When he’s not playing wild guitar in Calgary instro-rock combo the Ramblin’ Ambassadors, Brent J. Cooper portrays a mild-mannered Alberta elementary-school teacher. But that doesn’t mean his curriculum is boogie-free. Think Jack Black in School of Rock and you’ll kinda get the picture.
“The school is art-focused,” explains Cooper on the line from Cowtown, “so all the kids know who Bo Diddley is, or who Howlin’ Wolf is. We have a turntable in the classroom. Gotta make sure that they get their education.”
Cooper picked up the fundamentals of rock at an early age himself, although he was self-taught in that respect. By the time he was in Grade 4 his favourite bands were the Ventures, Black Sabbath, and the Beatles.
“In Grade 6 I did play ‘House of the Rising Sun’ for the school,” he recalls, “but as far as wanting to play instrumental rock, it wasn’t until some point in the ’80s that I thought it would be really fun to have an instrumental band. When [’80s Vancouver legends] Slow came to town [guitarist] Christian [Thorvaldson] blasted off ‘Spiderman’ and ‘Mr. Moto’ or something, and I was very impressed. Then it was like, ‘Away you go!’ ”
Cooper first made a name for himself in the instro world with Huevos Rancheros, a Calgary surf-rock trio which released four full-length albums between 1993 and 2000, including 1996’s Juno-nominated Get Outta Dodge. Then he formed the Ramblin’ Ambassadors, which currently includes coguitarist Doug Waite, bassist Scott Nickless, and drummer Tyler Pickering. So far the Ramblin’ As have released three albums via Vancouver’s Mint Records, the latest, Ramble On, hitting shelves a couple months back on vinyl only.
“Mint has always been super-supportive,” enthuses Cooper, “and it was their idea to do vinyl-only, which was good, ’cause I honestly don’t know who buys CDs anymore besides me.”
That said, Cooper is actually quite the vinyl hound, the type who likes hanging out at Calgary music stores like Record Land (“They’ve got a gazillion records”) and the Inner Sleeve (“They just bought a few thousand albums from the CBC”). The last LP he bought was by an instrumental trio called the Mag Seven, who recorded a track called “Bring Me the Beard of Brent J. Cooper”.
“That’s because I wrote a song called ‘Bring Me the Beard of Billy Gibbons’,” explains the Coop, “and these guys are from Texas, and goofy as heck. I actually wrote some liner notes for one of their albums at one point, so they’re friends.”
Another friend is the Sadies’ Dallas Good, who got a Chuck Berry–style nod on Ramble On via the freewheeling number “Dallas B. Goode”. The pedal-to-the-metal vibe of that tune is in keeping with the album’s super-cool cover shot of a 1969 Dodge Super Bee. The minimalist cover was designed by Pickering, who Cooper describes as “a bit of an artiste”. He’s also the guy who installed the letters BSA on the muscle car’s Alberta licence plate.
”There’s a song called ‘Back Seat Action’ on the album,” explains Cooper, “and then hopefully in your Super Bee you’re gettin’ some.”
The Ramblin’ Ambassadors play the Fairview Pub on Saturday (May 19).