Ry Cooder & The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces: Let’s Have A Ball


Someone told me once they didn’t like Ry Cooder, a sentiment I’d place in the same category as saying you don’t like, say, chocolate: as an attitude it’s within the bounds of possibility but it requires a considerable effort of sympathetic imagination to appreciate. Let’s Have A Ball is a 90-minute Ry Cooder concert film by the great documentary filmmaker Les Blank, better known for Burden of Dreams (1982), his chronicle of the trials of Werner Herzog and company during the making of Fitzcarraldo. Burden of Dreams is that rare thing among “making of” films, a documentary that’s as fascinating as the film whose production it depicts.

Let’s Have A Ball catches Ry Cooder and his band playing at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, California, on March 25th, 1987 during their Get Rhythm tour. I’d seen this when it was broadcast on Channel 4 in 1988 but don’t have it on tape so thanks go to the Metafilter people for drawing attention to the entire concert at YouTube. The film was screened in Europe and elsewhere but not in the US, and for now remains unavailable in any official capacity for unspecified reasons; Les Blank’s site says Cooder doesn’t want it released. This is surprising since it’s a fantastic concert film, the sound quality and performances are easily as good as anything on his live albums. In addition to great renditions of Cooder’s back catalogue you get to see several of his regular collaborators in action, not least Van Dyke Parks playing some typically idiosyncratic piano. The high spot is a 16-minute version of Down In Hollywood where everyone, singers included, gets to show off their solo prowess.

The band:
Ry Cooder: guitar, vocals
Jim Keltner: drums
Van Dyke Parks: keyboards
Jorge Calderon: bass
Flaco Jiménez: accordion
Miguel Cruiz: percussion
Steve Douglas: sax
George Bohannon: trombone
Singers: Bobby King, tenor; Terry Evans, baritone; Arnold McCuller, tenor; Willie Green Jr, bass

The songs:
Let’s Have A Ball
Jesus On The Mainline
How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live?
Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb
Down In Mississippi
Maria Elena
Just A Little Bit
The Very Thing That Makes You Rich (Makes Me Poor)
Crazy About An Automobile
Chain Gang
Down In Hollywood
Good Night Irene

Previously on { feuilleton }
My Name Is Buddy by Ry Cooder