ONE OF MY GREATEST GUITAR
heroes passed away on May 30, 2012. Pete
Cosey is best known for his amazing playing on four ’70s-era double albums by Miles
Davis—most notably his genre-shattering
live work on Agharta and Pangea. Cosey was a
gentle, wise, ﬁerce, and compassionate man.
He was also one of the greatest inﬂuences on
me, as well as many other guitar eccentrics
of my generation, including Vernon Reid,
Elliott Sharp, and Nels Cline. Cosey was as
unique as Jimi Hendrix while in his prime,
and he was a hero who challenged you to
be yourself and not copy him in any way—
except to seek your own personal voice.
Cosey grew up in Phoenix, Arizona,
where he used to go into the desert and
play through a little amp, his guitar ringing off the mountains, to develop his
wide-open sound. He later returned to his
birthplace of Chicago, becoming a studio
guitarist for Chess Records, and appearing on hundreds of albums by artists such
as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Etta
James. He was also a founding member of
Earth, Wind & Fire. In the ’70s, Cosey had
a three-foot-long beard, dressed in robes,
and drove an old hearse.
Reggie Lucas shared guitar duties in
Miles’ band with Cosey from 1973 to 1975,
and he recently wrote to me of Pete: “He
was a genuine original, sublimely talented,
and with roots that seemed to reach the
earth’s core. He was a truly great musician, with a laugh as robust and sweet as
his guitar playing.”
Cosey worked from a broader palette
of guitar colors and musical systems of
organization than just about anybody that
I can think of. He had dozens of different
and completely original guitar tuning systems. He rarely played in standard tuning.
Back in 1973, I went up to Pete after a
Miles show in Boston, and he kindly spent
30 minutes showing me how he managed his
many pedals, and combined them in unusual
ways. He showed me how he plugged his cord
halfway into a BossTone fuzz to get some
of the crazy sounds that folks only get with
a ZVex Fuzz Factory today. In 2009, after I
subbed for a health-troubled Pete in the Miles
from India project, he told me he remembered
our talk from 1973, and that he regretted
getting rid of that old BossTone. I told him
I bought one immediately after he showed
me his trick, and, the next day, I brought
that old pedal of mine to Pete and passed it
back to him. You almost never get to show
gratitude to your ancestors that way. Thank
you, Pete. I will always miss you.
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