"In what is surely one of the longest and musically richest partnerships in Nashville, Bill Cooley has been playing guitar in Kathy Mattea's band for 20 years." So writes the dean of Nashville's music critics, Robert K. Oermann. Kirk Albrecht at minor7th.com describes Cooley as "... a guitarists guitarist, like Vince Gill, who seems to be at home in most any style."
Versatility, the hallmark of any busy sideman, has been the stock in trade of a career that has seen Bill touring and recording with the likes of country icon Merle Haggard, country-pop diva Reba McEntire, traditionalist Alan Jackson and rockin' singer-songwriter Hal Ketchum, as well as the eclectic, genre-crossing Mattea.
A native of Santa Barbara, CA, Bill moved to Nashville in 1985. A dozen years later he was called "one of Nashville's most respected sidemen" by Guitar Player Magazine. However, there's more to him than just his work as an accompanist. As a songwriter, Bill's had his songs recorded by Kathy and Reba, among others. As an arranger, Bill played an important role on Kathy's last three albums: 2003's "Joy for Christmas Day," 2005's "Right Out of Nowhere," and 2008's Grammy-nominated "Coal," where Bill was a part of the small, core group of acoustic musicians gathered in a circle in the studio to help Kathy record that album.
But when it comes to Bill's own albums, it's his instrumentals that get the spotlight. Kerry Dexter of Folkwax.com calls him "... an inventive and creative composer as well as a gifted sideman..." and "... one of the folk genre's most talented writers for the guitar."
Bill's first CD, titled "Unravel'd," was released in 1997 and nominated for Instrumental Album of the Year at the Nashville Music Awards (he lost to Chet Atkins!). Music Row Magazine called it "... a magical gem of a guitar record."
His second CD, "A Turn in the Road," was released in 2004. The 11 original songs range from syncopated solo pieces to full band arrangements featuring Bill on both acoustic and electric guitars. Acoustic Guitar Magazine wrote "few guitarists cover as much musical ground as thoroughly as Bill Cooley does on his second solo disc."
Bill's new CD, "The Return Journey," is an inspired, cohesive work that has garnered his best reviews yet:
"His acoustic instrumentals on his new, third collection are consistently dazzling." - MusicRow.com
"The only wish I had for this record that wasn't met was that it were longer: Bill Cooley's music makes you want to listen." - minor7th.com
"He also takes you to interesting places....this album will leave you with the feeling that you've just heard some very fine traveler's tales of new places seen by an old friend." - Dirty Linen Magazine
Kathy Mattea also thinks "The Return Journey" is his best one yet. "This is Bill's third disc, and I am struck by what a leap it is. Artistically, technically, soulfully -- a leap. A stepping into the ownership of oneself as an artist. A deepening of surety, confidence, and point of view."
More than 30 years after his first road trip with guitar in hand, Bill is at his creative peak, playing with the passionate urgency of a newcomer and the refined taste of an experienced pro. It's what makes the second half of the journey so rewarding.