Cooder Unearths 'Chavez Ravine'
Acclaimed guitarist Ry Cooder is eyeing a combined CD/book release for his next project, "Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story," the artist reveals to Billboard.com.Acclaimed guitarist Ry Cooder is eyeing a combined CD/book release for his next project, "Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story," the artist reveals to Billboard.com. "It's a story/concept record about Chavez Ravine, our L.A. classic Hispanic Pachuco tale of woe, corruption, politics, the Red Scare, the little and the big, neighborhood vs. corporate, all rolled into one," he says.
Pachuco was a moniker for Mexican-American teenagers who dressed flamboyantly and/or belonged to a neighborhood gang. The music of the same name blended traditional Mexican flavors with R&B and jazz, creating a sound all its own.
"It rocks too, because you've got to rock and spin your tale at the same time," confesses Cooder, whose electric guitar recordings have become less and less frequent in the past decade. "There are six or so songs from the '40s or '50s that are either Pachuco classics like Lalo Guerrero's or Don Tosti's tunes, or there's even a Lieber & Stoller Pachuco song that's really nice. We show the life of the people in the vernacular; the groovy mood of the day, now totally forgotten. It doesn't exist. Chavez Ravine is a bowl of cement now and the town is buried underneath it."
The idea to combine the music with a book came after Cooder had trouble conveying the concept to Nonesuch, which distributes his own Perro Verde imprint on a project-by-project basis. "It's so esoteric and fine-grained," he admits. "We want to find 14 writers to write something about each tune and illuminate it -- to give the person who picks this up a way in to the story."
Discussions are now in the works with publishers, and if the project can be released into the marketplace to his satisfaction, Cooder says he'd like to tour in support of "Chavez Ravine."
"It's complicated, but you could figure out what to do on the stage with it all right," he says. "Everybody who got involved with me in this on a musical level, they really liked it because they could see it was their story and their chance to tell it."
But despite his prolific body of work, highlighted by producing and playing on the Grammy-winning 1997 album "Buena Vista Social Club" with a host of legendary Cuban musicians, Cooder admits that age 57, he has lost his zest for simply releasing a conventional album every few years.
"If this works, it's an experiment, right?," he asks rhetorically. "I can do others. And I can have more fun, because I tell you, quite frankly, making records at this point for me, it doesn't make any sense. What would they be, and why would they be? I'm not 25 years old anymore, like my son. I've got to do what I like."