Humans: Meet Dick Cooper from the Cooper Brothers

Dick poses for a photo with his guitar.
Wellington West resident Dick Cooper is the founding member of the Cooper Brothers. Photo by Charlie Senack.

By Charlie Senack 

When people describe Richard Cooper, better known as Dick, they paint the picture of a man whose main goal in life is to share his talent and music with the world. 

Before becoming an international sensation with the Cooper Brothers, the Wellington West resident’s life started on Bell Street in what is now part of Chinatown. 

“It was a pretty poor neighbourhood at the time. Early on we looked at music as getting us off the street,” Cooper told KT. “I think a lot of the reason we pursued music is it could maybe get us out of Ottawa.”

And that it did. But success was not immediate. 

The band released their first single in 1973 and it went nowhere. The next year, local rock legend Les Emmerson from The Five Man Electrical Band helped the country rock group release two singles, but they only saw local recognition. 

In the late 1970s, Cooper and his band members got their moment to shine after signing with Capricorn Records, which helped the Allman Brothers rise to fame. Two of the Cooper Brothers’ albums sold well with “The Dream Never Dies”, “Show Some Emotion” and “I’ll Know Her When I See Her”, charting on the Billboard Hot 100. 

Reflecting back on that time in his life, Cooper said the national and international success was a whirlwind experience. 

“You get to meet your heroes and sometimes that is a good thing and sometimes that’s a bad thing. We played some big places, we had a festival in Tampa where there were 60,000 people,” Cooper recounted. “We played with all the southern rock acts like The Outlaws which was pretty cool. We toured with The Birds and we opened for the Doobie Brothers [and] Charlie Daniels.”

Capricorn Records folded in 1980, which forced the Cooper Brothers to pivot. 

After the band broke up, Cooper turned his attention to another passion: script writing. He landed a job at CJOH TV (now known as CTV) and began working on the hit Nickelodeon show You Can’t Do That on Television. Soon after, he began creating and directing other shows like High School Confidential and Denim Blues. 

A screen grab from the Denim Blues opening titles showing Cooper’s name.
Cooper produced a show on CJOH TV called ‘Denim Blues’. YouTube screenshot.

“That was tough because there was no infrastructure [for television production] back then. It’s not like now where you can phone the city and get a permit,” Cooper said. “We were making it up as we were going along. Sandra Oh was in it along with Tyley Ross.”

In addition to his television writing, Cooper became a creative director at Ottawa-based video game developer Artech Studios in 1997. There he ranked up the credits on over 50 video games, including Family Feud, Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune, Monopoly and Star Wars. 

The Cooper Brothers formed again in 2006 and have been performing music ever since. They are getting set to perform a 50th anniversary show at Centerpointe’s Meridian Theatre in April. 

For the past 10 years, Cooper has also been teaching at Algonquin College in music, media, and film foundations. 

“It’s writing for the media which is what I’ve done all my life,” he said. “I wrote the course. It’s based on my life.”

Mike Wood, a friend of Cooper’s who teaches with him at Algonquin, said he’s always inspiring students to take their craft to the next level. 

“The students have always known that he is great at what he does, and he’s there to mentor them and help guide them as they take their own direction into careers,” said Wood. “He truly is the nicest human being on the face of the earth. The students feel like we have a bit of a rivalry but that’s just to keep the class entertaining.”

In 2023, Cooper helped release three albums. They include: A Million Pieces by Sherri Harding, Everything Now by JW-Jones and Dream Job by Jeff Rogers. 

Sherri and dick pose for a photograph on a couch. Their are plans in the background. She’s holding a guitar.
Sherri Harding and Dick Cooper have been involved in Ottawa’s music scene for decades. File photo by Zenith Wolfe

Harding, a Carlington resident, met Cooper in 2017 when an Ottawa rock band was looking for a backup singer. The two became instant friends and started to work on an album together. 

“He basically took it [my career] to another level for me. Dick is very generous with his talents and he’s sought after,” said Harding. “It was cool to be in the studio with people I admired and have them believe in what I could bring to the table.” 

Cooper wrote the 10 songs on Harding’s album — the first time in his career writing from a female perspective. The duo then traveled to Muscle Shoals, Alabama for a five-day recording session.

Since Harding’s album was released, she’s performed sold-out shows, including at the Gladstone Theatre near Little Italy last March. 

JW-Jones met Cooper around 2015, and said the Wellington West resident was able to help better some of the songs he was writing. 

“What I loved working with Dick out of the gate was he brought to life a bunch of songs for me in the sense he was able to package the lyrics and ideas I had in a better way. He’s an incredible songwriter,” Jones told KT. 

Jones has already had an impressive career. The Blues artist hit the Billboard top 10, was nominated for a Juno, and in 2020, won the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. 

The three albums in a row.
The three albums Cooper released in 2023. Provided.

Cooper helped write nine of the 11 songs on his latest record. 

“He made some pretty important career decisions come true for me. He brought some things to light I don’t think I could have done without him,” said Jones. “Dick helped me unlock a few topics from my childhood [and] growing up under very different circumstances. There is a lot of trust in this stuff because people have very different ideas when it comes to lyrics and words and how it’s being portrayed.”

While Cooper is grateful for the career he’s had, the guitar player and singer said it isn’t all about the talent. Luck, he says, is what helps many make it. 

“The fact I’m still doing what I love after all these years I think is an accomplishment. Most people would go and get a real job,” he said. “I think at a different time we might have had a little more success. It’s not an easy business. I know some amazing musicians who have never had any success at all. Part of it is just the right place at the right time with the right song and look.”

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