BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
Butch Walker tweeted that Alex Cooley was “an ATL legend” and said he attended his first concert – KISS – because he saw a TV spot with Cooley promoting it.
The band Kansas and Bonnie Bramlett posted condolences on social media – all reminders of Cooley’s wide-spanning musical touch.
Even former President Jimmy Carter provided a comment to the AJC.
“Georgia has lost a great promoter, and I have lost a great friend. His generosity extended well beyond the music industry. He will be missed.”
Tuesday’s death of Cooley, 75, the Atlanta concert promoter considered an icon in the music industry, spawned tributes and tears, but mostly memories of his immense influence.
Live Nation Atlanta president Peter Conlon, Cooley’s longtime friend and business partner, recalled more stories about the man he said taught him everything he knows, such as those midnight concerts Cooley used to produce at the Fox Theatre – “Alex’s rock shows saved the Fox,” Conlon said – and the benefit concerts that aided Carter’s primary election run in the ‘70s.
Cooley was also instrumental in the launch of Billy Joel’s career. He booked the fledgling piano man at the 1972 Mar y Sol Pop Festival in Puerto Rico. After the set, a man walked up to Joel, handed him a business card, and said, “Call me.” It was Columbia Records President Clive Davis.
Cooley’s credibility with music acts such as James Taylor helped the resurgence of Chastain Park Amphitheatre, which had been shut down after an early ‘70s concert by Canadian country rockers Great Speckled Bird angered those in the neighborhood.
“What Alex did always looked easy and it’s just so hard,” Conlon said. “If everybody could do this, they would.”
Here is what some others in the Atlanta music industry had to say in remembrance of Cooley.
Alex Cooley forever changed the landscape of the Atlanta music scene. He is a legend. We will miss his kindness, spirit, and commitment to live music. For me, he will always be one of the greatest music men in Georgia music history.
- Emily Saliers, the Indigo Girls
Alex Cooley was a rare bird, a maverick, and even as the old boys of the industry were growing stale, Alex kept his edge and his energy for music. He was a true fan as well as a promoter and that is what it takes to bring the music to the people.
- Amy Ray, the Indigo Girls
Alex was always so kind to me. I heard his name in radio advertisements for years promoting my favorite artists before I ever met him. If there are sides in the music business, Alex was always on the side of the artist. He has always represented to me the voice of the artist, even in the middle of the business.
- Kristian Bush, Sugarland
Alex Cooley turned the lights on in this city. He curated the scene by bringing in touring acts of all genres. Literally, the biggest ‘name’ musical acts (Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix) to the most counter culture underground bands (Sex Pistols) which sparked a musical fire throughout the southeast. As a result of the talent he brought to town and the thriving musical nightlife it spawned, Atlanta became a lush breeding ground for international and local bands alike. Alex Cooley’s unending love and support for music woke up this sleepy little southern town. Thank you, Alex.
- Michele Caplinger, senior executive director of the Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter
I’ve known Alex since 1975, when I started working at 96 Rock/WKLS. Working with Alex and his staff over the years was one of the highlights of my career, when the music business and rock and roll were on fire! Think about all of the great shows he brought to Atlanta, whether it was at the Electric Ballroom, The Fox, The Omni, Champagne Jams and many, many others. He made this city ROCK! The Stones at the Fox in 1978, and tickets were only $10! He helped save the Fox. He loved what he did, he loved the music, and he loved people, and animals, especially dogs. Alex and I have remained friends for all of these years and I am honored to call Alex Cooley my friend. He was a gentle giant with a huge heart. He will always have a special place in my heart. And I know I will see him again…until that day, I love you, mean it, Alex!
- Deborah Garner, former director of program services at 96 Rock/WKLS
When I started in the business in 1987 fresh out of college, Alex was already an icon but he always treated me like I mattered. Having the opportunity to interact with Alex has made a huge difference in my career and life. It was a huge privilege and honor to have the opportunity to hear his experiences and stories.
When we recently had Dead and Company it brought back great memories of Alex. As you will recall, we used to host the Grateful Dead at The Omni each spring. I remember Alex spending the entire ingress at the main gate watching the fans come in the building. He truly cared about all aspects of the fan experience. With the Grateful Dead shows, counterfeit tickets were a major concern and I can remember comparing the good ones with the bad ones with Alex. He will be missed.
- Trey Feazell, senior vice president and general manager for Philips Arena
Alex Cooley was a giant in concert promotion and a real inspiration. He put Atlanta on the concert map and was guided by a love of live music while enhancing the fan experience his whole career. He will be sorely missed.
- Steve Harris, founder of The Variety Playhouse
He always liked to talk about politics. I always like to talk to him about music. Peter Conlon was the money guy, he put the deals together. Alex was into the music. (When he brought the Sex Pistols to town) that (ticked) a lot of people off. There were protests! He made sure Atlanta became a place acts had to go to.
- Tom Houck, Atlanta media commentator and political activist
Special thanks to former 96 Rock-er Steve Mitchell (aka Steve Ingold) for providing these videos he produced of Cooley. The first is a beautiful memorial compilation and the second is never-before-seen footage of Cooley talking about Piedmont Park in 2007.
Staff writers Rodney Ho and Bo Emerson contributed to this story.