Rock royalty heiress Amy Cooper comes into her own

What can you say about Amy Cooper?

What can you say about Amy Cooper?

Amy Cooper may be the best guitar-wielding rock ‘n’ roll woman you’ve never heard.

When she stands onstage, a far-from-Amazonic presence, mercilessly squeezing power chords from her electric guitar and projecting her voice into a microphone, it’s pretty easy to get carried away with the noise coming out of the speakers. And, yeah, it’s easy to believe.

Consider “Come Alive,” a hard-pop confection from her 2006 seven-song EP Mirrors, which references Joan Jett and Liz Phair while kicking off with a crunching riff straight from the Keith Richards playbook. Sure, countless songs have been written, sung and played that evangelically convey the transformative power of rock, but “Come Alive”—with its irresistible “you take me out of this world / back to a teenage girl” refrain—is one of the better ones. If Jett had recorded something as tantalizing as this back in the early ’80s, you know we’d still be hearing it while pushing our shopping carts through Trader Joe’s today.

But if you really need a rock-goddess antecedent to what Cooper is doing, look to poet-rocker Patti Smith. “There’s nothing like seeing her on a big stage, just the way she moves,” Cooper recalls. “But I saw her in a library in Venice with, like, 20 people, and she was singing with an acoustic guitar and reading poetry. It was insane.” To see Cooper play live is to recognize that she has assimilated more than a bit of Smith’s serpentine grace.

But she didn’t spring forth from the kind of urban New Jersey milieu that birthed Smith. Instead, Cooper hails from the non-gritty Marin County rock havens of Tiburon and Belvedere. She hit New York to study photography and film at NYU, and then moved back to Northern California and recorded her debut album, Water/Fire, in San Francisco; it came out in 2005. Then Cooper moved to Los Angeles, where people from Northern California traditionally go to get serious about careers in music, and she recorded Mirrors last year.

Somewhere along the line, local promoter Jerry Perry began championing Cooper in Sacramento, booking her every few months into Old Ironsides. I happened to catch her on one of those nights last year and couldn’t believe my ears. Then, last fall, I was in New York and chanced to see that Cooper was playing a club in SoHo, and she delivered as much magic there as she had here. I’ve probably seen her four or five times now, and she just gets better and better.

But if local crowds have yet to catch wise to her charms, Cooper nevertheless is proceeding with her first full tour, which touches down here on Saturday, at Old Ironsides with Red Host. She’ll be employing her standard power-trio format—guitar, bass, drums—to deliver the punch of Mirrors, a disc that rocked a bit harder than the singer-songwritery Water/Fire.

“Definitely with [Mirrors], I just wanted to do some raw, straight-up, very simple songs that I could rock out and have fun,” she explains, adding, “They’re pretty easy to play with a three-piece.”

As a guitarist, Cooper is self-taught, having learned most of the nuances by just listening and playing along. “I never took any lessons,” she says. “I was a tap dancer for a really long time, so I have a really built-in kind of rhythm. I’ve always been a rhythm guitar player; I’m just really rhythm-driven.” Cooper also plays the drums on her demos, a practice that’s recommended for any musician who wants to grasp the basics of rhythm.

The upshot is that although Cooper may truly be another in a long line of guitar-playing rock-lady royalty like Smith, Phair and Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino (the latter a favorite of hers), she’s starting to hit her stride and find her own voice as a performer. Whether she becomes a household name or a footnote, Cooper certainly can and will deliver the goods. Now you’ve heard—and on Saturday, you’ll see.