I was heavily saddened this past Thursday morning as I woke to learn of the death of Peter Cooper. If you do not know who Peter was, you definitely should know of him.
Peter worked as a music writer and editor for the Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper, for nearly 15 years starting in 2000. During this time, he interviewed dozens of legendary country artists, including Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Bobby Bare. Kris Kristofferson once said he “looks at the world with an artist’s eye, and a human heart and soul,” He was also a vocal supporter of the rising tide of the Americana format, yet still was able intellectually critique and praise the modern artists such as Taylor Swift. You knew that whatever he wrote, it was well thought out and came from his heart.
His words were the type that impressed people. Johnny Cash told Peter during an interview that he read everything that Peter wrote. George Jones’ grave marker has a few of Peter’s words etched into the stone. He had his enemies, as does any journalist (Google “Peter Cooper Toby Keith” to find out more).
He left the newspaper in 2014 to become senior director at the Country Music Hall of Fame. No other person deserved it more, and no one but Peter Cooper could truly handle such a position while still being totally creative with his writing. In 2017 he wrote the critically acclaimed book, Johnny’s Cash and Charley’s Pride. His position at the HOF helped him network with many songwriters, which in turn perfected his songwriting talent. He became close friends with Tom T. Hall, Mac Wiseman, and Todd Snider just to name a few.
Peter put out a number of solo albums, as well as discs with songwriter Eric Brace. They produced a tribute album to Tom T. Hall, which was nominated for a Grammy in 2012. Along with all of that, he also hosted the HOF’s podcast, “Voices in the Hall.”
What I loved most about Peter is that he never used his position in the Nashville music industry as a badge. He treated everyone, from the biggest names in country music to the Joe on the street, with the same courtesy. I met up with him many-a-times in Nashville during either the IBMA or AMA music conferences. Each time we talked, it was always interesting. He was a true journalist, listening to every word that you said to him, knowing that something might come across that he could follow-up on for a story.
He was also extremely humble and courteous. Even if you weren’t talking to him, just passing by and he was talking to someone else, if he recognized you, he would give you a friendly nod or a small wave. He like people, but more than tat, he loved to hear what people had to say.
Earlier in the week, Peter had fallen and severely injured himself, and never fully regained consciousness. He was 52 years old, and leaves behind a son. He also leaves behind a wealth of amazing stories and songs. Nashville will not be the same without Peter checking out a new face on Music Row, showing up at a music conference held in town, or even trying out a new song at a local open mic. I will feel a bit of emptiness the next time that I go to Nashville, knowing that a good, trusted friend will not be there to talk about who is the next artist to watch in bluegrass or Americana. I will definitely miss you, sir. But I do hope that you are up there doing a guitar pull with Johnny, George, Tom T. and Mac.
Chew on it and comment.