It's Record Store Day, and the crowd at Easy Street Records has spilled out onto the sidewalk and into spaces between parked cars on West Seattle's California Avenue. The headliner, Reignwolf, is on his hands and knees fumbling with a spider's web of chords and connections. His set is running 20 minutes behind schedule. Store owner Matt Vaughan steps up to the mike and kills a little time thanking everyone for coming out. Vaughan wraps up his speech and turns things over to the guitarist, who's finally ready to go. People throughout the audience hit record on their cell phones and cameras to capture the spectacle they've heard about from their friends and glimpsed online. Reignwolf stands before them, alone onstage, wielding a shiny black Gibson 355, wearing a tattered black T-shirt and a fantastic smile. He gives them exactly what they've come for.
When Reignwolf—born Jordan Cook— was 2 years old, he picked up his dad's Fender Stratocaster for the first time and began making noise. It wasn't long before his dad bought him his own axe. "At 2 years old, of course, I'm just slamming on it, making probably the greatest racket ever, you know," Cook says. "But I connected with it. It was something I loved; it was better than playing with toys."
Though his father has since passed away, his mother, Deb Cook, remembers those days well. "When the rest of the kids on our street were out playing hockey and baseball, Jordan was in our basement playing guitar at a very early age," she says in an e-mail. "Bedtime was hard for Jordan, as he never wanted to put down the guitar. The rest of the family would be upstairs, and our china cabinet would ring and rattle from the vibration of Jordan's intense guitar playing."
Today, "the greatest racket ever" could be Cook's professional motto. Onstage, the Saskatchewan native finger-picks, pounds, slides, and grinds sounds from his guitar not regularly heard outside an artillery range. With only one formal album in his catalogue, his explosive live show is what's built him a reputation in his home country and, over time, around the world. He toured China in 2006, and is heading to Europe this summer, where he's previously made his mark at the Montreux Jazz Festival. But strangely enough, Seattle, where he's lived for the past five months, is where he feels most at home. "It's definitely where a musician wants to be," he says. "I know it's classic to say, but even the weather here being up and down, it makes you feel moods like crazy, and makes you want to play music."
In 2005, prolific Seattle-based session drummer Matt Chamberlain (Pearl Jam, Fiona Apple, Elton John) got a call from a producer in Memphis asking him to lay down drums on an album from a new Canadian artist. A well-traveled studio ace, Chamberlain accepted the invitation and began work on what would become Cook's debut full-length Seven Deadly Sins. Impressed with Cook's playing, and in need of a bassist to finish the album, Chamberlain called on his friend, Soundgarden's Ben Shepherd, who was flown in immediately. After the recording wrapped, Cook boldly asked the two veterans to serve as his band on a Canadian tour in support of the album.
"Within honestly a month or two, we were on the road in minus-40 [degree weather] across western Canada," recalls Cook. "So they went back to the start, touring in a van again, and that support obviously was the best to me. Because the fact is they don't need to do that, they were just up for playing some music, and it was one of the best times of my entire life."
"We played like, Saskatoon and all these places I'd never been before," remembers Chamberlain over the phone. "It was bizarre . . . nobody had any idea that we were playing with him. It was fun, it was an adventure."
Since then, Cook has caught the ears of a few other established musicians, including, through Shepherd, a fair number in Seattle; last December, he moved here. One such musician was Soundgarden/Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron, who recently recorded with Cook. "I was always really impressed with how he made guitar playing look very easy, and I really enjoy guitar players that can do that," says Cameron. "He has a really good singing voice, and really good stage presence, great performer. He's the total package."
Similar praise comes from Shepherd. "So you like playing guitar? So you like listening to guitar? You like seeing someone playing the guitar maybe to learn something or just to be immersed in it, well then check out Jordan, he'll blow your doors off and clean your clock within a couple measures," he wrote in a text message. "No gimmicks just raw performance, North American style."
As he sits at a table outside Broadway's Espresso Vivace on a sunny April afternoon, Cook's look is analogous to his prototypical onstage howl (which a friend of mine has aptly described as "like a cement mixer made out of diamonds and gold"): gritty and raw up front, but polished and together. His shiny black hair tumbles over his forehead from underneath a knit beanie; his perfectly symmetrical pearly whites could be Photoshopped from a GQ ad.
Cook's currently recording with Shepherd, Chamberlain, and Cameron, among other players, and hopes to have a new EP ready in time for his May 27 Sasquatch! performance. With this new batch of songs, he says, he's trying to harness the massive energy that people have come to expect of his stage show. "The one thing that makes the live performance so great is the improvisation, and the connection between the people and myself," he continues. "It is difficult trying to catch this on record, but what I've found lately is the rawness of the original stages is usually what I come back to."
From behind his coffee, Cook's brilliant onstage smile returns as he looks out at the bustling community he now calls home. "This feels right," he says. "Why would I go away from that?"