In a muddy field in Surrey, British Columbia, I witnessed the birth of a rock star. It’s not where most legends are made: on a stage set for Canada Day, sandwiched into a family-friendly concert lineup that included a Bon Jovi tribute band and 60-year-old blues guitarist Jerry Doucette. But there was Jordan Cook, aka Reignwolf, the greatest guitar player no one’s heard of. The 28-year-old native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, recently started calling Seattle home—in fact, “home” is relative, since he came on vacation in December and never really left. When he’s not couch surfing in Capitol Hill, he’s playing white-hot rock and roll, like someone from the days of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, or Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, unfrozen and unleashed on the Pacific Northwest.
Rumor of Reignwolf’s local live shows started circulating this spring: how there was a guy who looked like a young Bob Dylan, clad all in black—from leather jacket to army boots—absolutely shredding on his Gibson 335. He popped up on KEXP, then at the Comet, then in West Seattle, either backed by local band the Mother’s Anger or all alone—just a boy and his fog machine. Cook had swagger, alternately sneering and flashing a smile that five out of five dentists would recommend; and his raspy vocals seemed born of a childhood education in smoky blues clubs, the perfect howl for anthems about “Electric Love.”
What really brought out the camera phones, though, was his signature move: playing the guitar and the drums at the same time. Sometimes while standing atop a kick drum, and sometimes with a pick in one hand and a stick in the other. “Think Robert Plant meets Layla-era Eric Clapton meets Stevie Ray Vaughan meets Jack White,” reported the KEXP blog. That’s pretty high praise for an unsigned artist with one album. Thanks to the power of YouTube, videos of Cook’s live shows have earned him some high-profile new fans, including Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee. “Dude is a BADASS!” Lee tweeted, linking to a Reignwolf session. And Cook has called Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd a friend for the past six years, ever since they recorded together in Memphis with Pearl Jam alum/drummer Matt Chamberlain rounding out the trio.
Yet, as soon as the legend of Reignwolf began, he disappeared—touring the UK, Spain, and Canada, before coming back to play the Capitol Hill Block Party. Not wanting to wait to confirm the hype, I crossed the border in early July, bound for his outdoor concert in Surrey. Before the road trip, I called Cook at his childhood home, where he had paused (briefly) to record new tracks for his upcoming release, slated to drop this fall. He’s still a proud Canuck; in addition to ending a third of his sentences with “ya know?” Cook credits much of his success to the community of Saskatoon, where he got his professional start over 20 years ago.
At age two Cook picked up his first guitar, his dad’s Fender Stratocaster. “It was just the next toy I could stomp on,” he said. His father saw a spark and bought his son a size-appropriate axe. By age five, Cook was playing afternoon jam sessions at the local blues club; by nine, he was touring western Canada with his band of elementary school friends. Dad was the chauffeur and de facto manager, securing permits so his underage son could play in bars. “He helped start everything—not only gave me music, but was the guy helping make it happen, ya know? ’Cause otherwise we’d just be kids playing in the basement,” Cook said, his voice wavering for a moment. His father died of a heart attack four years ago; Cook calls making music the “gift he left me.”
Saskatoon press dubbed Cook a prodigy—though even prodigies have to finish the first grade. “I actually failed grade one because I was so heavily into guitar,” he said. “My mom always says, while other kids were out playing baseball and basketball in front of the house, I would be downstairs rattling the china cabinets. I always just played music… It means everything to me—as boring as that may sound.”
Here’s the thing about Cook: He doesn’t fit the profile of the bad boy rocker. He doesn’t drink or smoke. He hugs his fans and signs autographs after shows. And he’s an honest-to-god gentleman who’s quick to compliment everyone but himself. On Matt Cameron (of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam) playing drums on the upcoming Reignwolf release: “All these guys are just legends to me, ya know? … It’s exciting that people care at all. It means the world to me.”
As for his live shows, believe the hype. Surrey was practically shaking from the reverb after Reignwolf’s sweaty, sneering, blistering rock set. Did you see that? A mother yelled to her two young daughters. He played the drums and the guitar!
“In five years you’re going to say, I saw this guy at Canada Day in Surrey!” the emcee predicted. Five years? Try now.
Reignwolf at Linda’s Fest
Aug 18, Linda’s Tavern, 707 E Pine St, 206-325-1220; lindastavern.com
Reignwolf at Bumbershoot
Sept 3, Seattle Center, 305 Harrison St, 206-701-1482; bumbershoot.org