Jordan Cook has spent the last year performing in arenas as the opener for Black Sabbath. He has hung in storied recording studios like Sun and Ardent in Memphis. And he has been invited to the home of legendary music producer Rick Rubin, whose touch can turn an artist’s sound to gold.
But as 2014 came to a close, Cook — better known as Reignwolf — was back where he started, at home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, writing music for a friend’s funeral.
“I am doing songs to say goodbye,” Cook said the other day.
It was a sad and sober task, but a strangely welcome pause before Cook starts what is bound to be an even bigger year. It kicks off with a headlining New Year’s Eve show at Seattle’s Showbox at the Market and will end — he hopes — with the release of his first, long-awaited album.
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“This past year has been the best time in my life,” said Cook, who is 30. “You can’t expect these things to happen. To go out on tour with Black Sabbath before your debut record has happened. That means more than anything.
“When you know a band like that is listening to the music that you put out, you really want to make a mark.”
Cook has done that, and on a national scale.
Earlier this year, Rolling Stone included him on its list of “Young Guns,” what they consider “notable guitarists from the next generation.” It called him “a one-man blues-rock army.”
It’s a fitting phrase.
The blues is an old sound, but when it runs through Cook’s hunched, black-leather-clad frame, it is as fresh and welcome as an open door on an August afternoon.
His blues are sinewy, distorted and topped with pained and powerful vocals. When Cook plays, his hands are a blur, his smile flashes, and his face is almost completely hidden under a curtain of wild, sweat-soaked hair. He mostly plays alone, sometimes with two guitars strapped over his torso and one foot on a kick drum.
Cook moved to Seattle three years ago at the urging of Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd, whom he met while recording in Memphis with former Pearl Jam drummer Matt Chamberlain.
He was invited to Seattle for a secret Soundgarden show (they were billed as “Nudedragons”) where Shepherd introduced him to guitarist David “Stitch” Rapaport and drummer Joseph “Texas Jo” Braley.
They started playing around, someone asked whether his group had a name — and Reignwolf was unleashed.
In short order in 2012, Reignwolf was on stage at Easy Street Records for Record Store Day, in the studio at KEXP, at The Comet, the Fretboard Journal party and Bumbershoot. He became the talk of the city music community.
“Seattle is the entire reason Reignwolf started,” Cook said. “That all happened because of our Seattle fan base.”
Just as quickly, though, he was gone, touring alone, with Sabbath and the Pixies.
“There were some days this summer when we were playing two countries in one day,” Cook said. “I still can’t get my head around it.”
He grew up in Saskatchewan, where his father played Howlin’ Wolf and his mother Ray Charles.
“It was music all the time,” he said of his childhood.
He held his first guitar at age two, and as a kid, accompanied his father to jam sessions at a smoky bar called Bud’s on Broadway. (“It still stands to this day,” he said.)
On Cook’s 25th birthday, his father, Bob Cook, died of a heart attack in front of him.
“It was the worst day of my life, but I realized there was something I wanted to do,” he said. “My father gave me music, so this is the thing that pushes me the hardest.
“He would be so damned into all the touring, but the biggest thing would be that his son recorded at Sun Studios.”
Cook was at the Memphis landmark in October. It felt like a place of worship, where Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and, yes, Howlin’ Wolf all recorded albums.
“As soon as you walk into that room, you can feel it,” he said.
Cook hopes to use those recordings — and those made at Ardent Studios, also in Memphis — for an album that he plans to release in the new year, although he isn’t sure how that will happen. He has yet to sign with a label and can’t say if he will.
“There have definitely been some exciting opportunities, but it’s about using them at the right time,” he said. “So far, I can say that we have done this ourselves, without any techs, any tour managers, any anything.
“It’s purely out of drive and the excitement of having the opportunity.”
He doesn’t have a producer, either — although, he has been “emailing back and forth” with Def Jam Records co-founder Rick Rubin, who championed Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys and has helmed records by everyone from Johnny Cash to Lady Gaga.
Rubin came to see Cook play at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, and had him to his house in Malibu. (They didn’t meditate, as is Rubin’s style, but the producer did sit with his legs crossed the whole time.)
“When people like Rick are saying ‘Come over and play me stuff,’ that makes it more exciting,” Cook said. “That’s when it becomes a little more real. That’s when you know things like that are going in the right direction.”
Crazy as things may be, Cook finds a lot of stability in Seattle. He keeps a room here, and is happy to end the year here.
“I can’t wait to go in and smell the Showbox,” he said. “That gig to me means the most of all. There is something about coming to Seattle and playing in one of the coolest rooms the city has. When you’re headlining, it means even more to you.
“Let’s hope the folks show up.”
For now, in Saskatchewan, he is staying in the house he inherited from his father and rents to his best friend.
To be there reminds him that he is at the crest of something: a tour, a record, a career that will make pauses like this few and far between. Not that he minds.
“I am constantly looking for the next thing,” he said. “Every time I pick up my guitar, instead of practicing, I am always looking for a song or something different.
“My quiet moments are always loud.”
Nicole Brodeur: email@example.com.