This is a short interview with Cookie done in May and June of 1998 just after she had cut her first three tracks for JSP. First published in Southwest Blues Magazine in July 1998.
by Don O.
Cookie McGee is one of those DFW blues people who will pop up from time to time, seemingly from nowhere, and just shock the heck out of you. With all the blues talent already present here, fighting over the club dates available, it's not surprising that some have given it up entirely or just don't play out much. However, when it's a monster talent like Carmen "Cookie" McGee, you can only hope that will change. In her case it just may. After a blistering performance on guitar with Tutu Jones and Wanda King at last year's Freddie King birthday tribute, Cookie got a chance to cut three tunes for London based JSP Records for an upcoming compilation CD. The tracks included two of her original tunes and one by producer Andrew "Jr. Boy" Jones. After hearing her tracks, label owner John Stedman decided he needed a whole CD from Cookie rather than just three tracks. She is set to go into the studio in July to complete her first album for JSP.
Cookie still doesn't play out much. She doesn't have a band, either. What she does have is talent by the ton. A multi-instrumentalist and former child prodigy, she also sings and writes her own songs. She has all the tools to be the next blues wonder to hit the national circuit from DFW. In fact, plans are already underway for a month long tour of Europe in October. If you haven't heard of Dallas' own Cookie McGee it's time you did. So here's her story in her own words:
I've been in Dallas all my life except for a short time in new Orleans. I started at a very young age, around the age of about five or six. I had a neighbor, Eugene Tanner, who played guitar and I used to watch him play. He played with Freddie King way back. I asked my parents to get me a guitar and they got me an old box. I started playing and watching Eugene and everything came together and started making sense. I was taking piano lessons, also.
The Freddie King family were also our neighbors. I was down there every day playing with the kids. We'd go out back and listen to them rehearse and things of that nature. Freddie let us watch because he knew we were trying to play, too. It was a kick for him to see us out there trying to learn.
Through the years I played in bands with Freddie's kids. I taught them to play other instruments because I also played piano. We had a band together for many years. I played with all of 'em. We won a talent show at Longfellow Elementary and later went on to win a city wide competition at the State Fair Music Hall in 1968. In high school there was 5 of us in the band, Wanda, Fred Jr., Larry, Vernon, and myself. It was called Operation Soul. That band started a riot down at Thomas Jefferson High School. Literally!
After that ended, I started playing guitar with a group called Sagittarius Black. I was 14 or 15 around then. We worked about a five state area. I was still too young to go by myself so my mother was always with me. One night when me and my mom were coming home from a gig we came through downtown and stopped at The Cellar. That was the first time I saw Bugs Henderson. Later on I saw him at The Fog over on Lemmon Avenue. That's where I first got to introduce myself to him. From then on I was around Bugs quite a bit. When he was at clubs like Sneaky Pete's he would invite me to come and sit in with him. We would duel when I got up onstage. I learned a lot of licks from him.
Around 1976 I formed a band with three girls called Shadrak. I polished them up, then auditioned drummers and a rhythm guitar player. We toured quite a bit. Went all the way to Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, all through Texas, military bases, all around. We were together 3 or 4 years. We played rock and roll with a little blues flavor. Some tunes had a little more R&B flavor at times. We did well. We were booked out of an agency in Austin.
Freddie King and I remained close. We used to go to Austin with Freddie for his big shows there. One night at the Armadillo World Headquarters Freddie had me pulled from the audience to the stage and then handed me his guitar. Then he just stepped aside. When I was done he introduced me to the audience and I got a big cheer. I got a nice write up in the Austin Sun the next day. If he played somewhere, he would often call me up on stage. He would also come and sit in on my gigs.
When Freddie King Sr. died, Freddie Jr. and I continued to play together and Deacon Jones came in and joined our band. I believe we called it The Freddie King Jr. Band. I played with Freddie Jr. for close to 5 years and remained close to him until his death. Harold Walker was our drummer and vocalist at that time. Then I joined Lou Lazor and we played the Green Parrot for about 2 years. That's where I met B.B. King in October of 1983. He borrowed Lou's organ and stopped by after his show at the Fairmont to see our show. Our band also supported Lowell Fulson for two summers during his tours of Texas.
After leaving Lou's band I started back freelancing. I went down and spent one year in New Orleans around 1986. I stayed there and played on Bourbon Street. I played with Ernie K. Doe, Gene Knight, and Oliver and the Rockets. Basically we did all of the French Quarter. I just happened to be walking down Bourbon Street when I first got there and walked in this club. I asked these guys if I could sit in. They were laughing at me. "She's got the guitar upside down and backwards! Tell her to turn it right side up!" Once they heard me play, they hired me. I play upside down and backwards. I'm left handed and I just turned a right hand guitar over. It's just natural for me.
For a time I didn't play at all. For some years. I just got tired of all of the rigmarole and the hassles. I stopped for about 5 years. At different times people would call me and ask me to do different gigs and I would go ahead and do that. Freelancing again. I also injured a nerve in left arm which required surgery. That kept me off of playing for 8 or 9 months and kept me out of action about a year and a half.
When Tutu called me last year, I hadn't picked up a guitar, I'm ashamed to say, in about two years. I only picked it back up a few months ago. Once you know what you're doing, it's almost like riding a bicycle. I enjoy it so much. I did one little recording session with Joe Jonas last year but those were my only recordings up to these. I was in his band for 8 or 9 months back in the early 90's. We used to play all over the Dallas west end. He called me in special to play on his session.
I was excited to finally get to do my own session. I've known "Jr. Boy" for many years and his drummer Tommy Hill was my neighbor for many years. Ron Mason was a delight to see. He and I go back 20 years at least. The session was delightful I was impressed with their professionalism, wit, and quirkery. That can only happen when you have real professionals. I am ecstatic with the results.
I am excited about maybe going to Europe. It's something I've always wanted. It's been a long time waiting for it. Right now I am waiting for this project to move along and see what happens. I'm going to have to find me some people for a band pretty soon. I don't have a day job. I'm starvin' to death!
Through the years the music business has been pretty good. Traveling and everything. Not a lot of bad experiences at all. I'm excited about getting to Europe and seeing some different things. Really traveling and getting out of here!