator Vernon Reid, Chicago's own Pete Cosey died at 68. Obituaries and remembrances for Watson have already appeared all over, and deservedly so—few instrumentalists so completely absorbed America's folk and country traditions, and fewer still brought such quiet virtuosity to them. Watson was a key catalyst in the folk revival after his discovery by producer Ralph Rinzler in 1960.

Pete Cosey, on the other hand, was a classic musician's musician; he's not especially well-known, though he played on tons of classic records. As such, word of his passing is traveling rather more slowly.

Pete Cosey in the Reader in 2003
  • Pete Cosey in the Reader in 2003
Cosey was a key session musician at Chess Records in the 60s, appearing on sides by Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, the Rotary Connection, and Etta James, and he worked with the great Phil Cohran in the latter's Artistic Heritage Ensemble. He's probably most famous, though (to the extent that he's famous at all), for his mind-melting work with Miles Davis in the early 70s: he played on the trumpeter's heaviest, most electric albums, including Agharta, Pangaea, and Get Up With It. After Davis broke up the band in 1975 and went into semi-retirement, Cosey was never able to build the solo career he so richly deserved. He used his guitar like an abstract expressionist painter, creating thick, richly textured solos with fierce rhythmic power, dazzling colors, and nonchalant violence. He continued to appear on records here and there, including Herbie Hancock's Future Shock and an album with Japanese saxophonist Akira Sakata, but he always seemed to be planning his own next project, which never quite materialized.

I've written two columns about Cosey during my tenure at the Reader, one in 1997 and one in 2003, and the interviews I had with him over the years were some of the most enjoyable, cordial, and informative I've ever conducted. Cosey had remarkable recall, peppering every talk we had with fascinating, hilarious anecdotes. Below you can check out a clip of him with Davis in 1973—he's the seated guy with the large beard and cool shades. When his playing (on a 12-string!) kicks in at the five-minute mark, prepare to be blown away.

Today's playlist:

Cindytalk, Hold Everything Dear (Editions Mego)
Jenny Hval, Viscera (Rune Grammofon)
Duke Ellington, Blues in Orbit (Columbia/Legacy)
Sambrasa Trio, Em Som Maior (Som Maior/Som Livre)
Cheer-Accident, No Ifs, Ands, or Dogs (Cuneiform)

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