Charlie Sizemore remembers Jack Cooke

Charlie SizemoreCharlie Sizemore sent along this lovely tribute to Jack Cooke, who passed away earlier this week on December 1. They became acquainted during Charlie’s tenure with Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys, where Jack held down the bass job for nearly 40 years.

Unable to attend Jack’s funeral owing to a nasty bug, Charlie opted to share a few words about “Cookie” here on Bluegrass Today.

As I mentioned in a recent interview, Jack was not the goofy fellow you sometimes saw on stage. He came from the school that valued entertainment – and he was a natural at entertaining. But make no mistake: he was a serious musician.

Tempting as it is to say that he did not get the recognition he deserved, this would not be entirely accurate. Musicians appreciated his talent as much as – if not in the same way – fans loved his antics. For example, David  Parmley, one of the best rhythm guitar players to come along during my lifetime, has cited Jack as model in his approach. And his vocal range was something most of us can only dream of having.

Clinch Mountain Boys 1980 - Curly Ray Cline, Larry Sparks, Ralph Stanley, Charlie Sizemore, Jack Cooke - photo by Fred RobbinsI need not say here that Jack was approachable and on the surface anyway easy to get to know.  I have little doubt that he knew thousands of people on a first-name basis. But off  stage he could be very much the loner. Many a time I’ve gone into a motel restaurant to see him sitting in a corner, puffing a Marlboro, and nursing a cup of coffee. When I’d ask what he was up to, he’d respond: “Sometimes, I just like to sit by myself and think.”

He did almost all the driving when I joined the band. And despite the hundreds of hours I served as his shotgun rider, I didn’t get to know him all that well during this time. He talked very little and in fact would tell me to go ahead and take a nap, that he was fine.

But I did come to know Jack very well, albeit on his terms and in his time-frame. And who I came to know was an honest, decent, humble man with a huge heart. It troubled him immensely when he saw in particular an older person or a child having a difficult time. Maybe because I arguably fell into the latter category, I never felt a hint of resentment from this man who had played guitar and sang with Bill Monroe and hired Del McCoury to play in his band. He never tutored me – this would have been too presumptuous for him – but he was always ready to help me any time I asked.

And he wasn’t a show-off. I saw him play guitar only once and this was fascinating. He could flat play – his approach being similar to Del’s. Hard to explain, but you guitar players understand where I’m coming from. Heavy on the top strings and right in that place in the beat that makes you hear a click. I was playing banjo and he cut a groove so wide I couldn’t have gotten out of time if I tried.

When I tried to compliment him, he brushed it off. “You gotta good right hand,” he interrupted.

Jack Cooke - Sitting On Top Of The WorldJack was very proud of his Pinecastle recording, Sittin’ On Top Of The World. Tom Riggs and Jim Lauderdale are to be commended for making this happen. He sent one to me as soon as it was released. In fact, we stayed in touch over the years and now I’m glad we did. I called him only recently, for no particular reason, and he ended the conversation as always: “Let me know if you ever need me.” He meant this.

Jack was a big part of my life for a long time. He was my friend and I never took this lightly. But in a sense I write on behalf of thousands when I say that I am also a fan. I loved and respected him.

And I will miss him.