Clap For The Wolfman!
Reignwolf Keeps Prowling At His Own Chosen Pace
Fuck Greta Van Fleet. I’m so fuckin’ tired of hearing about those graceless schmucks. As if Led Zeppelin didn’t plagiarize enough old blues and folk tunes, and Whitesnake didn’t plagiarize Zeppelin to the point that Jimmy Page was convinced it’d be a good idea to record an album with David Coverdale during a period of time when Robert Plant wanted nothing to do with him, now here come the hot young saviors of Rock Music, Greta Van Fleet, to plagiarize Coverdale-Page. I mean, everybody rips off everybody else in rock ‘n’ roll at some point or another, but why ya gotta be so blatantly slavish about it?
Why even bring that up? Well, because it recently came to mind while I was listening to a few Reignwolf tracks early in the day before I dialed up Jordan Cook in his hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Mind you, Reignwolf/Cook doesn’t sound all that much like what GVF is doing, or what Led Zep did for that matter, but he is coming from similar basics: blues merged with rock ‘n’ roll, cranked up until the foundations crack and served with a generous splash of showmanship. There’s more Hendrix and Trower than Page in Reignwolf’s playing (though neither overtly), his stripped-down setup would’ve brought a grin of acknowledgement to Hasil Adkins’ face, and following that line, there’s just an inexhaustible untamed wildness to Reignwolf’s dexterity. His shows are famous for their energy and unbridled recklessness. His fans include Ozzy Osbourne (who tapped Cook and his band – also called Reignwolf – to open Black Sabbath’s farewell tour), Cameron Crowe (who put them in an episode of Showtime’s Roadies), Macklemore (who recorded a track with him), Tommy Lee (who tweeted high praise), Ghostface Killah (whose next single Cook wrote and produced), Matt Chamberlain of Pearl Jam and Ben Shepherd of Soundgarden (both of whom recorded with Cook in Memphis a number of years back). After first experiencing the quick weight-loss workout that is the swaggering Reignwolf stage show at a free Monday night gig at 529 late in 2012, I was convinced – as were/are those aforementioned people who are much more important and influential than me – that Reignwolf was gonna be the world’s next big rock star.
Instead, we got the considerably tamer and less exciting Greta Van Fleet. And rock music is on life support.
As for Reignwolf…still no album, only a trickle of sporadic (but killer) songs released on Bandcamp, and a much lower public profile for the past year or two. What’s up with that? Where’d he go?
“It’s funny, because actually, when I knew you were calling this morning, I was thinking of asking you where your albums are at?” he laughs. “All the time we get asked about where the record is. And it’s been one of those things for me where I’m like, it has to be special. Otherwise, I really, really, you know, I’ll fight it, until I love it. And we finally got a bunch of music together, we’ve been on a bit of a recording schedule, and I’ve been doing a bunch of collaborating with a couple different things, and finally the first single for our new record comes out on the 7th of September. So, I am so thrilled about it, and, you know, that’s why we’re gettin’ back on the road – to share a bunch of new music.”
Excellent news! What’s taken so long?
“Well, you know, to get into the fine details of it… there’s no doubt that the business sometimes likes to get in the way of the music, and personally, I don’t really have a lot of room for that. I’m kinda like, it’s either natural or it’s not, and that’s kind of why up ’til this point it’s been such a live situation. It’s because we mean it when we play. And I find that, between the band and I, we’re just not okay if we don’t like something. And really, the business thing, like I say, there’s been a few different heads and stuff involved, there were a few forced situations, and that’s just not gonna work. Now we’re kind of back to the band really just pushing on things we like. And, you know, those things take time. And, that’s kind of where it’s at right now. New songs are coming together. ‘Wanna Don’t Wanna’ is the first single. And the reason why that one [is first] is it was the one that was no thought whatsoever. We went into the studio, we played it, it was done. It was so much of what Reignwolf has always been. Less thinking, just kinda going in and jamming. And you wanna know what? If I had my way, I would sit there and start fixing little things. Instead, it was about the way it hit me in the gut when I first heard it. Much like ‘Are You Satisfied’ [which made the Roadies TV show soundtrack] and the things we’ve released up to this point. They’ve all been things where I just kind of felt like, ‘Okay – that’s a moment. Let’s keep going, let’s keep going.’ As for the record, that will come afterwards. We’re gonna get on the road and play some of the new music, and the music will follow.”
A little vague, there, Jordan, but hey that’s alright. As long as we’re not gonna be stuck in another holding pattern for the next five years. In the meantime, let’s tell the newbies a little bit about you.
Cook was born some 32 years ago to musician parents in relatively remote Saskatoon. While not exactly ripping out righteous riffs in his mother’s womb, it wasn’t very long after emerging from it that he was bitten by the bug, thanks mainly to his dad.
“When I was really young… I think I was four years old… my dad used to take me to this blues club in Saskatoon, and for some reason, all these Chicago blues bands and Texas blues bands, a bunch of bands were coming through all the time. And I would see bands every week at this matinee jam session kind of unload on the crowd. It was just crazy… But in the afternoons, they would let us go in and check it out ‘til a certain time. By about [age] five or six, I was up there playing with these guys, I played with Muddy Waters’ band, I got to play with just a bunch of unbelievable musicians, but these are guys that are actually living it, versus talk. And I think for me… my dad played, it was always in my house, so it’s one of those things… Even my sister played the bass guitar at one point. It’s kind of sweet when you’re around music all the time, so you’re not really thinking about it. You just do it… I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just something that was kind of given to me versus going to learn it, you know. I started at such a young age that I don’t even remember that part, the learning part. It just kind of happened.”
As a kid, he performed around western Canada, becoming a sensation before his age reached the double digits. In 2010 Cook released an independent CD under his own name called Seven Deadly Sins culled from material labored over during a fruitless development deal with Epic. It was decidedly more of a standard, overproduced hard rock album, but the genesis of what he’s currently doing certainly can be detected, and the talent was undeniable.
Around that same time Cook was in Memphis tracking more material for Epic, this time with Chamberlain and Shepherd. Nothing came of the sessions (a recurring theme in Reignwolf’s recording history, it would seem), but the mutual respect and friendships that evolved from the sessions and subsequent Canadian tour with the two musical pros ultimately led to Cook moving to Seattle. Within months, word-of-mouth and YouTube footage of Cook’s untamed performances (often just him, his electric guitar and a kick drum) resulted in sellout shows around Seattle and a slot at the annual Bumbershoot festival. Reignwolf the man was born. Reignwolf the band (currently Cook, original drummer Joseph Braley and recent addition S.J. Kardash – a childhood friend of Cook’s – on bass) would follow in short order, as would the dizzying juggernaut of buzz and seemingly nonstop touring. That is, until recently.
“I kinda find that when you’re ‘in it,’ it goes so fast. And when we kind of took a minute to get away from it all, that’s when I realized, wait a minute – we toured with Black Sabbath, on no record, around the world, in arenas. There’s all these crazy moments. We were touring so hard – I think we toured about three years straight – and I think we did that so hard that you don’t even realize what’s going on. And that’s kind of been the [lead-up] to making this record and kind of taking some time to do it, versus just spitting something out. And I gotta say, that’s been really, really good, as much as it’s been a hard road not to be out on tour. Because let’s be honest – playing live for your fans, what’s better than that? Nothing. Nothing’s better than that.
“Honestly,” he continues, “because of the jam sessions I was talking about, starting that so young, I think I’ve always just kinda known this as a mission, or something. It’s weird. I guess I really didn’t think about it much. Like when we were on tour with Black Sabbath – I wasn’t thinking about it. We were just doing it. And that’s been kinda the mojo behind a lot of this. When I say something’s unnatural and we just don’t wanna do it, it’s because I just don’t do that well. That’s the hardest part of music-as-business – putting the two together. And that’s a no-brainer – it has to be done. But there [also] has to be that moment of getting back on the stage and doing all those things and just playing again – that’s the thing I look forward to the most. Slowing down on thinking about it and just getting back down to smashing guitars!”
Photo by Omar Kasrawi.