John Byrne Cooke
John Byrne Cooke experienced the 1960s counterculture from the inside- through the music. During the folk boom of the early sixties, John played guitar and sang with the bluegrass band The Charles River Valley Boys. His friends and contemporaries included Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Bob Neuwirth and others who found a musical home at the legendary Club 47 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Recording two albums with the CRVB, he went on to perform with them on and off for sixty years, from Cambridge to Berkeley, the UK to The Newport and Big Sur Folk Festivals.
When rock and roll displaced folk music, John was in the right place at the right time. As a member of D.A. Pennebaker's film crew at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, he helped document the performances that made Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix stars. A few months later, when Albert Grossman signed on to manage Janis and her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, he hired John to be their road manager. Other than stalwart friend and guitarist Sam Andrew, John is the only person to have traveled with all three of Janis's bands from 1967 until her untimely death in 1970.
During his time on the road, in addition to the challenges of performing and, later, managing a group of notoriously unmanageable musicians, John assumed the roles of photographer & filmmaker, visual artist and documentarian. His backstage presence and eye for moments of significance helped him capture what have become iconic images of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, the Chambers Brothers, the Butterfield Blues Band, Leonard Cohen and, of course, Janis Joplin. His films include fascinating glimpses of the Newport Folk Festival, the 1968 Big Sur Folk Festival and, perhaps most poignantly, a rare and intimate view of Janis’s tours of Europe and Hawaii, backstage at Woodstock, moments with her friends, her bandmates, her family members, and at her childhood home in Port Arthur, Texas.
After the exhilarating highs of the sixties and seventies, John moved on to a quieter life in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in 1982. It was there that he wrote his detailed historical novels about the old west, penned his 2014 memoir “On The Road with Janis Joplin,” and continued to play music, study acting, hit the ski slopes and love the great outdoors of his chosen home. John Byrne Cooke passed away in September 2017, having played a quiet but significant role in the history of American music, art and literature, and leaving a legacy, the richness of which continues to be revealed.