Guitarist John Cook used to be intimidated by the recording studio. Now, he laughed, “I tell the engineer he’s going to have to drag me out.”
Much has changed since he worked as a “hired gun” decades ago, contributing guitar bass or vocals to other people’s songs on analog tape. Today, he’s enjoying the excitement of tracking his own songs using the seemingly endless possibilities of digital recording.
“The technology is just amazing. To be doing music like this is a departure for me,” said Cook. “There’s been a learning curve, but the moment I hear a track come back, I think, ‘I can’t believe we’re doing this.’ ”
Cook leads the Jericho Horns, a “revolving cast of characters” that plays his own compositions, which lean heavily on classic ’60s soul with occasional folk leanings and Latin flourishes.
On Thursday, Cook will perform solo at the Roadhouse Inn in Levittown. The show will come just a few days after he wraps up recording the first three of about 16 songs he plans to release digitally in spurts next year.
His band, a full rhythm section plus horns, usually maxes out at six people on stage. But in the studio they use “pretty much every horn imaginable,” thanks as much to the stellar musicians he’s attracted as to the options he has to record them.
Cook writes the melodies, lyrics and hooks, and hands off those lead sheets to the horn players to arrange the full pieces using everything from saxophone and trumpet to cornet and tuba. With more instruments than players — some songs feature parts for six horns alone — Cook relies on the multi-instrumentalists and adept arrangers in his group to conceive the parts and layer them in the studio.
“They’re really top-shelf guys,” he said, “I come up with the basic frames, like you’re building the foundation of a house, and they take it from there.”
It’s especially exciting for a player like Cook, who retired from music for a few decades to raise his son and start his own contracting and catering businesses. Now in his 50s, he said, “Things change, life moves forward, and that’s freed up the time for me to pursue music. I wanted to see if I could do something to it.”
And, for the past year or so, that’s meant not only getting back into shape, musically speaking, and forming the band, but also finding the audience for it. And, he said, that audience is encouragingly younger than he expected.
“The people my age, give or take a decade, would dig it,” said Cook. “But it’s great playing to packed crowds and seeing guys and girls in their 20s filling the dance floor. That makes me feel like we’re on to something.”
John Cook performs at the Roadhouse Inn, 2200 New Falls Road, in Levittown on Thursday, Nov. 12, at 9 p.m. For information, visit www.reverbnation.com/johncookmusician.