The City of Brotherly Love claims this early blues artist as one of its own, yet birth records for Robert Cooksey are a trifle sketchy. Not so his harmonica style, which was pretty much his own and quite a contrast to the country blues norm. Foregoing the wail of wahs-wahs and the shrieks of overblown high notes, Cooksey cooked up a simple-and-clear folk broth that some critics have identified as the source of Bob Dylan's harmonica technique, while others resent the presence of Dylan's name and the words "harmonica" and "technique" in the same sentence. Clearly, Dylan was inspired by the duo of Cooksey and guitarist Bobby Leecan, one of the main settings that the harmonica player recorded in during the '20s. Cooksey and Leecan created a musical blend between blues, vaudeville, and jazz on a series of tracks cut for the Victor label. There is a wonderful blend between the harmonica and the cornet of Thomas Morris on some of the recordings from this period, musical magic that literally glows with its symbolic mingling of jazz and blues styles.
Cooksey also recorded some duo numbers with guitarist Alfred Martin which have been mistakenly credited to Leecan. The earliest dates for the harmonica man in the studio was the spring of 1924, when he backed up blues singer Viola McCoy on sessions for Vocalion. That puts him within months of the very first recording of harmonica ever made, the Clara Smith recording "My Doggone Lazy Man," which featured harmonica player Herbert Leonard. "West Indies Blues" was the memorable title Cooksey cut with the dramatic but very real McCoy. The following year, he backed up Sara Martin on an Okeh day in the studio. It was two years later when he finally teamed up with Leecan, who also played some guitar and even a bit of kazoo. One of their records has been chosen as a kind of anthem for blues record collectors, who always think they "Need More Blues." Cooksey's several recorded features on harmonica have found their way into compilation collections of early recordings on the tiny axe, such as Harmonica Blues and Harmonica Masters. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi