Jude Cole is a simple but driven man. Throughout his long and storied career, Cole has worn many a creative hat, whether it be as a singer, songwriter, guitarist/sideman, film composer, producer, manager or even a stint as music critic and interviewer to acts like The Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper, Bob Seger and dozens of other superstars. But his first love remains steadfast and true — to be the kind of artist striving to make new music that reflects where he’s at now, rather than coasting on or trying to recreate past successes.
“I never wanted to bookmark myself,” Cole explains. “I really do enjoy creating new music, and I don’t care to look back all that much. I have the Gold and Platinum records in my tank, but I don’t hang them on the walls. I don’t always like to look at past achievements — I prefer right now and a little of what’s next. I spent the last 22 years managing artists like Jason Wade and Lifehouse and being a very behind-the-scenes writer, producer and manager. For me, these two new solo projects allow me to do what I’ve always done creatively, but with a new ability to actually stand back and appreciate it.”
To that end, Cole has most definitively moved the artistic needle forward with the contents of his two most recent solo releases. Coup De Main shines the spotlight on Cole originals that showcase his multi-genre mastery, while Coolerator brings a modern-day retro-cool vibe to a score of doo-wop favorites both classic and under-served. Call it the rebirth of the cool, if you like. Both records are available on Spotify and other major digital platforms.
Coup De Main encompasses a variety of styles, from the opening mid-tempo gambit of “Taking Away My Home” to the acoustic and ethereal lament of “Only Far Away” to the progressive swing of “Wax Wings.” Cole displays some formidable forward-leaning, atomically inspired chops on “The Dark,” which soars into the heart of the stratosphere with a generous cosmic assist from acclaimed fellow producer/artist, Patrick Leonard. “We’ve been friends and very close neighbors for a long time, and he would literally walk his small synth down to my studio and plug in,” details Cole. “He did all the synth work on this song, and I think it’s one of the reasons it sounds the way it does. Patrick knew that’s what I was going for — and since he even produced Pink Floyd, he nailed it. He’s a wonderful, wonderful musician. I can’t say enough about him.”
Not only that, but Lifehouse drummer Ricky Woolstenhulme, Jr. gave Cole and Leonard all the space they needed on “The Dark” to really stretch things out. “I asked Ricky to listen to some specific Pink Floyd records,” reveals Cole. “I mean, Nick Mason plays everything so painfully simple. He allows all the moving parts to do their job because he’s not in the way. Rick took all that to heart. He gave us a consistent bed of ride cymbal, kick and snare, topped with a few timeless drum fills. It really was fun to emulate that ’70s sound.”
The true linchpin of Coup De Main is “Partners in Time,” the album’s deeply heartfelt closing track. “It’s probably one of the best songs I’ve written,” Cole states. “Because it’s very slow, it’s not for all moods — and that’s why I put it last. It’s a true story, and I’ll never forget the man who inspired it. When I sat down to actually document his story, it just flowed out of me. It literally brought tears to my eyes as I was writing and recording it. After I finished the lyrics, it was emotional. If you’ve ever known anybody with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s a very painful, tormenting feeling. It makes you question life. This was a really dear memory I was able to encapsulate in a song, and I’m grateful for it.”
“They furnished off an apartment with a two room Roebuck sale The coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and ginger ale But when Pierre found work the little money comin’ worked out well C’est La Vie say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell” -Chuck Berry (more)
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Meanwhile, over on another sonic fulcrum, Cole gets to celebrate his pure doo-wop jones on the aforementioned Coolerator. Bear witness to his loving take on The Charts’ rare gem “Deserie” (“one of the most beautiful doo-wop songs ever”), the twangy Chuck Berry/Rockpile vibes of “Dear Dad,” and the horn-supported rock & stroll of Guitar Slim’s “It Hurts to Love Someone (When They Don’t Love You).” Thing is, adds Cole, this collection has been a long time coming. “Coolerator is a piece of work that’s been over ten years in the making — and it’s not any sort of epic work you would think would take me ten years,” he says with a hearty laugh. “It was really just a pet project in between a lot of other hats, inspired by the true heart and soul of ’50s and ’60s doo-wop music.”
The overall intention for Coolerator was to keep it simple and look for the right performance, “I always wondered how they made those records and why are they so soulful… why they’re so moving. When you hear about ’50s music, it’s often bobby socks and malt shops. I know that’s part of the Americana culture, but it doesn’t really reflect the groups that were singing on the street corners.”
For Cole, that inquisitiveness meant digging deeper, even when revisiting the classics. “I tried to find songs I didn’t feel were in the best-of collections,” he details. “I wanted to find ones I loved, but were a bit more obscure. The only undeniable ‘hit’ from that era is ‘I Only Have Eyes for You.’ Everyone knows that Flamingos song, but as I was recording my version, I couldn’t get that certain little bit of spark to it. Once we realized the reverb is on one side and the other side is completely dry, it was magic! Basically, I’m just a fan paying homage to the brilliance of the original. We tried to keep it all true to form as authentically as possible.”
Cole’s use of vintage gear and the right microphones in order to capture that quite-specific ’50s feel for Coolerator is but the latest continuation of the man’s artistry, something that was established at such an early age. “The artist thing comes very natural to me,” he agrees. “It’s what I’ve always been, always done. I mean, I’ve been an artist since my earliest remembrance. When I think back on it, I was always creating something in my room with an instrument, a Frankenstein bunch of wires and capacitors, or colored pencils and paper.”
Such laser-focused intent throughout the years has led Cole to much success. “Well, it was a very quiet success,” he clarifies. “My success is known by really very few, and I’m so grateful for my path. In my life I’ve been able to enjoy success without having a spotlight on me. It’s been a blessing, considering my private personality. I couldn’t have scripted it better.”
Cole’s accomplishments over the decades are what ultimately led to his current level of artistic autonomy. “I do most all of it myself now,” he acknowledges. “Back in the Start the Car era [i.e., in the early ’90s, when Cole was on a major label], I had the best engineers, the best studios, best producers and best musicians. Now, I’m practically doing it all myself at home with a few musicians I lean on for their expertise — i.e., Jim Cox, Brian Macleod, and a few others.”
To remain true to his calling, Cole was never one for living on the road. He’d prefer to spend time making new music in the studio. “What I love about music is writing new songs and creating new studio records,” he affirms. “That really keeps me going. I know where my strengths are, and I’m always looking for something different to do. Every once in a while, I go, ‘Oh, this is a song for me, and I’ve got to lay it down right then and there.’ It comes to me almost dream-like — and then I have to do it.”
The breadth and caliber of all this fine new music Cole continues to share with us is just further evidence he’s more than comfortable following his muse wherever it takes him next. “That allows me the freedom to go my own direction, whichever way the wind blows. However I feel that day, that’s what I want to do,” he concludes. “If one day it’s an R&B song, I’ll try that. If the next it’s country and western, I’ll take a stab at that. I don’t really have anyone or anything holding me back. The way I approach a canvas on an easel allows me to just do my thing — and I’m really enjoying the process of it now more than ever.”
The fact is, Jude Cole is a career artist who’s always looking at the next creative signpost up ahead, with nary a glance back in his rearview mirror. And with Chuck Berry as his Coolerator guide and inspiration, C’est la vie — it goes to show you never can tell how blues, rock, rhythm, and jazz will all come together to join Cole on whatever artistic roads he plans to travel down next.
--Mike Mettler, 2021