Although his father was a Baptist preacher, Chuk Cooley said he probably spent more time in prison than in church. But his father's blending of the spiritual life and the desire to become a well-known musician was passed down to Chuk, and it took him decades to realize it and make it his own.
"I took on his dream," Cooley said. "He wanted to be a musician and a star. Then the kids came," he chuckled. But the adage that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree holds true for the Cooley family. Presently, every time Cooley finds himself onstage with his musical group, Chuk Cooley and the Demon Hammers, he is a performer and preacher, an exorcist of demons and exploder of eardrums.
The band uses its blend of heavy acoustic rock and southern twang as a vehicle for Cooley's life story and message. The band hopes to spread the message in its Second Annual Demon Hammer Halloween Bash, Saturday, Oct. 31.
As with many of his performances, Cooley often preaches onstage by speaking from personal experience. "A lot of music today has no message, and if it does it's hidden under gloss and it's hard to find," Cooley said.
Born in Wyoming and raised in Odessa Texas, Cooley's message was learned and earned the hard way. After surviving a life of drug addiction, several years in jail, and overdoses, Cooley has risen from the dilapidation of his former life to promote positivity and living in the here and now.
"Somehow his positive message rubbed off on me. The best part of him," Cooley said of his father. But do not confuse the optimism and emotional exoneration of the group's live set with the possibility of The Demon Hammers being a Christian band. With songs like "Drinkin', Religion, and Death" and "The Lost", the latter an auto-biographical tale of Cooley's descent into drug addiction, the band does not gloss over the dark side of life but examines it closely in hopes of sharing its weight with the listener and overcoming it.
"I kinda preach on a sinner level--not a Christian level," Cooley said. "[Our shows are] like going to church, but there's beer here."
Although surrounded by music as a child, Cooley did not learn to play guitar until he was imprisoned in Texas. All of his hardships and the mistakes of his youth became source material for, what Cooley calls, his "heart and soul anthems from the streets of hell." But he did not immediately begin performing his own compositions.
After being released from jail and returning to Tulsa, he performed in a handful of metal bands for well over a decade including, Hellablack and Berserkr, which included future Demon Hammer lead guitarist Tony Loretti. It was not until he turned down the amps, picked up an acoustic guitar and began performing his own songs that the proper chord was struck and his vision as an artist fell into place. The reaction from close friends was that he was on the path he should have been pursuing all along.
As Cooley hesitated about undertaking his personal musical ambitions, the assembly of The Demon Hammers backing band wasn't coming together quickly, either.
Cooley performed solo for some time before meeting bassist Sondra Davis, who also contributes flute to performances.
Later, he enlisted the help of long-time friend and ex-bandmate Loretti on lead guitar. After going through trial and error with several drummers, the trio added the final addition of another long-time friend Jester behind the drum kit.
The backing band's moniker came to Cooley simply enough. "Whatever you are fighting in your life, the demons that haunt you, you either punk out or become a demon hammer," he said.
Hardcore fans of the band have taken to calling themselves Die-Hards and Demonettes, making their own shirts, and traveling across state lines to see the band perform its anthemic heavy southern acoustic rock. Lucky for the devoted and uninitiated alike, the band often has a busy calendar performing more than 400 shows in Oklahoma and its bordering states since the band's formation. And there's plenty more to come.
"I'm not here to play for the same 10 people," Cooley said. "I'm here to play for the world."
After two years it seems that the world, regionally speaking, is listening and Chuk Cooley and the Demon Hammers are finally accumulating the recognition they deserve in Oklahoma and surrounding states.
Most recently, Cooley was nominated for the ABoT Best Male Vocalist, and the band successfully secured the 2009 ABoT Best Hard Rock Band award beating out the likes of national artists like Crooked X and Violence to Vegas. After hearing about the nomination, the band was at a loss according to Cooley.
"We were nominated with some bad ass bands." Asked how an all-acoustic band could secure the award for Best Hard Rock band, he simply remarked, "Because we were all metal heads, they considered us acoustic-metal."
The band has also branched out to video production, winning an award for Best Music Video at the Bare Bones Film Festival in Muskogee this year for the song "Black Jarr." The video experience has spurred Cooley to further explore the medium. He has since been invited to contribute to a local film project entitled Why I Love Tulsa, a feature film comprised of several short films by over two-dozen directors.
Halloween weekend finds Chuk Cooley and the Demon Hammers throwing its Second Annual Demon Hammer Halloween Bash at the Backyard Bar (1229 S. Memorial Dr.) on Saturday, Oct. 31. The performance will be a sort of homecoming for the band.
Earlier on, the band deemed the venue its home base in Tulsa but has not played there in more than six months. The evening includes a costume contest with a $100 prize, performances by Deep South Union and Whiskeydick, and the debut of Chuck Cooley and the Demon Hammers newest music video "Stomping Grounds." The song, Cooley said, is homage to Tulsa, a city that helped shape him and a place he cannot seem to get too far from.
"We dedicate this video to Tulsa. That's my town, that's my people," Cooley said. "Tulsa is where I wanna be."
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