RIP Guitarist Pete Cosey at 68

Have you ever heard the name Pete Cosey? Don’t be embarrassed if you haven’t – in spite of contributing to some major recordings, developing innovative and influential techniques and tunings, and sharing his gifts and influences in ways that have earned him Grammy Award recognition, he has never been well known. In fact, he passed away last week and I only learned about it yesterday through a friend on Facebook.

Pete Cosey is best known for his wild ride in Miles Davis mid-70s band, but he began as part of the group that Chess Records assembled in the mid-60s to emulate the success seen at Motown. He is featured on the Top 10 hit “Rescue Me”
by Fontella Bass, and played with Etta James, Little Milton, the Four Tops and the Marvelettes. He was famously featured on Muddy Waters’s album “Electric Mud” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howlin’ Wolf Album” from the late 60s.

After leaving Chess Records he had a tenure in Gene Ammons band, but was courted by Miles Davis, and eventually joined in 1973. For the next two years he was part of Miles 2-guitar dark vision, which has only recently become appreciated for the amazingly rich and dense music produced by the band. Pete Cosey and his frenetic guitar work were a major part of the Miles sound on albums such as Agharta and Pangaea, creating textures and soundscapes that were immediately identifiable.

Here is a snippet from an interview:

TLM: You once said that no guitarist could play like you and you recalled an Aretha Franklin gig where a guitarist was looking at you in binoculars and couldn’t figure out your tuning! And didn’t Buddy Guy pick up one of your guitars and wonder how to play it!

PC: I don’t know if that’s what I said, but I have said that no one is familiar with my systems. Buddy and I were at a jam session on New Year’s Eve. Buddy had just opened for the Rolling Stones and I had just finished playing at an Oscar Brown play. I knew Buddy and some other guys were in town and so we all agreed to meet at a club that Buddy used to play in from time to time. So we met up and had a beautiful jam session, and at one point, Buddy wanted to play a blues number and he wanted to play my guitar – I tried to warn him! I handed it to him and he started trying to finger it and everything was away from what he was used to and he started looking around! And Buddy being the pro that he his, found one note and he hung onto that note for dear life! And it worked in the song. Robert, the guitarist who was watching me with his binoculars, approached me after the show and said: “I was watching your hands and I just…” It just flipped him out!

Here is the classic Ife played in Paris in 1973:

Here is a more recent video:

Cosey had spent much of the last several years celebrating the lives of others, helping old friends in need, and generally exemplifying the wonderful person he has always been noted as being. Wonderful artists like that who always put others before themselves and live to serve the music are in too short supply and Pete Cosey will be missed for those reasons but remembered for the musical and human legacy he leaves behind.

Source: Chicago Tribune

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