Ray Cooper

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Ray Cooper
Cooper on tour with Elton John in January 2010 at a concert in Hawaii
Cooper on tour with Elton John in January 2010 at a concert in Hawaii
Background information
Born (1947-09-19) 19 September 1947 (age 75)
Watford, Hertfordshire, England
Years active1960s–present

Raymond Cooper (born 19 September 1947[1][2]) is an English musician who has worked as a session and road-tour percussionist. During his career, Cooper has worked and toured with numerous musically diverse bands and artists including Elton John (as a duo and as a member of his band), Billy Joel, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, David Gilmour, Roger Waters and Art Garfunkel. Cooper absorbed the influence of rock drummers from the 1960s and 1970s such as Ginger Baker, Carmine Appice and John Bonham.

Incorporation of unusual instruments for rock drummers of the time such as cowbells, glockenspiel and tubular bells, along with several standard kit elements, helped create a highly varied setup. Continually modified to this day, Cooper's percussion set offers a large array of percussion instruments for sonic diversity such as the tambourine, congas, crash cymbals, cowbells, rototoms, tubular bells, the gong, snare drum and timpani.

Cooper is known to have played tambourine, congas, maracas, bongos, cymbals, wind chimes, bell tree, triangle, timpani, bells, tubular bells, shaker, vibraphone, marimba, gong, Rototoms, jaw bone, cowbell, finger cymbals, timbales, crotales, güiro, glockenspiel, whistle, drum kit, snare drum, keyboards, piano and guitar.[3][2][4]

Life and career[edit]

Cooper was born in Watford, Hertfordshire. In addition to percussion, Cooper studied classical piano, strings and woodwind, as well as theatre. He later joined the band Blue Mink, and as a session musician he played on records for artists such as America, Carly Simon and David Essex.[5] He played on and co-produced the album Somewhere in England by George Harrison in 1981.

Cooper has long been associated with Elton John's career, playing on more than 90 recordings, and performing in more than 800 concerts with John both as a duo and in the Elton John Band. His first appearance with John was during the sessions for Madman Across the Water, and he played his first live show with him in early 1972. Cooper had a short stint with The Rolling Stones playing percussion for their 1974 It's Only Rock 'n Roll album. After contributing to various Elton John albums, Cooper joined the Elton John Band full-time in 1974 and spent the next two years recording and touring with the group.

During John's semi-retirement in the late 1970s, Cooper played on various singles and albums for John, and recorded with George Harrison, the Kinks, Wings and Art Garfunkel. In 1977 and again in 1979, Cooper toured with Elton John as a duo in which John would play a solo set and then be joined by Cooper on percussion for the second half of the concerts.

Cooper's relationship with the Rolling Stones continued into the 1980s. In 1981, he contributed to Bill Wyman's third solo album. In 1983, he participated in a short tour for the Ronnie Lane ARMS Charity Concert along with Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and other artists, including Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts.

In the 1980s, Cooper continued to record and tour periodically with Elton John. In 1986, he joined John's touring band for the Tour De Force (tour) concerts in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, augmenting Jody Linscott, who was the band's percussionist on the rest of John's world tour.

Cooper showed up on Christine McVie's self-titled solo album in 1984. In 1985, Cooper appeared on both Mick Jagger's She's the Boss album and Bill Wyman's Willie & The Poor Boys. Also in 1985, Cooper performed as percussionist for a number of artists during the charity event Live Aid. In 1997, he guested with Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings for Struttin' Our Stuff.

In every tour during 1990, Eric Clapton and the band played "Sunshine of Your Love", which then flowed into a short one-minute drum solo by Steve Ferrone (drummer for Clapton's band on the tour), then into a seven-minute percussion solo by Cooper on the tambourine, congas and gong. On 16 January 1992, he played percussion for Clapton's instalment of the MTV Unplugged television series.

During 1994 and 1995 Face to Face tours with Billy Joel, and during Elton John's tours in 1995, Elton John played "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting", which then flowed into a solo by Cooper on percussion. In the 1995 "Evening With Elton John and Ray Cooper" tour, the two men performed in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and Costa Rica, where John performed a solo set, then was joined by Cooper on percussion for the second half of the show. On 15 September 1997, Cooper was the principal percussionist along with Phil Collins at the Music for Montserrat fund raiser concert in Royal Albert Hall. Cooper was part of the band at the Concert for George, the memorial concert for George Harrison, held at the Royal Albert Hall in 2002. He contributed to the tribute concert for Jim Capaldi in January 2007. He worked on Katie Melua's album Pictures (2007).

Film work[edit]

Towards the end of the 1980s, Cooper got involved in film as a musician, actor and producer. His work in film production included work for HandMade Films, which was owned by his friend George Harrison.[6]

Cooper has played small roles such as the preacher in Robert Altman's feature film Popeye (1980) starring Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall. He has performed music in several of Terry Gilliam's productions, appearing on-screen in quirky roles like the technician who swats the beetle at the beginning of Gilliam's 1985 film Brazil and as the functionary whispering in the ear of Jonathan Pryce's Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson character in 1989's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. He appeared in the Concert for Cascara in the 1985 film Water, and appears as a street commercial for The Zero Theorem.

Recent work[edit]

Cooper has continued recording and performing with Elton John on various albums and tours, including John's The Million Dollar Piano show in Las Vegas.[7] In 2009, John and Cooper performed a small exclusive series of shows, mostly in the UK and Europe, the first time since 1995 that the two had toured together without a band. Amongst their performances was one at the Royal Albert Hall to raise funds for a new organ which the Royal Academy of Music would assemble in their Duke's Hall. They raised further funds with a further performance at the Royal Opera House in 2011. The organ has been named the Sir Elton John and Ray Cooper Organ, and was heard for the first time on 7 October 2013.[8][5] In a greeting to Cooper on his 70th birthday, John's website stated that when Elton composed the song "Tambourine" for his 2016 Wonderful Crazy Night album, he made sure to bring in Cooper to play the instrument on the track. As of June 2019, Cooper is touring with John as part of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road farewell tour.


With Elton John

With Joan Armatrading

With Pink Floyd

With Roger Waters

With David Gilmour

With Murray Head

With Katie Melua

With George Harrison

With David Essex

  • Rock On (Columbia Records, 1973)
  • David Essex (CBS Records, 1974)
  • Imperial Wizard (Mercury Records, 1978)
  • Stage - Struck (Metronome Records, 1982)
  • The Whisper (Mercury Records, 1983)

With Carly Simon

With Kiki Dee

  • Kiki Dee (Rocket, 1977)

With Cliff Richard

With Christine McVie

With Chris Rea

With Roy Orbison

With Art Garfunkel

With Cass Elliot

With Roger Chapman

With Mick Jagger

With Nigel Olsson

  • Nigel Olsson (The Rocket Record Company, 1975)
  • Nigel Olsson (Columbia Records, 1978)
  • Nigel (Bang Records, 1979)

With Dana Gillespie

  • Weren't Born a Man (MCA Records, 1973)

With Eric Clapton

With Rick Wakeman

With Sting

With Bryan Ferry

With Yvonne Elliman

With Paul McCartney

With Rosemary Clooney

With Bill Wyman

  • Stuff (Victor Records, 1992)

With Rod Stewart

  • Smiler (Mercury Records, 1974)

With Harry Nilsson

With Lulu

With Donovan

With Madeline Bell

  • This is One Girl (Pye Records, 1976)

With Ringo Starr

With Jean-Patrick Capdevielle

  • /2 (CBS Records, 1980)


  1. ^ "Happy Birthday to Percussionist Ray Cooper". eltonjohn.com. 19 September 2016. Archived from the original on 13 November 2016. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Percussionist Ray Cooper Celebrates a Birthday Today". 19 September 2014. Archived from the original on 15 September 2017. Retrieved 9 July 2017.
  3. ^ Ray Cooper at AllMusic
  4. ^ Shipton, Alyn (2013). Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 227. ISBN 978-0-199-75657-5.
  5. ^ a b "Ray Cooper – Elton John". Elton John.
  6. ^ Ray Cooper at IMDb
  7. ^ "We Wish Ray Cooper a Very Happy Birthday". Elton John.
  8. ^ "The Sir Elton John and Ray Cooper Organ" (PDF). The Royal Academy of Music. Retrieved 2 July 2019.

External links[edit]