He grew up in Stafford and began playing the harmonica as a child. Aged 12 he switched to clarinet before mastering guitar, flute and saxophone. His initial influences were American jazz musicians and in 1963 he formed the Climax Jazz Band. He first recorded in 1965 as vocalist for the Hipster Image. Their Decca single Can’t Let Her Go/Make Her Mine was not a 60s hit, yet when Make Her Mine was used to advertise Levi jeans in Japan in 1999, the song became a hit across much of Asia.
Cooper assembled the Climax Chicago Blues Band in 1967 with Stafford-born guitarist Peter Haycock and keyboardist Arthur Wood. Signed to Parlophone, they issued their eponymous debut album in 1968. Critics suggested they were another group of white Englishmen playing black American blues – though their 1969 Plays On showed them experimenting with space rock, Latin fusion and jazzy arrangements.
In 1970 came A Lot Of Bottle, while 1971’s Tightly Knit saw them adding elements of country blues. Signing to Sire Records in the US, they worked with New York producer Richard Gottehrer, who tightened and brightened their sound, and they became more popular in the US than Britain. By the mid-1970s they were drawing crowds of up to 20,000 at US concerts.
In 1972 Wood left the band and they continued as a quartet, dropping Chicago from their name. In 1973 the FM/Live album captured them at their most raucous and rocking – Cooper was a striking performer, tall, tan and laconic with long black hair held in place by a headband, eyes hidden behind sunglasses. He sang and played several instruments. By the mid-70s Cooper was shifting the band’s emphasis into a slicker style that showed the influence of contemporary soul and funk.
The arrival of punk rock in Britain found the band rejected as old fashioned, but in the US they remained popular, enjoying a hit with I Love You in 1981. By now the band had left their blues roots behind and attempted to become a mainstream pop-rock band.
In 1984 Haycock left acrimoniously because of the new musical direction. Cooper kept the band recording and touring, but after the commercial failure of the Drastic Steps album (1988) he focused on re-establishing them in Europe. The live concert album Blues from the Attic (1994) was well received and in 2003 the band issued Big Blues (The Songs of Willie Dixon). But it is Couldn’t Get It Right that remains a favorite of retro radio and 70s-themed TV and films.
They released 18 albums, and their hit singles include “Couldn’t Get It Right” and “I Love You”. They performed at major concerts and festivals around the world, including Glastonbury and a 25-date German tour with the Godfather of British Blues, John Mayall.
Colin Cooper sadly lost his battle with cancer on July 3, 2008. He was 69