Cheryl Cooley, AKA the baddest guitarist in the music industry, began taming the melodic instrument at eleven-years-creative. She studied music composition, orchestration and arrangements while attending Crenshaw high school in Los Angeles, California. She earned a degree in commercial music at Los Angeles Community College.
Even before then, Cooley kinda stumbled into her profession as a musician.
“From the time that I was 2 years old, every other Christmas, I would get a toy guitar. Some years later, my sister was married to a Jazz musician by the name of Hubert Laws. During that time, he was a touring musician. He had his guitar, and I had my toy. We both pulled our guitars out and started playing. My sister jumped up and said, ‘Hey, why don’t we get Cheryl some guitar lessons!’ From that point on, I had a real guitar,” laughed Cooley.
While embarking on the musical journey was fortuitous, Cooley continued to create melodies with the strum of her fingers. She jammed with local bands in the area. One day, while rehearing for a gig in Hollywood, circa 1979, Cooley was approached by up-and-coming members from KLYMAXX—They wanted Cooley to perform with them. Although Cooley was hesitant, she did it. They were poaching, no doubt. But, right place and right time, they scored a musician, and Cooley joined a new tribe. Cooley rocked out so smoothly with the band that the girls made her the musical director.
Bernadette Cooper founded KLYMAXX in 1979, with original vocalist, Lorena Porter Shelby, guitarist Cheryl Cooley, bassist Joyce Irby, in addition to keyboardists Lynn Malsby and Robbin Grider. However, the group didn’t catch their cut the check moment until the late 80’s.
Don’t get it twisted, when KLYMAXX broke into the industry, it was legendary. They were the first self-produced, all-female Pop/R&B band. Not to mention, each member played an instrument, that contributed to their success for chart toppers like I Miss You, Meeting in the Ladies Room, and that cold classic, The Men All Pause.
I Miss You, that track still emits proverbial breakup vibes, butterflies and all that emotional baggage from the 80's-- If that song doesn't give you the feels, then you are definitely a millennial.
I Miss You
As for Meeting in the Ladies Room, it was a product of an almost-cat-fight that never took place.
“Midnight Starr actually wrote that for KLYMAXX because we were under the same record label at the time. As the story goes, one of the guys from Midnight Starr was at a club with his girlfriend, and one of the girls from KLYMAXX saw him and went over, grabbed, hugged and kissed him because she was happy to see him. The girlfriend got up from the table and walked to the ladies’ room because she was upset. He said, “That would be a great idea for meeting in the ladies’ room.”
Meeting in the Ladies Room
Cooley said that her most memorable performance is at a venue in Los Angeles called the Forum
“I went there for there for the very first time to see The Jackson 5. I always dreamed about playing there. About 10 years later, it closed, and I didn’t think I’d get to play there. Ironically, it reopened 10 years later. I actually got a chance to perform there about 3 or 4 years ago. For me, that was a dream come true to perform at the Fabulous Forum where the Lakers used to play. They remodeled it and everything. They built it just for me,“ chuckled Cheryl.
KLYMAXX released their first album, Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman (1981), and Cheryl Cooley wrote the breakout single from the album, that got them their record deal.
The group released Girls Will be Girls (1982), Girls in the Band (1983) Meeting the Ladies Room (1984) KLYMAXX (1986) The Maxx is Back (1990), and One Day (1994). These chicks traveled through time with passion still as the focal point for their careers.
The Men All Pause reached #5 on the R&B chart, #80 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart, with the single reaching #59 in the Hot 100 and #4 on The R&B chart. Unbelievably, that’s Cooley’s favorite song to perform. Their third single, which is “I Miss You,” that did numbers. It ranked #5 in the Hot 100 #1 and #11 on the R&B chart. It regulated at the #1 spot on the Adult Contemporary Chart and was certified gold.
“It was more challenging being in an all-female band, than being an all-female artist,” Cooley explained. “A lot of people said it wouldn’t work and that we wouldn’t get along. They said all those different things, but we didn’t know we were supposed to, not succeed. We kept persevering and pushing forward. We enjoyed playing with each other. It was a fun idea to be in an all-girl band. One thing led to the next for our success,” she talked about the challenges of breaking into a doubtful music industry.
“Being in a vocal group, you have to mix together each other’s wants and needs. One vocalist may not be able to sing a specific note range, another vocalist should be able to take over and support that. It’s like a seesaw. Everybody should have his or her strengths and weaknesses. You really must learn what’s needed to make the whole unit strong and successful. It’s not about the ego because the ego will eventually erode the foundation. It’s supporting each individual person, each individual part, and each individual instrument, to make the entire unit strong."
Cooley can school just about anyone who’s trying to get into the business whether it’s a vocalist or a musician. However, even with all that knowledge, she said that she’s still learning things herself. She’s teachable and never misses an opportunity to learn.
“I never want to feel or think that I’ve learned it all. There’s always something new. The music business is so different than it was back in the day. It almost reinvents itself every six months. We must learn something new. I’ve trained many years, and there are times that if you don’t use what you know, you forget it. Then, you must relearn it again. I’m still in contact with my high school boyfriend, who’s currently a high school music teacher. There was a chord structure I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember the specific theoretical formula for it. I had to call him and get help. If you don’t use it, you lose it. It’s still there, but you must exercise that memory, and it comes back to you.”
Cooley along with band members from KLYMAXX, released an empowering tribute called 4 Woman as well as the single, Love Me. Both singles embrace the elements of funk, while cradling neo soul harmoniously.
“I’m always going to be a Funkateer. I’m going to raise both hands or even one. That’s always going to be my foundation,” says Cooley when asked about her drive to make music and more importantly, the newer sounds enjoyable for new and older generations.
“You must listen to the music that’s out, now, or watch the dance floor to see what people are gravitating to; and, when you marry those elements, that keeps the vibe of the music fresh. You want to watch how your audience reacts to certain songs. Then, you piece those pieces of the puzzle together to create more, new and different music. If you keep creating the same music, it doesn’t grow. If you don’t learn, you eventually die. You die spiritually, you die mentally, and the world will pass you by.”
“When you think about music in the fifties, they probably were horrified with how things were in the seventies,” says Cooley. “Music is going to evolve. There are many music spirits like me who are just really into music knowing that there is so much more out there that can be done with music. We are the people that scream and holler, 'No! Start over. You need to put more oomph into it.' Nowadays, it’s one groove for the whole song. Back in the day you had the AABA formula. You had the chorus, you had the verse, you had bridge. Now, you have one groove through the whole thing, and the only thing you’ve changed is the lyrics. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll have more than three notes in the melody.”
Cooley said that musical substance is more lackluster opposed to the way it was back in the day.
“When they took music out of the schools, many people couldn’t afford music lessons. They couldn’t buy or rent the instruments. They no longer had the opportunity to make music more creative. They had to learn it on their own—Get a boom box, push a few buttons. Then, voila, they have a song. That’s all they knew and unfortunately, the creativity of music has suffered because the financial backing of music has suffered.”
According to Cooley, working with Howard Hewett was the best collabo that she’s ever done while with the group KLYMAXX for single I'd Still Say Yes. The song took KLYMAXX to dimensional ranges that stretched them to be the best vocalist and musicians that they could be.
As for their now, Cooley said that social media plays a role in the marketing component for KLYMAXX. But, Facebook is her downfall because she’s hooked like the rest of us.
If you want to keep up with the beautiful Cheryl Cooley and the lovely ladies of KLYMAXX follow them using links below.