Interview With Brandon Cook
(Black N Blue, The Loyal Order)
Shannon W. - What made you want to play guitar over any other instrument?
Brandon Cook - “Well I started on bass and I still love playing bass, but something really attracted me to the guitar. It wasn’t because it was "out front" or anything like that. I would listen to Ace Frehley or Bruce Kulick play, I was a really huge Kiss fan. When I heard Megadeth for the first time, I could hear the bass and the drums and that was cool but that isn’t what I wanted to do. Even though I started playing bass, I just had this passion and drive to be a lead guitar player. My parents saw it before I did and so they got me guitar lessons. My aunt and uncle had a band and my cousin Curt played bass. He was a really good bass player, the best I had ever seen in front of me. That is a big reason I wanted to be a musician. He gave me some lessons when I was 8 years old. Then, my parents split up and my bass got sold. A couple years went by. I got a more stable home life, my mom had gotten remarried, and they decided to get me guitar lessons because they could see me fuming guitar all of the time. I was constantly asking about guitars and guitar players and I was drooling over guitars and magazines. I was 13 when I started guitar lessons and I pretty much never looked back. Once I got a guitar, I would just sit in a chair and practice. I have been doing that for 31 years.”
Shannon - How did you get the gig with Black N Blue?
Brandon Cook - “The way that happened was I had met Patrick Young a couple times. My friend Mike Collins, who is a killer drummer in Portland, Oregon, he plays in a band called Metts, Ryan, & Collins and he also plays in Ants in The Kitchen. He came up to me one day and he points at Patrick and says ‘Hey Pat, this is gonna be the guitarist in this project’. It was just a side band, not Black N Blue. I introduced myself to Pat and we got along pretty well. The way it worked out was our guitar player Shawn was, at that time in 2012, thinking about leaving the group. So, he tapped my shoulder about potentially replacing him. Our guitarist, Jeff Woop Warner, left the music scene and he needed to go do his own thing for a while. They tried out somebody else for the position and he didn’t work out and I got a call while I was in the grocery store. Patrick Young was on the line and he asked me if I was interested in playing in Black N Blue. So I walked around the grocery store for 20 minutes getting interviewed about auditioning for the band. I was playing in two tribute bands that week: a Slayer tribute rehearsal and an Iron Maiden tribute I was also doing. I was teaching guitar lessons and I was also teaching at a Lego engineering school. I was working with really young kids. When Black N Blue called, everything got put on hold because it was a real opportunity. Those guys came and watched me play Iron Maiden and they liked what I did so they called me and told me to learn 5 Black N Blue songs and come to rehearsal on Wednesday. I had like two or three days to learn four or five Black N Blue songs. I didn’t know which guitar was which because there are two different guitar parts. I just learned as much as I could and they really liked the way I played. They loved my respect toward what their band is. They had a major label record deal in the 80’s with Geffen Records and the original guitarist was Tommy Thayer who now plays with Kiss.”
Shannon - What is coming up for you guys? Is there a new album coming possibly?
Brandon Cook - “We are gonna be on the Monsters of Rock Cruise so that’s a cool thing. We have a festival we’re playing in Dickinson, North Dakota and we’re trying to schedule some dates around that show. We’re getting close on that. There are also a couple of other major festivals that are in process and they will be announced as soon as I’m able. For the foreseeable future, we’re sitting tight with the coronavirus issue. But we do have a surprise coming up later in the year. I’m just gonna say it’s a surprise and anyone reading this should pay attention to the Black N Blue page. We’re super excited about it. The ink is dry, we’re just waiting for our time to announce it. Unless something happens where we have 6 months more of coronavirus. About a record, I think about Black N Blue songs I wanna write all of the time because I love that music and I’d love to write a record. However, I don’t make the rules in Black N Blue. They feel like the way the music industry has changed, they don’t believe it is a viable option in their career. I understand it. Maybe I don’t even know all their thoughts about it. But last I heard, Jaime said if Tommy Thayer is not involved, he doesn’t want to do a record. I understand that because Tommy was his writing partner and one of his best friends. Those two know what Black N Blue sounds like more than anybody. I know what Black N Blue sounds like but I don’t create Black N Blue as my default. Tommy Thayer and Jaime St. James are Black N Blue, they’re like Joe Perry and Steven Tyler or like Simmons and Stanley. They breathe Black N Blue. I might be able to get close and create something that fits the vibe, but it’s not the same and I can recognize that. I would love for it to happen, but I don’t see that actually happening in the near future.”
Shannon - You also have a Guns N Roses tribute, Appetite for Deception. What about GNR made you want to start a tribute band for them?
Brandon Cook - “Well, actually, for most of my life I didn’t really like Guns N Roses. I was a teetotaler, I didn’t drink or do drugs or anything like that all through the 90’s, when Guns N Roses was in their heyday. I just thought Slash was a heroin addict and I didn’t think much of his guitar playing at the time. As time went on, I’d catch myself
saying ‘oh that’s cool, that’s Guns N Roses’. I went on a short tour with Chris Caffery. He and I parted ways because I was having a child. I came home and called my friend Jeff “Crusher” Johnson looking for a locally-based gig. He said he was trying out for a Guns N Roses tribute on Thursday, why don’t you do it. That call was on Monday. Monday and Thursdays are my calling days haha. I can learn music really fast because I’m a guitar teacher and I’ve learned a lot of Slash solos over the years but I just never thought that was the way I wanted to play. Then, this opportunity came up and I was like ‘I don’t care, I’ll try anything’. I was really disillusioned with touring. I was having a really hard time understanding how the music business works, due to some anxiety issues I had at the time. I wanted to do it but I was also having a child and this was the best option so I went and auditioned. I fell in love with the music and Slash’s guitar playing. A big part of it was just me allowing myself to be open and understand what it was everyone loves about Slash. And then I learned how to do that thing he could do so naturally. Then I watched some videos and he was running around, banging his head, going crazy. I never knew he did that, I never really watched videos of him playing. He was doing all the stuff I wanted to be doing. After I finished music school, I really fell in love with blues and jazz music. Slash really gave me that vibe. He reminds me of Charlie Parker, the jazz saxophone player. I really got into his playing and understanding how it works. My friend Michael came up with the idea for the band and we all met on Craigslist. The drummer and the bassist moved on, but me, the singer and the other guitar player have been in the band for 15 years this May. It’s been a long time and I love Slash’s guitar playing more than ever. It inspires me even when I am writing music. I love the recklessness of his playing. I just love it.”
Shannon - What is your favorite part about teaching music lessons?
Brandon Cook - “I love connecting with people. I’m an extrovert. I like talking to people and hearing what people have to say. I like to talk about ideas I have and all those things make it a shoe-in to be a guitar teacher. I’m really passionate about playing guitar and I want to encourage people to find their artistry. If I’m teaching them something, I never want them to take my word for gospel, I’m just trying to teach what I did to attain my level of artistry. Even though I play Slash’s music, and I think I play it pretty well, what I take from that is not just his riffs. I try to take it and make it my own. Every interview I’ve ever seen Slash do, he says that he puts his stamp on anything he writes. That’s how I do it. Everything I do I make sound like myself. I like to teach people how to do that.”
Shannon - You’ve got an album coming out from your band The Loyal Order. Tell us a little bit about what we can expect from that.
Brandon Cook - “There is quite a lot of diversity on the album. We wrote the songs without really trying to have a certain sound. Jeff Buehner and I, we’re the main songwriters of the group...we believe that albums should have diversity. I’ve never really been a fan of records that have a homogeneous sound. I don’t like when every song sounds virtually the same, and then there is the ballad. We want it to sound like the same band, of course, but if you listen to Soundgarden, on the same album, you can hear really beautiful, lush chords and on other songs really heavy, odd-time riffs. Varying the sounds of songs is very inspiring to me. Judas Priest never sounds the same on every record. We wanted to be one of those bands that has life. Not where you make one song and then make 9 more of that same one. The stuff we are working on has a heavy sound, but it also has a bluesy style. We wanted to create was a record that is so good you can’t deny it. Every riff, every lick was detailed. If there was something slightly off, we would do it over. The album will be released through The Orchard/Von Artists, so it will be available on iTunes, Amazon Music and most commercial music platforms. Our song “Ready for Dead" was released on the Radio May 5th and we hit number 3 between to 5 Finger Death Punch and Trivium as most added to rock radio. We are very excited. The song is performing amazingly and we are doing our quarantine press tour as we speak. The pandemic has put a bit of a damper on what we’re doing but Jeff is a stellar business person and I’m really adept at social media so between the two of us and our Label, EMP Music Group and Thom Hazeart, we’ve made a lot of amazing advances with bring our music to the masses. I feel very fortunate to have an amazing team.”
“The Loyal Order features Patrick Young from Black N Blue, Kyle Baltus from 36 Crazyfists/Light the Torch and a very dear friend of mine and local Portland Oregon Phenom, Mr. Justin Gibson. "
Shannon - Throughout your career you’ve been able to play with some legendary musicians. Tell us about some of your favorite memories with some of those musicians.
Brandon Cook - “I remember when we were on Monsters of Rock Cruise one time and Pete Holmes was kinda holding court with all of us. He was telling us about when he played with Ian Gillan and Michael Schenker and some of the hijinks that happened. I was just sitting there in awe. He’s a brilliant drummer and an amazing teacher. We were on the road one time and he taught me how to play better and tighter with the band. I had some of those things in my mind, but I had nobody in the band call me out and tell me what I needed. Pete stepped up and asked me to go and talk to him privately. So I was like ‘oh no, I’m gonna get yelled at’. But then he sat me down and asked me questions and told me some cool stuff I had never really thought of or heard about before. That was one of my favorite experiences being in a band. He might not be as famous as other drummers but he is legendary. He’s played with some of the greatest musicians on the planet. RATT, Michael Schenker, Uli Roth--you don’t get into those bands without being absolutely world-class.”
Brandon - “I got to play onstage with Marty Friedman on Megadeth one time. That was a pretty exciting experience for me. He’s my number one hero. My very first professional audition I got to do was for Marty’s band in 2003. He had made a press release about releasing a new solo album and I had just taken a lesson with Al Pitrelli. I called Al and said ‘Hey! Marty’s putting out a record, can you call and see if you can get me an audition?’ He told me to look into it and said I could use him as a reference. I didn’t get the gig, but I learned so much. 12 years later, Marty was playing in Portland, Oregon and we had kept in touch a tiny bit over time. He was doing this thing where he brought people from the audience to come and play with him onstage. So I walked up to the stage when he was announcing that he was gonna do it and he was like ‘oh yeah, that guy’, because he knew who I was. I got to go backstage afterwards. My daughter speaks perfect Japanese and Marty lives in Japan. I went upstairs and my daughter went off and started talking to all the Japanese band members. She was 10. Marty and I stood there talking for a few minutes and he said ‘You’ve come so far man, you sounded really great’. And I’m just sitting there listening to Marty Friedman give me accolades about my playing. It was weird. It was nice to have that full-circle moment.”