Ottawa’s Richard and Brian Cooper grew up with music a constant in the home, soaking in the country & western influences while listening to the rock hits of the day on the radio. They began playing the Ottawa clubs in various cover groups as early as 1970, despite Richard actually trying to earn a Masters degree in English Literature at the time.
He was eventually expelled from the University of Ottawa for lack of attendance around the same time they met steel guitarist Terry King. They developed their own style that flowed from the same roots as ‘southern rock,’ still predominantly playing covers but working on their own material, as well.
They scraped together enough money to record some sessions with Les Emmerson (Five Man Electrical Band) in ’74, and had some modest regional success over the next year with a pair of tracks they didn’t write themselves – “Miss Lonely Heart” and “From Day To Day,” and their own “Finally With You.”
Keeping the Cooper Brothers monikor but swelling the ranks to seven, Don Bregg was added to take over lead vocal chores, along with guitarist Darryl Alguire, Al Swerwa on keyboards, and drummer Glenn Bell. Things began taking shape when manager Alan Katz signed them to Gary Cape’s Capricorn Records. Based in Macon, Georgia, the label was also home to The Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker, and Elvin Bishop – and one of the top labels of the genre.
Cape took them into the studios, and their self-titled debut album in 1978 produced the top 40 hit in Canada with “Rock And Roll Cowboys”. The follow-up, “The Dream Never Dies” followed that fall, and although it stalled outside the top 40, it became a huge country hit a few years later for both Bill Anderson and Juice Newton. It was also used later as the theme song for a documentary on Canada’s National Ski team, and earned them an ASCAP Award for its radio life.
With Richard Cooper writing all nine tracks, they received Juno mentions and were voted Best New Group by the Canadian Contemporary Music Programmers (CCMP). Later that year, Capricorn also released an EP with three of Cooper Brothers’ tracks backing four from labelmates Black Oak Arkansas.
After the better part of a year on the road across Canada with some American stop-overs and backing the likes of Charlie Daniels, BOA, and Atlanta Rhythm Section, they returned to Eastern Sound Studios in Toronto and got to work on the next album. Two singles stemmed from PITFALLS OF THE BALLROOM in 1979. The middle of the road rockers “Show Some Emotion” and “I’ll Know Her When I See Her” both spent time on the Canadian charts, but neither made any headway in the US.
Still, accolades came at home, when the CCMP gave them the nod for Best MOR Group in ’79, and Best Overall Group a year later. Canadian critics were holding out on The Cooper Brothers becoming the country’s next big thing, calling them everything from ‘a poor man’s BTO‘ to innovative with cross-over appeal and huge potential. By this point they’d also shared the stage with Joe Cocker, Seals & Crofts, and The Doobie Brothers. But when Capricorn closed its doors in 1980, the band was left reeling, already in the process of working on a new album.
Charles Robinson replaced Beggs as front vocalist, and they called in friend Les Emmerson to join the ranks and help finish the album off. LEARNING TO LIVE WITH IT finally made it to the record store stands in the fall of ’81 after signing with Salt Records. Without Polydor’s distribution, the album came and went with little fanfare, despite the top 50 showing from “If My Heart Only Knew.” Other noteable tracks included Emmerson’s “Come Back Baby,” “Rules of the Road,” and “Poor Little Rich Girl.”
Following an exhaustive cross country tour in ’83, the band broke up with everyone going their separate ways. A streamlined version reunited in Ottawa in ’86 for a one-off charity fundraiser for the Children’s Wish Foundation. Brian Cooper and Terry King eventually formed a trio with Emmerson in 1990, simply called Cooper, King and Emmerson, although they never recorded. King died of lung cancer in 2000. Emmerson reformed Five Man Electrical Band.
Fast forward to 2006, and the first order of business after signing a deal with Pacemaker Records was for the Cooper boys to release a greatest hits compilation through EMI later that year. Along with the obvious culmination of the band’s three albums, it also included the previously unreleased “Icy Blue Eyes” and “Hard Ticket.”
Having assembled enough players to make a tour of it, they set out on the road while writing some material, leading to several sold-out dates throughout southern Ontario and highlighted by the opening slot for James Taylor in front of 25,000 people in Toronto.
They recruited longtime friend Colin Linden for the job of producing a new album in ’09. They booked time at Masterlink Studio and flew to Nashville that September. A stellar cast of musicians included Audley Freed (Dixie Chicks, Black Crowes, Jakob Dylan), Dan Dugmore (Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor), Steve Mackey (Trisha Yearwood), and Kevin McKendree (Lee Roy Parnell, Brian Setzer), and within a few weeks enough material was culled for the 2010 release, IN FROM THE COLD. Featuring cameos from the likes of Blue Rodeo‘s Jim Cuddy on “Hard Luck Girl” and Delbert McClinton on “Jukebox”, the dozen original tracks strayed over the country line in the raucous “Gunshy,” “Never Cease To Amaze,” and “Tear Down The Walls.”