The blues bug bit Henry Cooper hard when he was 16. At the time, he was toiling as a busboy in an Oregon hotel. Paul Butterfield's "The Work Song" came on the radio, and that was it for the blues-struck teenager. He was hooked. Wasting no time, he headed out to buy records that would give him more of that bowled-over feeling he got while listening to Butterfield's band glide through the airwaves. Among his first purchases was a record that featured Muddy Waters and Butterfield, "Fathers & Sons." He also started frequenting blues clubs around the city of Eugene, where he discovered such harmonica players as Curtis Salgado, Mike Mother, and Bill Rhoades. Three years later, Cooper played the harmonica on a 45, and it was his first foray into the world of recording.
Cooper became interested in the guitar during his early 20s. Unable to afford a regular guitar, he purchased a lap steel from a pawnbroker and set about trying to transfer harmonica licks to his new instrument. He also attempted to emulate masters like Waters, Albert Collins, and Elmore James. The first group Cooper was in was Los Explorers, along with Fred Kellogg, John Barley, and Louie Samora. He went on to join the Milkmen before he settled into a band called Los Falcons with Barley, Andy Strange, and Boyd Small, who also had played with the Milkmen. By 1987, Cooper and his bandmates were set to perform New Year's Eve, sharing a stage with outrageous showman Screamin' Jay Hawkins. When Hawkins heard how well the band played his songs, he declared he wanted Cooper and the others along on his upcoming European tour. Hawkins was as goods as his word, and Los Falcons headed to Europe.
Back in the states, Cooper moved his home base from Eugene to Portland. There he established a series of bands, among them the Terraplanes and Henry & the Hamhawks. By the '90s, he and spouse Anne had settled in Seattle, where he started playing guitar for rising blues artist Duffy Bishop. The working relationship lasted five years, during which he appeared on a pair of Bishop's CDs, Back to the Bone and Bottled Oddities, which were put out by Burnside Records. When Cooper went out on his own, he devoted about a year to putting together his first solo album. High Action Records, Cooper's label, issued Baby Please in 1998. The CD earned critical and popular acclaim. Burnside released his next CD, Slide Man, for which Cooper penned 14 of the release's 15 numbers. ~ Linda Seida