Unfortunately, I found out only a couple of weeks ago.
Pete Cosey's name was not known by many. He never had a top 10 hit, he never got caught up in some scandalous business that would guarantee him a spot of notoriety in Rock & Roll history, and he passed without much fanfare.
From what I've read, he was probably okay with all three of those things.
Pete Cosey did not seem particularly interested in getting famous. He played with a lot of famous people, (Muddy Waters, Herbie Hancock, Howling Wolf, Minnie Ripperton, and this guy named MILES DAVIS) but he never really got the spotlight.
Part of the reason is due to the way Pete played and what albums he played on. His playing at the time was far out. It's STILL far out actually, but back then, most people didn't really know how to come at him. Both the album that he recorded with Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters were disasters over here (Howling Wolf HATED "The Howling Wolf Album" album and Muddy Waters wasn't much more enthusiastic about "Electric Mud"). Overseas though, his playing caught the attention of some people who owe a LOT to him, people like Jeff Beck, Robert Fripp (who called one of Pete's albums with Miles Davis a, "wallpaper shredder"), and John McLaughlin.
The only proof one really needs is in the first few bars of Muddy Waters' "I Just Want to Make Love to You" off of the album Electric Mud.
That fuzz tone?!?!!?1?
Now, Jimi Hendrix had been playing like this for at least a couple of years at this point but he wasn't quite going where Pete was going.
Pete's playing was rooted in the blues, but he took it wayyyyyyyyyyyyyy out there and had no problem throwing in loads of DISSONANCE. He didn't play his guitar so much as he performed knock down, drag out EXORCISMS on his instrument (brilliant ones at that).
He eventually caught the attention of Miles Davis who was being skewered by critics at the time for pushing "jazz-fusion" way past the jazz part and essentially laying the ground for hip-hop and electronic music. It was through Miles Davis' music that I was exposed to his playing, and I very distinctly recall that listening experience.
It was 2007 and I was laying on a beach in Florida around Christmas time. I'd been given the album Agharta (the one that Robert Fripp is so fond of) for Christmas and after I loading it onto my Ipod, I laid out in the sun not sure what to expect.
Listening to his first solo on the song, "Prelude", was one of the most memorable experiences of the last ten years.
His playing was otherworldly-- It sounded like he was strangling his guitar trying to get those goddamn notes to come out but they just wouldn't. As he progressed, his playing became less and less dissonant working towards a break-down that I kid you not is one of THE MOST brutal things ever put to tape. At the end of said breakdown, all the music drops out and after the briefest pause he comes back meaner than all hell, rattling off deranged pentatonic brilliance. Shortly thereafter, Al Foster and the rest of Miles' rhythm section coming through doing their damndest to blow the doors off everything but they just can't keep up.
It needs to be listened to, to be fully comprehended.
After his solo ended, I believe I stopped the song. If I recall correctly, I skipped back to hear the solo again, and then turned my Ipod off because I was afraid of what would come next. What I'd just heard was SO good and SO masterful, that I thought anything else would be a letdown.
Needless to say, he blew my mind again.
I created this piece in tribute to him. It's said that when he was a teenager, he'd play in the mountains around Phoenix and it was there that he developed his playing style.
I can only imagine what it must have sounded like to hear him practice-- The notes bouncing off canyon walls and coming back at him. You can ABSOLUTELY hear it in his phrasing too, and I'm so glad that he had the idea to go play where he did.
I feel kind of strange writing as much as I have about someone who I've never met (and will unfortunately will never meet) but at the same time, I think something needs to be said for the man. His music will get me through a thousand more drawings and inspire me to pick up the guitar until I'm old.
May you shred brilliantly in the great beyond Mr. Cosey-- I'd like to imagine that the sounds you pulled from your instrument could carve away at rock with ease.
The rest of us will catch up one day.