Eli Cook at George's Music Springing The Blues

by Liza Mitchell
Eli Cook is ahead of the evolutionary curve, as blues musicians go. Still in his 20’s, Cook has the skill and style of a seasoned veteran. He’s earned the admiration and respect of his peers, not to mention the comparison to such legends as Son House and Howlin’ Wolf. And he’s just getting started.
Cook will appear at the George’s Music Springing the Blues Festival April 1- 3 in Jacksonville Beach and festival director Sam Veal calls him the one to watch.
“Wow, that’s something else,” says a modest Cook. “From what I understand, it’s a great festival on the beach with great music.”
The golden-haired guitar phenom from rural Virgina is a living, breathing juxtaposition from the moment he opens his mouth. His voice is deep as the Mississippi River, smooth as red velvet cake. If James Earl Jones could inhabit the body of a young white boy, Cook would be that physical embodiment.
Cook grew up surrounded by music starting with singing gospel in backwoods churches. Speaking about his beginnings and influences, Cook relates: “The records I heard in my parent’s home were blues, early rock ‘n roll like the Rolling Stones. It was all very blues-based. I was 13 or 14 when I first started playing guitar and I played what my older brothers played, like Metallica. From there, I went on to artists like John Lee Hooker. You can trace the majority of American rock ’n roll back to the blues. It’s not always as obvious, especially with guitar playing. You can’t pick up a guitar and not get your blues chops.”
Cook keeps one foot firmly planted in tradition, the other searching for innovative ways to appeal to young, new listeners. Wherever the music travels, it’s always rooted in the blues.
“It’s important to me to maintain the original sound, songs and material and do them justice so they carry on to newer generations,” Cook says. “It’s also important for me to put a modern spin on my music to make it more available to younger listeners. I don’t want it to sound dated in a specific genre. This music was first introduced at the turn of the century. I try to make it current.”
Striking that balance can be a slippery slope, but Cook handles it in stride. He remains open to all styles of music and works hard to find the truth in everything he hears, whether he likes it or not.
“I try and take what I can from all genres and I don’t limit my influences. I pay attention to all aspects of a song, even if I don’t like it, to find out what it is that makes it work,” he says. “I’ve always been a fan of more physically aggressive guitar players. I like to make the most noise as I possibly can. I use the instrument in a percussive way while also playing as rhythm guitar. I make the instrument multi-task. As a solo player you’ve got to make a racket.”
Cook will release his new rootsy blues album this April, hopefully in time for Springing the Blues.