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Calvin Cooke Interview

Calvin Cooke lived most of his life in Detroit and is now retired to the greater Atlanta area.  As his family first belonged to the Church of the Living God and later joined the House of God, he immersed himself in the steel guitar musical traditions of both denominations.  Felton Williams served as a steel guitar mentor to Calvin Cooke, Sonny Treadway and Ron Hall when they were teens.  For years, Ron Hall backed up Calvin’s innovative steel guitar playing for worship services, and the two developed a special musical synergy.  Calvin is also a talented singer and songwriter, and his wife, Grace Cooke, frequently sings with him.  Since retiring from his job at a Chrysler auto assembly plant, he has toured extensively with his Sacred Steel Ensemble, played as an opening act for Robert Randolph, and most recently, performed with Chuck Campbell as the Slide Brothers.

– Robert L. Stone

The Robert Stone Sacred Steel Archive:
Calvin Cooke Interview

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  • The Robert Stone Sacred Steel Archive: Calvin Cooke Interview 00:00
Interviewee: Calvin Cooke
Interviewer: Robert Stone
Date: 6/12/2002
Location: Telephone interview
Language: English

For the archive overview:
The Robert Stone Sacred Steel Archive

This is an interview originally recorded for research purposes. It is presented here in its raw state, unedited except to remove some irrelevant sections and blank spaces. All rights to the interview are reserved by the Arhoolie Foundation. Please do not use anything from this website without permission. info@arhoolie.org

Calvin Cooke Interview Transcript:

Robert Stone:

All right, it’s June 12th 2002. This is Bob Stone interviewing Calvin Cooke. Probably some of this interview, if not all of it, or parts of it will be used for the Sacred Steel book. I will probably do some direct quoting. You agree to that?

Calvin Cooke:

Yes.

Robert Stone:

Okay, good. Well, of course, some of this information I had before, but it might be good to get it on one spot, one tape here. So let’s just start right in with your date and place of birth.

Calvin Cooke:

Cleveland, Ohio. January 11th 1944.

Robert Stone:

01/11/44, so you’re already 58.

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah.

Robert Stone:

But not 62.

Calvin Cooke:

Not yet.

Robert Stone:

That’s funny.

Calvin Cooke:

I got a little while yet.

Robert Stone:

Now, tell me about your family history in the church.

Calvin Cooke:

Well, actually all of them have been in the church all their lives, from my grandmother on.

Robert Stone:

Your grandmother on which side?

Calvin Cooke:

On my mother’s side, all this is on my mother’s side.

Robert Stone:

So your mother’s side was in the church.

Calvin Cooke:

Yes.

Robert Stone:

Now, is that in the Jewell Dominion?

Calvin Cooke:

Jewell Dominion.

Robert Stone:

Jewell Dominion. What was your mother and father’s name?

Calvin Cooke:

Elizabeth Flenory, no, Elizabeth Cooke, I’m sorry.

Robert Stone:

And your father?

Calvin Cooke:

Jack William Cooke.

Robert Stone:

When did your father pass away?

Calvin Cooke:

I was 12 years old.

Robert Stone:

That’s good enough. How about your mom?

Calvin Cooke:

11 years ago.

Robert Stone:

So your mother’s side was in the church.

Calvin Cooke:

Yes.

Robert Stone:

Were they ministers or bishops or anything like that?

Calvin Cooke:

All my uncles were ministers.

Robert Stone:

So your mother’s brothers?

Calvin Cooke:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert Stone:

What was her maiden name?

Calvin Cooke:

Flenory.

Robert Stone:

Okay, so that’s the Flenory connection.

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah.

Robert Stone:

Now what relation are you to Charles?

Calvin Cooke:

We first cousins.

Robert Stone:

First cousins, so he’s one of your uncle’s sons. How many brothers did your mom have? Do you remember?

Calvin Cooke:

Two brothers. George Flenory and David Flenory.

Robert Stone:

When did you first encounter the Steel, how did that go?

Calvin Cooke:

Actually we’ve always been exposed to it in the Jewell Dominion, from Lorenzo Harrison.

Robert Stone:

Do you remember the first person you ever heard? Was it Harrison himself or somebody else?

Calvin Cooke:

Yes, because we lived in Cleveland at the time. The family lived in Cleveland and Jewell’s headquarters at that time was in Cleveland, when I was a small boy. That’s the Church we attended every week. Lorenzo Harrison, Harvey Jones and…

Robert Stone:

Harvey Jones was a steel player also?

Calvin Cooke:

No, Harvey Jones was the lead guitar player. And Burns, Corroneva Burns.

Robert Stone:

Harvey Jones, guitar and Corroneva?

Calvin Cooke:

Corroneva Burns.

Robert Stone:

Any idea how he spells that?

Calvin Cooke:

No I don’t.

Robert Stone:

And he’s related to Laban Burns. He was the drummer. So is that Laban Burns’ father do you know?

Calvin Cooke:

I don’t know if that is or not, no, I don’t know.

Robert Stone:

I can find that out. Then those were the guys who played there regularly.

Calvin Cooke:

Right, they were the ones who played regular, back in those times, back in the 50s that I can remember, in Cleveland. Because the headquarters was there, so he was there a lot. Unless he was on the road. Whoever else played when they wasn’t there, I couldn’t remember them.

Robert Stone:

That’s what I was going to say, who do you… was there somebody that inspired you, that you really said when you heard the steel you said that’s it, or how did that go?

Calvin Cooke:

Actually I just liked being around it. I had some cousins who were members of that Church too. They’re both dead now. Bobby and, well we called him Tubby, but his name was James, his nickname was Tubby. Tubby played the Steel.

Robert Stone:

Were they Flenorys?

Calvin Cooke:

No, no they were distant, Golden, they were married into our family. They married my other cousins.

Robert Stone:

James, Tubby played the steel.

Calvin Cooke:

Tubby played the steel and Bobby played the lead.

Robert Stone:

Did you actually play with them or get something from them? When did you start playing?

Calvin Cooke:

I started playing when we come out, I think Ted was telling me, we all came out in 55.

Robert Stone:

What do you mean came out?

Calvin Cooke:

Came out of the Jewell Dominion.

Robert Stone:

Left the Jewell Dominion?

Calvin Cooke:

Right. We all left the Jewell Dominion. I believe I might have been about 11 years old then. From there, that I can remember, May Hodge had started up a church under Lorenzo Harrison’s brother.

Robert Stone:

May Hart

Calvin Cooke:

Hodge, H-O-D-G-E. My mother, uncles and our uncles and some other members from the Jewell Dominion, went with her. Who was the bishop then was Lorenzo’s brother on the Keith Dominion side, Henry Harrison.

Robert Stone:

Henry, right and May Hodge was under him?

Calvin Cooke:

Right. And what happened when they first started that church up, they had no music or anything. May Hodge bought me a regular lead guitar, I couldn’t play it because my hands were too small. But being around a steel, I was familiar with how they played that, and so I just tuned it up in what they call vestipol style, and got a knife and started playing it with the back of a knife.

Robert Stone:

Really?

Calvin Cooke:

Right. And after that, then my mother bought me a Rickenbacker Steel, from the pawn shop and I started playing the Steel from there. Little by little. From time to time.

Robert Stone:

You remember anything about that Rickenbacker? I’m curious.

Calvin Cooke:

Yes. It had chrome on it, on all three sides of it.

Robert Stone:

Right, it was just solid chrome.

Calvin Cooke:

Yes solid chrome and black.

Robert Stone:

And what?

Calvin Cooke:

It was jet black with the chrome on top of it.

Robert Stone:

Oh, like mine, have you seen mine?

Calvin Cooke:

Right, you showed me yours and mine was just like that.

Robert Stone:

It was a Bakelite, the heavy Bakelite with the chrome.

Calvin Cooke:

Yes.

Robert Stone:

Oh wow, too bad you don’t still have that.

Calvin Cooke:

No, my brother tore it up. Tore the insides out. That’s how that started. Ronnie Hall and Treadway, they would come to Cleveland a lot. Because they had left the Jewell Dominion also and got in the Keith Dominion.

Robert Stone:

Treadway had?

Calvin Cooke:

Treadway still was with Jewell. But him and Ronnie Hall was good friends, and so he would still come to Detroit with Ronnie when we would have a convention. And those two would trade off and play, because each one of them could play the lead and the steel. And they spent a lot of time with me, playing and practicing and showing me different stuff.

Robert Stone:

Really. So they both played lead and steel.

Calvin Cooke:

And steel. They both switched off a lot.

Robert Stone:

Is Ronnie Hall dead?

Calvin Cooke:

No, he’s living.

Robert Stone:

Where’s he?

Calvin Cooke:

He’s got his own church now, he’s a bishop.

Robert Stone:

Where?

Calvin Cooke:

I don’t know the name of his church.

Robert Stone:

You don’t know where he lives or anything?

Calvin Cooke:

In lives in Ecorse, Michigan.

Robert Stone:

In where?

Calvin Cooke:

Ecorse, Michigan.

Robert Stone:

Ecorse?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah. He’s still, might as well say right here in Detroit, he’s still here.

Robert Stone:

Would he be like Treadway’s age?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah, all of us round about the same age.

Robert Stone:

Treadway’s a little older than us, isn’t he? I think he is. I think he’s a little…

Calvin Cooke:

He might be about 60 now.

Robert Stone:

Yes, I got his birthdate. I believe he… when I first met him I wasn’t 50 yet and I think he already was. Something like that.

Calvin Cooke:

He’s much older then.

Robert Stone:

He’s probably about five years older than us, something like that.

Calvin Cooke:

Well Ronnie’s about, if I’m 58, Ronnie might be about 59. Because all of was kind of close together.

Robert Stone:

But those guys showed you a lot and spent some time with you.

Calvin Cooke:

Right, I spent a lot of time with them.

Robert Stone:

And then what happened, did you start playing more in church?

Calvin Cooke:

Oh yeah, I started playing more, and then in 1956, 57 I believe it was, 1957, in the winter of 1957 Bishop Harrison took us to Columbus. Me and a cousin played together, Maynard Sopher.

Robert Stone:

Maynard Sopher.

Calvin Cooke:

Mm-hmm (affirmative) S-O-P-H-E-R. Maynard Sopher, him and I played in Cleveland together. He played lead and then Bishop Harrison’s son, he has a son named Starlin.

Robert Stone:

Right I’ve talked to him.

Calvin Cooke:

Starlin, Maynard and I played as a team.

Robert Stone:

What’s Starlin play?

Calvin Cooke:

Starlin played lead and steel. Back then I could play lead back then.

Robert Stone:

You could?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah. I had learned how to play lead. And what happened. I believe it was 57, the winter of 57, when we come out of school for Christmas break, we went to, first stop we went to, where was I, I know this place, in Kentucky. Oh where was I, know the name of the place. It was a small place we went to in Kentucky, I can’t think of the name of it now. But we stopped in Kentucky first and played there, then we left there. This was in November, no I’m sorry, December. Went to Knoxville where Bishop Harrison lived, stayed a few days, left Knoxville and went to Columbus, Georgia, because back then the Bishops would hold a Christmas assembly. Bishop Keith would.

Calvin Cooke:

Hazard, Kentucky that’s where it was.

Robert Stone:

Hazard, Kentucky sure.

Calvin Cooke:

Hazard, Kentucky.

Robert Stone:

Sure, coal country.

Calvin Cooke:

Right, that’s where we went, Hazard, Kentucky. I’ll never forget it.

Robert Stone:

That’s where, I think, Merle Travis hung out there.

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah, we went to Hazard, Kentucky course it was a very small place. Back then black and white was mixed together.

Robert Stone:

In the church.

Calvin Cooke:

No, because they had a lot of mixed families back up in those hills.

Robert Stone:

Yeah, you know…

Calvin Cooke:

Because we stayed and met a lot of them, and we became personal friends. Every time we went back there, that’s where we hung out with them.

Robert Stone:

Did you learn any music from them guys, or did they learn anything from you.

Calvin Cooke:

No they didn’t play, the people that we were with, most of them, they all were elderly people most of them. And they all came to church when we were there. I don’t know what happened when we wasn’t there, but when they find out we were coming to town, mostly all the people would come down and hear us play.

Robert Stone:

That’s interesting. I don’t know if you’re aware, but do you know who Merle Travis was?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah.

Robert Stone:

Supposedly he learned from this Black guy named Arnold Shultz who played the guitar that way, you know, with the thumb picking rhythm. And he also played the fiddle some too, I think. But he got a lot of guys started. Arnold Shultz his name was, funny name for a Black guy.

Calvin Cooke:

That’s true, that’s true.

Robert Stone:

But you know, back in there things was different.

Calvin Cooke:

I know a lot of families was mixed back in there. They lived way, they had houses that was built on those mountains. You ever been to Hazard?

Robert Stone:

No I haven’t.

Calvin Cooke:

It’s a place with a lot of hills and mountains. And they had those houses where they had long sticks that held them up, up on those mountains and we had to go along different paths to get to the different ones’ houses.

Robert Stone:

Yeah, I bet. Well that’s something, I didn’t know about that.

Calvin Cooke:

That was a lot of fun. Those were some of the best, beautiful people that we had met, and we got to know different families personally that would come in, and every year we go there, we’d head straight for their house.

Robert Stone:

Did they go to church too?

Calvin Cooke:

They would come, when we would come and play. But the church didn’t have that many members, but because we played then the people would come out to hear us play.

Robert Stone:

Did you do any tent stuff, or anything?

Calvin Cooke:

Not there we didn’t. Because they had a little small building. All those people were coal miners people. Coal miners that worked in the coal mine and Somerset, Kentucky and all those places there. We toured there with him, because he was over that district.

Robert Stone:

With- ?

Calvin Cooke:

Bishop Harrison.

Robert Stone:

Bishop Harrison, Bishop Henry Harrison.

Calvin Cooke:

Bishop Henry Harrison.

Robert Stone:

Huh?

Calvin Cooke:

His name was Henry Harrison.

Robert Stone:

Henry Harrison right. That’s the guy I have in the old photo. Right?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah, Lorenzo’s brother. He did a lot of traveling and we traveled with him.

Robert Stone:

How long did you keep traveling with him, I mean did…

Calvin Cooke:

Oh I traveled with him until, I believe I was in, when they become of drafting age, they were drafting. I believe when I turned 18 or something like that. I think I was with him up until my… maybe 20, till I was about 20 years old.

Calvin Cooke:

Because during that time, later on, I don’t know what year that was, but Maynard and Starling got drafted. The church got me exempted.

Robert Stone:

Really.

Calvin Cooke:

Yes.

Robert Stone:

That was a good lick.

Calvin Cooke:

When I was… yeah they got me exempted. And every year until I got about 20 I believe it was, in September I would get a questionnaire from them in Cleveland, because we would be in Cleveland around about September. And in January, February we’d be in Florida for the summer, winter and they would send me a questionnaire there.

Robert Stone:

The basis for your exemption was because you were a musician?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah, playing for the church, giving service for the church. And helping the leaders out.

Robert Stone:

Now, tell me something about Florida. Where did you go in Florida?

Calvin Cooke:

We stayed in Miami.

Robert Stone:

Where?

Calvin Cooke:

I want to say Liberty City. We stayed there and the lead boys. Well I saw each one of them when they where born.

Robert Stone:

Down in Perrine?

Calvin Cooke:

Right, their whole family.

Robert Stone:

They were all born there basically.

Calvin Cooke:

Right, because I was with their father all the time.

Robert Stone:

Right, you knew him.

Calvin Cooke:

And stayed over to his house. We went fishing a lot together.

Robert Stone:

Well you just missed me, I was around there.

Calvin Cooke:

Where?

Robert Stone:

We moved down there in 55. We actually moved to Cutler Ridge.

Calvin Cooke:

The Lee Boys and all those they’re kin to the Harrisons.

Robert Stone:

Yes I know, I know.

Calvin Cooke:

So that was his family that we went down and stayed with. And they treated me exactly like family.

Robert Stone:

So you would stay with the Lees?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah, I would be with them sometimes but mostly stay in Miami with Bishop Harrison.

Robert Stone:

Where would you stay in Miami?

Calvin Cooke:

Back there in Liberty City.

Robert Stone:

With some family?

Calvin Cooke:

Oh, with Bishop Harrison’s other brother. His name was, I can’t think of his name, he was a elder, he was over the State of Florida, that particular part of Florida. Like Miami, which name they would call that?

Robert Stone:

Now they would call it the East Coast.

Calvin Cooke:

The East Coast. All the East Coast he was…

Robert Stone:

Fort Lauderdale, Pompano…

Calvin Cooke:

And all that, he was the presiding elder of that.

Robert Stone:

Was that basically… were you making a living doing that, I mean how did it work?

Calvin Cooke:

Yes, I was making a living.

Robert Stone:

You were a full time church…

Calvin Cooke:

I was a full time musician.

Robert Stone:

Did you get out of high school or you quit high school?

Calvin Cooke:

Oh I got out of high school. I just went on and did that until I came here and got a job.

Robert Stone:

But did you finish high school?

Calvin Cooke:

Yes.

Robert Stone:

So in other words, I’m just trying to kind of piece it all together. When you were in your earlier teens, you were still a high school student, you would go during break time?

Calvin Cooke:

We would go during break time, in the summer time, we were with Bishop Harrison.

Robert Stone:

Or Christmas vacation.

Calvin Cooke:

Right.

Robert Stone:

Then after you got out of high school?

Calvin Cooke:

After I got…

Robert Stone:

You were full time.

Calvin Cooke:

Yes, I went full time with him.

Robert Stone:

Okay, now we’re making sense. Sometimes I got to drag it out of you guys. For the longest time I thought Willie was telling me that he didn’t finish high school, he went on the road with Lockley. And he said, “Oh no, I graduated from high school. Matter of fact I skipped a grade.”

Robert Stone:

When you finished high school, where were you living? In Detroit or Cleveland?

Calvin Cooke:

I was living in Knoxville. I had moved to Knoxville.

Robert Stone:

Tennessee?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah.

Robert Stone:

So you finished high school in Knoxville?

Calvin Cooke:

No, no, no when I come out of school.

Robert Stone:

Where were you when you finished, when you went to high school?

Calvin Cooke:

I was in Cleveland.

Robert Stone:

Then you moved to Knoxville?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah.

Robert Stone:

Because that’s where what’s his name was based, Bishop Harrison?

Calvin Cooke:

That’s where Bishop Harrison stayed.

Calvin Cooke:

Between Bishop Harrison and Bishop Keith, that’s who we were transferred back and forth in the summertime. Matter of fact, he did a lot of traveling with her. And so we played for her and for all her conventions, because he was a part of her diocese, so she would be with him. Especially me, when the other two boys would go with him, then I would go with her.

Robert Stone:

She was the…

Calvin Cooke:

She was the overseer.

Robert Stone:

And he was, what was he?

Calvin Cooke:

He was like the state Bishop. He was over Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia.

Robert Stone:

When you went to Florida, where you with him or with Bishop Keith?

Calvin Cooke:

I was with him.

Robert Stone:

What was he doing in Florida?

Calvin Cooke:

Just taking it easy.

Robert Stone:

Keeping warm.

Calvin Cooke:

Yes.

Robert Stone:

Just trying to figure it all out. That’s right you said his brother was…

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah his brother lived there.

Robert Stone:

Yeah that makes sense.

Calvin Cooke:

And his sisters. All his brothers and sisters, and his mother was living at the time.

Robert Stone:

Didn’t they have some kind of family base in Ocala too?

Calvin Cooke:

They had a sister that lived there.

Robert Stone:

Didn’t Lorenzo live there too?

Calvin Cooke:

From what I understand Lorenzo was based from, where’s that Ocala.

Robert Stone:

That’s what I was just saying.

Calvin Cooke:

Lorenzo was based from Ocala, because their mother lived there. And then she would come up to Miami sometimes and they would keep her up there. Because all the sisters and the… it was three brothers. Lorenzo, Elder Harrison and Bishop Harrison. I think they had about, let’s see I’m trying to recollect, one, two, three, about four or five sisters.

Robert Stone:

I should be able to get that all straight from Bishop Manning, I’ll be talking to her. It’s a lot to keep straight, aint it?

Calvin Cooke:

Yes man.

Robert Stone:

Anything in particular you remember about Florida, I’m just curious?

Calvin Cooke:

Actually I remember just being there every year and playing for all the different churches there and just… actually that was like a vacation for me because I fished a lot, stayed with different families. I would leave Miami, go to Fort Lauderdale and visit all the people there.

Robert Stone:

What kind of fishing did you do, I’m curious?

Calvin Cooke:

I went with the Lee boys father a lot.

Robert Stone:

Right, salt water I guess?

Calvin Cooke:

Right, salt water, that’s what we did.

Robert Stone:

Did you go on canals, or go out in a boat?

Calvin Cooke:

A lot of canals. We did that a lot.

Robert Stone:

What catching snapper or?

Calvin Cooke:

Snapper, different types, groupers.

Robert Stone:

Oh yeah man, the fishing was real good in those…

Calvin Cooke:

Matter of fact what make me remember that so well because when we would come back, everybody would come over to the Lee’s family house. We would all have a big fish fry and salads. We did that a lot of times. That was a big thing for all of us. Then Starling and I we would travel and go all over to different parts, like Fort Lauderdale, I’m trying to think of the other little town…

Robert Stone:

Pompano, Dania.

Calvin Cooke:

Pompano, Dania all those places, when they had something we would be there for the winter. Up until about April or May. April we’d be heading back to Knoxville.

Robert Stone:

When would you go to Florida?

Calvin Cooke:

We would get in Florida about, sometimes the end of January or the middle of February.

Robert Stone:

So you’d wait until it was in the middle of winter. Of course if you were based out of Knoxville it might not have been too bad.

Calvin Cooke:

It wasn’t that bad because back then Knoxville was just as warm at times. During the winter time. It didn’t have a real harsh winter. Except maybe a few days in January. But we weren’t there long enough to really experience it. Because we would leave. Bishop Harrison had a wife, and other children that lived in Knoxville. His wife was used to him doing that. It wasn’t no big thing because he had other children going to college and there were times she would just come on down and join us and stay too.

Robert Stone:

Where were his kids going to college, you remember?

Calvin Cooke:

No I don’t. Right there in Knoxville. I think one went out of Knoxville and went to Chattanooga, but the most of them went there in Knoxville, Tennessee. What school I don’t know.

Robert Stone:

That’s cool.

Calvin Cooke:

I did probably know, but I can’t remember which one it was because if we were there sometimes, we would go see the basketball game or the football game before we pull out.

Robert Stone:

That’s the first you’ve told me about going down to Florida.

Calvin Cooke:

That’s why I know all those people down there. That’s why I know everybody. Matter of fact, I remember Ghent when he was a little boy.

Robert Stone:

Really?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah. I would go down there, matter of fact when I got the job at Chrysler, I had got used to going to Florida when I would take my vacation in the wintertime, I would leave and go to Florida.

Robert Stone:

Can you hold. Let’s pause this one second, I need to change tapes.

Robert Stone:

Okay, we’re rolling again. You were talking about seeing Aubrey Ghent as a little boy?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah he was a little boy, and Kenny Ellis. They were little boys, young fellas back then. They wasn’t even playing any guitars or anything. I would go down there and play during the time I was down there. I would spend two weeks and I would stay with the Young family then.

Robert Stone:

Young family?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah Kenny Ellis auntie, and Ghent’s grandfather was the Pastor of the Church.

Robert Stone:

In Fort Pierce?

Calvin Cooke:

In Fort Lauderdale, Elder Ghent.

Robert Stone:

But they were out of Fort Pierce but he was pastoring in Fort Lauderdale.

Calvin Cooke:

They might have been staying there, but I know he pastored, he pastored there for a long time.

Robert Stone:

Somebody told me he was somehow involved in Citrus, Elder Ghent.

Calvin Cooke:

Oh okay, I don’t know about that. But I remembered he pastored in Fort Lauderdale.

Robert Stone:

Tell me, where there differences back then in the music and church situation?

Calvin Cooke:

When I came along, they were playing, we considered like… Bishop Harrison had a son, his name was Henry too, we called him Junior. He played strictly Henry Nelson style. And he hated our style. He hated Lorenzo style, he didn’t like it. He felt like it wasn’t real music. When I started playing, come in and the other two boys, they had like, Bishop Dillard was a reverend then, they were playing for the church, and there was another man named Elder Brown, he was playing lead guitar for the church. And when I came along and started playing, then they started moving over and let me play the steel, being more dominant. Being with Bishop Keith then I just started playing the steel regular for everything that went on.

Robert Stone:

Was there drums back then?

Calvin Cooke:

Yes, who was the drummer back then was, especially when we playing Tennessee, Elder Robinson. But the band who played with Bishop Keith mostly would be me, Charles Wooding.

Robert Stone:

Charles Wooding what did he play, lead?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah, Charles Wooding played the drums. Walter Wooding played the piano. Starling Harrison played the lead or the steel, him and I would switch up. Maynard would play the lead or the bass. And we was her band for a long time, also Bishop Harrison’s band. Charles also did the driving for Bishop Keith, wherever she wanted to go.

Robert Stone:

Did you ever do any of that driving?

Calvin Cooke:

No, I always rode.

Robert Stone:

When, I get easily confused. Did you eventually quit playing for Harrison and just played for Keith? I mean did he…

Calvin Cooke:

What happened, I think in 59, he would come and get me sometimes, but then I just started playing for her regular until she died in 61. I would be the one who played for all the assemblies and conventions. Matter of fact Bishop Harrison would be there anyway. But he would leave me with her sometimes, because he had the other two boys with him. Well until they drafted him. And then it would be just me traveling.

Calvin Cooke:

Whoever played the lead back then, I would play with them when I get to the different conventions.

Robert Stone:

That was like up until you finished high school? Because you would have finished in about ’62, when I finished. And she died in ’62?

Calvin Cooke:

She died in ’61. Then Bishop Jenkins came in and I believe in ’61 or ’62. Early ’62. No late ’61 because she died in July of ’61. Matter of fact, she had sent us to South Pittsburg, Tennessee for a two week vacation. We just got out of Nashville. We went there with a Elder Jackson, stayed there for two weeks and then that’s when we got the announcement she had passed.

Robert Stone:

Then did you just start right in playing for Bishop Jenkins?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah, started right on playing with him. Back then…

Robert Stone:

Now were you playing for him as a job?

Calvin Cooke:

No what happened, I kind of came home with Bishop Harrison and wherever Bishop Jenkins would go, he would call us and we would meet him at the different functions, different assemblies and play and then I would just travel with Bishop Harrison for a while.

Robert Stone:

What I’m getting at is that what you were doing for work, or were you doing other work?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah, it was still a job.

Robert Stone:

When did you quit playing as a job and go to work for Chrysler.

Calvin Cooke:

I went to work at Chrysler in… in 66 I went home to Cleveland, 67 I went to Detroit and I told them, they had just had a convention there. And I went there for that and after I came here, actually I was moving to Florida.

Calvin Cooke:

What happened, one of the guys before I left asked me on the street would I take him to Chrysler they were hiring and would I take him over there and bring him back home, so he could see about getting a job. I took him over there and went in with him and they gave me a test paper, I took the test. I passed, he didn’t. I haven’t seen him no more since.

Robert Stone:

You got the job?

Calvin Cooke:

I got the job and I had called my mother and told her what happened and she said, “Well I think you should get that job, because I don’t think that would ever happen.” Really I didn’t want the job. Because I wanted to move to Florida.

Calvin Cooke:

Then what happened they had, the guys were saying that if you asked for a janitor’s job they tell you that weren’t no more you could go. They wanted everybody for the line. I didn’t want to work on the line. When they called me in for an interview, they asked me what job I was interested in, I told them a janitor’s job, cause I assumed they was going to let me go.

Calvin Cooke:

They said, “We got one available, and you got it. Do you want it?” I said yeah and started working in October 16, 1967. Never forgot it. I called my mother and told her I had the job, she said I think you did enough traveling for the church, you been a lot of places, now you’re starting to make a better future for yourself and stay there. I paid that attention.

Calvin Cooke:

Back then we only worked five days, but I still would leave, back then plane fare was cheap as dirt and we’d travel or travel mostly by car and play with Bishop Jenkins or wherever he was until I finally just started staying at home more and more.

Robert Stone:

But at first you were like down there most every weekend?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah every weekend.

Robert Stone:

Wow that’s a lot.

Calvin Cooke:

Ghent and Ronnie Hall and I played a lot together, doing the different assemblies. I think Treadway had kind of left and Ronnie Hall and I would play here in Detroit together with a couple of other guys.

Robert Stone:

Well Treadway was in the Jewell Dominion anyhow.

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah. And actually too, I really don’t want to forget this, who really helped me too back in the 50s and playing, when he would come to Cleveland was Bobby Toliver. His name was Robert Toliver. He’s the one who really encouraged me to, and gave me a chance when the church didn’t want me to play because I played so bad. They couldn’t stand to hear me play. One day they had an assembly and he said I want you play for this assembly, this night. And the people was begging him not to let me play. He told me well he got to learn somehow. And he said we’re going to play anyway. And he had already prepped me to how the people was going to react. After that I started learning more and playing more and playing and playing until things gotten better and better and better. He spent a lot of time with me.

Robert Stone:

As a musician?

Calvin Cooke:

Right as a musician. He spent a lot of time.

Robert Stone:

He’s a little older than you, right?

Calvin Cooke:

Oh he’s way, yeah. Bobby might be about 65 or so, he was like, to all of us up there, he was a very personable guy, more like a father who talked to us, helped us, let us play. He was the top musician for the State of Ohio then.

Robert Stone:

That was in Jewell Dominion?

Calvin Cooke:

No in the Keith Dominion. He was always in the Keith Dominion.

Robert Stone:

I’m going to interview him soon too.

Calvin Cooke:

That’s from, I would say from the time we met, from 56. Because he was one of the guys who played for everything and all the conventions for Ohio. So I spent a lot of time with him. Actually he’s the first guy who really had a pedal steel.

Robert Stone:

Yeah, well that’s what I hear.

Calvin Cooke:

He’s the first guy who really had the pedal steel guitar, but he’d never taken it out much, or flamboyant that he did this or that. He played home a lot. He played in the state.

Robert Stone:

Kind of stuck around Ohio.

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah, he stuck around in the state. He didn’t do a lot of traveling all over the place, no more than Nashville, but he didn’t publicize that he could play and do all that. But he was a excellent musician.

Robert Stone:

He was uh?

Calvin Cooke:

Yes.

Robert Stone:

Did he set up his Steel different, was it like a Nashville set up?

Calvin Cooke:

No, his was set up totally different.

Robert Stone:

Not like Nashville?

Calvin Cooke:

No, he had a totally different sound.

Robert Stone:

Okay, I’m going to be talking to him about that. Nothing like yours or anything?

Calvin Cooke:

No. No, he got his own tuning. Own way of tuning his guitar so some of the licks and some of the things I learned from him.

Robert Stone:

Well that’s neat. He seems like a real nice fellow.

Calvin Cooke:

He is. He’s always been the same. He’s always the same. Matter of fact his whole family has been in the Keith Dominion. Bishop Massey is his Auntie. His father is Bishop Massey’s brother, if you know her. That’s the lady that’s 105 years old.

Robert Stone:

Wow. Wow.

Calvin Cooke:

It’s a lot of history from back then.

Robert Stone:

It sure is.

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah, I’ve watched a lot of kids grow up from…

Robert Stone:

Ohio’s still got a pretty good Keith Dominion contingent?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah. Yeah.

Robert Stone:

Maybe we can talk some about the whole pedal steel thing. When did you start, how did that go for you, when did you start getting into it and how and all that?

Calvin Cooke:

Actually in ’67. No, I’m sorry ’74. I think before then, my cousin, Tubby. I went to Cleveland, I believe it was early part of ’74 to see my mother. And Tubby told me to go with him to a guitar shop. He saw one of the best steels he ever seen, because we always play a lap then. He showed me this Sho-Bud, I mean MSA. After he showed it to me, I went back home and I was just telling my mother about it that I was going to try and get it. The guy said the guitar cost $900 at the time.

Calvin Cooke:

I come back from Nashville in June of ’74, my mother said come home, I need to see you. That was the first part of July. When I got home she had already bought that guitar, her and my brother Freddy and gave me that guitar and I’ve had it ever since.

Robert Stone:

Really, that same one?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah, mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s been like 29 years, almost 30 years.

Robert Stone:

Wow.

Calvin Cooke:

Sure did.

Robert Stone:

I never realized that. Wow what a story.

Calvin Cooke:

So I kept that and that’s the same guitar I’ve been playing for 29 years.

Robert Stone:

How did it go about figuring out how to deal with this. How to use it and how to tune.

Calvin Cooke:

When I got it, I called Chuck. He came up and spent a week with me and set the guitar up. After he set it up and showed me how to tune it and how to work the pedals and then I start going back to church here and playing it every week and start developing how the different sounds that I would want, and start practicing and that. Because he’s the one who really showed me how to-

Robert Stone:

But he was just a kid.

Calvin Cooke:

Right, but he had gotten one and I think Ted had gotten one a year before. So when my mother bought me that one and brother, then Chucky came up, I believe that same year and showed me how to play that guitar. I believe in September that same year. He had gotten married then. Him and his wife had came up, his first wife at the time, came up spent a week with me. And showed me how to, what to do, how to tune it up. Tune it in my tuning. How to change the pedals. What to do with the different things on it. And that’s how I started from there.

Robert Stone:

Do you see Chuck as the guy who, not the first guy who had a pedal steel, but the guy who really understood it or made it kind of work? How do you see that? I’d like to get your view point.

Calvin Cooke:

Actually, Bobby Toliver was, because he used his some. But he wasn’t as open with it. Actually, well I could say Chuck was, because Chuck was younger and more energetic and he was the one who really started learning different things. Back then I was the fast guy on the eight without pedals, and then after Chuck learned the pedals and the different techniques and learned how to play country and different other stuff, then he started getting faster. So I would say he would be the one. Because Ted and I never did any of that. Ted learned how to play pedals within his style, and I learned how to play in my style, but I could never learn how to pick like they do. I used mine for leading and stuff like that.

Robert Stone:

Do you see Chuck as a big influence then?

Calvin Cooke:

Right now, yes. He’s a large influence because now, all the young guys pattern after him. All the guys, matter of fact if you hear them, that’s who you hear play in their music, it’s Chuck, his style.

Calvin Cooke:

Chuck takes a mixture of me and Henry and now he has hisself and so he mixes all this together and created a different style along with his brother and then by being faster, then all the other guys got pedals like Robert, and then they began to pattern after Chuck. So I would say he would be the one who really, in this particular generation, started that chain going.

Robert Stone:

Yeah, that’s how I’ve seen him.

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah, he’s the one who really started that episode of the fast work and the different pedal changes, he’s the one who done that.

Robert Stone:

I remember when I first was starting, I was actually trying to get his phone number and I called Darryl Brundidge. And I asked him about Chuck and what kind of player was he, he said “Bob, you know Glenn”, because he knew that I knew Glenn Lee, “he learned every lick he knows from Chuck.” That was the way he put it, those were his words.

Calvin Cooke:

Chuck is the one who really started what’s going on now. He’s the one who really started that.

Robert Stone:

Of course, it’s my perception that Phil is such a good guitar player, to have your own brother right there by your side, who’s a good guitar player that sure helps a person develop.

Calvin Cooke:

Right.

Robert Stone:

Because as we musicians know, a lead man whose ever playing rhythm or whatever, a guy playing steel, whose ever backing him up, that lead guitar player as you guys call it…

Calvin Cooke:

That’s right.

Robert Stone:

Really has a whole lot to do with what you play.

Calvin Cooke:

That’s right he has a lot. It’s like Jay and I playing together. I depend on him.

Robert Stone:

Exactly.

Calvin Cooke:

Because without Jay doing certain things, I wouldn’t be able to do certain things. So it’s the same way with those two, it’s like a team.

Robert Stone:

Who were some of your favorite guitar players in years earlier. You know, that played lead with you?

Calvin Cooke:

Ronnie Hall.

Robert Stone:

Ronnie Hall.

Calvin Cooke:

Ronnie Hall was one of the best, I felt. Kenny Ellis, he had a different style, but I had been in the Jewell all my life and I still had their feel and their music with me. And Kenny Ellis didn’t play that style and I got used to the style he played. So I would count him as one of the best over here.

Calvin Cooke:

Then there was a guy named Larry Taylor. Larry Taylor was very progressive.

Robert Stone:

He was Gary Taylor’s brother.

Calvin Cooke:

Gary Taylor’s brother. Matter of fact, they were just here last week.

Robert Stone:

Really?

Calvin Cooke:

Their aunt died. Their last aunt died, so they all was here.

Robert Stone:

So Larry was up there too?

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah, Josh was here.

Robert Stone:

I’ve never met Larry.

Calvin Cooke:

Josh was here too. And we were all together. But Larry Taylor, Ronnie Hall and these were the earlier years. All the other older guys I was talking about, they were gone or drifted away.

Calvin Cooke:

Larry Taylor was one of the main guys who played with me until he left. Then Kenny Ellis was always a main guy after he got started and Ronnie Hall. These were the guys over on the Keith side I was influenced with.

Robert Stone:

Before you got the pedal still you were playing…

Calvin Cooke:

I was playing a Fender.

Robert Stone:

A Fender Eight, a deluxe Eight with the two pick ups. You did the thing with the volume knob and all. Do you have any idea, of course to me it would seem difficult to see who was the first one who did that. But does anybody stick out in your mind as somebody who did that a lot early on?

Calvin Cooke:

With the?

Robert Stone:

Using the knob.

Calvin Cooke:

Lorenzo Harrison. That’s where we got it from. We got that from Lorenzo. And I brought it over here.

Robert Stone:

And then, because Nelson did it.

Calvin Cooke:

He may have, because Nelson wasn’t… well I kept playing lead for a long time, until Ted finally came in.

Robert Stone:

Back in what the early 60s?

Calvin Cooke:

The early 60s. Henry may have gotten it from us all the time, because I watched Lorenzo do it and all the guys over there. Lorenzo did it a lot and changed the tone on it and used it, so that’s where I got it from. And the guys I guess, watched me do it over here and they got it from me.

Robert Stone:

And saw Harrison do it.

Calvin Cooke:

Lorenzo, I’m going to tell you, if he was alive, you’d have been glad to meet him because he was a… all that’s happening now, Lorenzo used to try making records, because Bishop Mannings and them had a group one time, and different things and he was a very progressive man. And plus he was the type of guy that enjoyed meeting people like you and playing and doing this type of thing.

Robert Stone:

Yeah, it’s too bad.

Calvin Cooke:

He’s nothing like what’s in there now, nothing like Ronnie. Nothing like that. He sit down and talk to you, take you around, have you for dinner.

Robert Stone:

I don’t know what’s up with Ronnie.

Calvin Cooke:

I don’t know man, he’s just off his rocker.

Robert Stone:

I don’t know what it is.

Calvin Cooke:

But Lorenzo was- and what not. Friendly, he was just a people’s person.

Robert Stone:

I wish I had’ve met him. I have heard some of the old tapes and, we’re hoping to do some recording of the Jewell Dominion. Even there’s the idea of trying to get Ronnie to play some of Harrison’s old stuff.

Calvin Cooke:

Well Ronnie plays just like him anyway. So all the stuff you hear Ronnie play mostly that’s Lorenzo.

Robert Stone:

He was a pretty inventive guy, huh?

Calvin Cooke:

Lorenzo was very inventive, before his time. And matter of fact, he was the type of guy who just really stressed out by feeling the spirit and played what came to him. Even though I didn’t play over there or learn how to play over there, his influence of music was so much with me because I was there Wednesday and Friday and Sundays. And it was so much a part of me and then our families were so close to each other, until I couldn’t help but be a part of it.

Robert Stone:

You just absorbed it.

Calvin Cooke:

Right. And then playing over here, I still would go hear him, or go be with him and we would sit down and talk. It was an honor when he would listen and come to hear me and see the progress. Because to him, you felt like… Bishop Jewell would say we were still hers, no matter where we went, we were still a part of her family. Which I always felt. Still a part of the family. Matter of fact I still feel a part of both families. Because I grew up and know everybody on both sides. We’re the older people. I’ll put it like that.

Robert Stone:

Right, of course all of that… what tension was there, a lot of that’s eased up over time hasn’t it?

Calvin Cooke:

Yes, a lot of it. When it came to us, we had no problems. There musicians or us, because a lot of times, we would lead the Keith side, be down in Nashville early and the Jewell assembly would be going on and we’d attend that. And Bishop Jewell would have me singing and participating in the service. Because my aunt and cousins are all over there and that’s what we always did. We were home and Lorenzo’s brother would come and visit. So we would still go over there and be with them and be a part. There was no difference for us, no change. Because as far as she was concerned we were her kids, we came back, she called me to say that once in a while I get a chance to play and that would be a big thrill for me, even though I didn’t do that well, because my cousins and them knew me and they knew I played for Bishop Keith. And Lorenzo would sometimes get up and say, “Calvin, come to play during the offering.” And stuff like that.

Calvin Cooke:

That would be a big thing for me, young fellow, during my years coming up. And then being around him and getting to know him personally and talking with him and to hear him tell me how he felt about my music and progress and being with his nephew. That was a honor for me to really be around him. And both brothers sitting together talk about old times and family. One thing those brothers didn’t do is squabble about this church thing.

Robert Stone:

Is that right?

Calvin Cooke:

No they didn’t do that.

Robert Stone:

Even though they were on different…

Calvin Cooke:

Right, they got together as brothers. And any time Lorenzo would come over when he was in town or we both would be in the same town, he would come over to be with us.

Robert Stone:

We won’t go too much longer, I got to get some dinner here and I know you got things to do, you’re leaving town.

Calvin Cooke:

Well we just come in, I just finished doing some stuff. Grace went back out and I want to make sure I get home with you.

Robert Stone:

I appreciate it, I really do.

Calvin Cooke:

I don’t mind. Thank you.

Robert Stone:

I’m real, real glad that you got your record album.

Calvin Cooke:

Thank you so much.

Robert Stone:

Because obviously it just wasn’t happening with Arhoolie.

Calvin Cooke:

Well things worked out.

Robert Stone:

No, they got their limits. It’s a small deal.

Calvin Cooke:

I understand.

Robert Stone:

It’s basically, Chris does it. It all goes the way Chris wants it to go. It’s almost like a hobby or something, it’s a business, but it’s very personalized. He’s been real good over the years. He’s helped a lot of people get started that have gone on to bigger and better things.

Calvin Cooke:

Well he helped us a lot, all of us. If it wasn’t for him Robert wouldn’t be where he is. None of us really, so you expect people to branch out and go different ways. Matter of fact a guy called me yesterday, who called Arhoolie trying to get in touch with me. So Arhoolie got in touch with me and this guy play all Arhoolie stuff in Toledo.

Robert Stone:

Really, like on the radio.

Calvin Cooke:

He’s getting ready to set up a festival or something that’s getting ready to come up.

Robert Stone:

So he has a radio show?

Calvin Cooke:

Right, he has a radio show in Toledo. And I didn’t know that.

Robert Stone:

That’s great.

Calvin Cooke:

So he wants us in October to come play on that.

Robert Stone:

Arhoolie has been at this, Chris has been at this for 40 years, a lot of people know him and have come to respect him. I bought my first Arhoolie records probably in around 1966, something like that. He started in 1960, so I don’t go back all the way, but I’m…

Calvin Cooke:

One thing I’m glad that he won that Grammy. I’m glad to know that.

Robert Stone:

That’s real good.

Calvin Cooke:

I’m proud of him. As a matter of fact, I’m proud of all the stuff that he has done for us. And those records of his are special to me. People got to know us through him or else we wouldn’t have been known.

Calvin Cooke:

Actually this started all our careers, Chuck everybody. This wouldn’t have never happened if it hadn’t been for him and you taking a chance on us to present our music.

Robert Stone:

Thanks. It’s pretty easy, because we can hear it. You know it when you hear it.

Calvin Cooke:

And now all the people are excited and it makes us feel good. And I’m telling you, to me it’s just a thrill. I’m enjoying this. I’m going to try to make the best of it.

Robert Stone:

Well, I tell you we might be at a good breaking point as far as this interview goes. But we’ll need to talk again.

Calvin Cooke:

Okay.

Robert Stone:

Because you’ve got a lot to tell me. I want to get it all right.

Calvin Cooke:

When you talk to Bishop Manning you’ll get a lot because she would have been there and know a lot from that particular side. A lot of interesting, you know.

Robert Stone:

There’s a whole lot. I got especially interested tonight hearing you talk about Florida. I didn’t realize that you’d been down there like that.

Calvin Cooke:

Oh yeah, Florida is a state that I’ve always loved.

Robert Stone:

And the fishing was good back in those days.

Calvin Cooke:

Oh man we had fun.

Robert Stone:

Wasn’t it though?

Calvin Cooke:

Yes, yes that’s the only reason I really loved going down and staying. Did I like the weather, sure and everything. I got used to it too. Actually living here because of Chrysler it took me a long time to get used to being here in the winters.

Robert Stone:

I guess so.

Calvin Cooke:

I had a real tough time.

Robert Stone:

Well it’s pretty serious winter up there.

Calvin Cooke:

I had a real tough time getting used to it. Because every year I wanted to go to Florida. I did it for a while on vacation, but then I eventually just stayed here. Everything worked out.

Robert Stone:

Yeah that’s for sure.

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah, everything worked itself out. Now I’m retired, now this is going on, I have the group so I still can’t get to Florida.

Robert Stone:

But you get here when you need to, right.

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah, yes, so I’m not complaining now, everything worked out fine.

Robert Stone:

Yeah, it’s all worked. Sounds like it’s going real well, I’m glad. Well Calvin have a great time down there at your assembly and say high to anybody I know.

Calvin Cooke:

Okay Bob, I sure will and soon as everything come out, I’ll be shipping you one right away.

Robert Stone:

Please do, I’m real anxious to hear that, and you know they’re going to do some good promotion. I’ll look for you on MTV.

Calvin Cooke:

Okay. That’ll be great. Old 62 year old man on MTV.

Robert Stone:

You’re not 62 man, don’t forget to tell Robert that about that.

Calvin Cooke:

I’m going to see him, he’s going to be in Nashville.

Robert Stone:

Tell him that about 10 times.

Calvin Cooke:

I sure will, Okay Bob.

Robert Stone:

Tell him I’m upset too, because if you’re 62, I am too.

Calvin Cooke:

That’s right.

Robert Stone:

All righty, well say hi to Grace for me.

Calvin Cooke:

I sure will.

Robert Stone:

Travel safely, you’re driving I guess.

Calvin Cooke:

Yeah, yeah.

Robert Stone:

Have a good trip, thanks again Calvin.

Calvin Cooke:

All right, bye, bye.

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