Iconic contemporary blues artist Ike Cosse can’t stop playing and singing the blues.
“After all these years, I still have butterflies in my stomach when I perform,” said Cosse, who got his first electric guitar as a Christmas present when he was a teenager in 1970.
He finished a two-week gig in France earlier this year, where he promoted his latest CD of original songs, the optimistically-titled Don’t Give Up On Love, released in 2018. An autobiography with the same title is forthcoming.
“I’ve been all over the world playing, and the greatest moment of my musical life was when I played ‘Straight, No Chaser’ in concert with Diz [Dizzy Gillespie],” said Cosse. “Nothing beats it to this day.”
Cosse, who was born and raised in Jackson, MI, graduated from Jackson High School in 1973. He was studying at Mott Community College in Flint when he met the famed jazz trumpeter and composer at a jazz seminar.
“Dizzy was a great man. Yet he introduced himself to me as a student of the arts,” said Cosse. “From that moment on, I never had an ego again. I’m still learning as a musician. It’s a never-ending quest.”
Cosse said that Muddy Waters, another musician he admires, was the first to electrify the blues, and it wasn’t well received.
“People were that way about Picasso, too,” he said.
“Michigan is a very soulful state with heavy roots in jazz and rhythm and blues,” said Cosse. “Flint, where I lived for a few years, had a large urban population, and I learned from great musicians who knew the music.”
Santa Clarans who’ve heard Cosse perform before make it a point to seek him out at events such as the Arbor Day celebration in Central Park, where he last performed in Santa Clara. He’s a one-man band.
All at the same time, he sings, plays the electric guitar, a tambourine with each foot and the harmonica, which is in a metal holder that he wears around his neck. He has a repertoire of more than 50 original songs from four CDs.
Cosse’s songs do more than convey blues emotion. They tell stories, sometimes with humor, sometimes touching on contemporary issues.
“I really enjoyed Lightnin’ Hopkins, a post-war blues artist. He was dearly beloved amongst blues lovers for his ability to tell a story,” said Cosse.
“You’ve got to tell a story. I talk about things you see every day. And you’ve got to discuss subjects that haven’t been explained before. I have to work the lyrics so you don’t offend.”
On his new CD, Cosse sings about “Friends with Benefits” and, in “The 12 Steps Blues,” about addiction.
On his CD Cold Blooded World (2000), “Ain’t That the Blues” addresses gun violence, and “Black Cowboy” laments the lack of black cowboys in movie westerns. Then there’s “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do or Say” (if your girlfriend decides to go gay).
“I love his music. It’s soulful,” said Naia Fuller from Los Gatos, on hearing Cosse for the first time in Santa Clara. “It grounds you a little. It’s nice to be centered and grounded.”
Cosse has taken his music all over the Bay Area, from San Francisco to Monterey. In 1987 he formed the band Ike and the Coldbloods, doing covers before writing his own songs. He taught guitar classes for adult education in Sunnyvale and at the Community Recreation Center in Santa Clara.
Santa Clara Roots
Cosse moved to Santa Clara in 1980 and credits working for the city with getting his life on track after some hard times. He was employed by the city as a warehouse worker from 1985 until his retirement in 2010.
In 2013 Cosse moved southeast to Springville, where he had bought and remodeled a house and now tends his one-half acre of land. He returns to Santa Clara from time to time to catch up with friends.
“I always tell people, God has been my agent,” said Cosse, who grew up in the Baptist church. “Things drop in my lap, or my [late] mom is working her magic ‘up there.’ He works His way — hoping we change our ways.”
“God will find something for me. I don’t worry about it,” he said. “I still write songs and keep up my practice. But if I never play another gig, I’ve done good.”
With his self-produced CD Don’t Give Up on Love, Cosse had the freedom to polish lyrics and instrumental parts without the over-riding control of a producer. He mixed and fine-tuned the sound to his artistic ear and that of Jimmy Goings at GFI Studios in Hayward.
Check Spotify and Amazon to sample and order Cosse’s CDs. Or contact Cosse directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Blues have been here since day one and will be here until the very last day,” said Cosse. “People have the blues every day of the year.”