If you are reading this article, you have probably been moved by Andy Coco, a renaissance man of St. Louis media and music.
First, if you are a fan of live music, it is likely Coco’s groovy, contrapuntal bass lines have caused your caboose to undulate at any number of live shows over the last couple of decades in funk-soul outfits including Gumbohead, Hip Grease, Dogtown Allstars and the Service.
Coco has also no doubt affected you with his work on KDHX, if not directly as the DJ of The Rhythm Section, on every Friday at noon, playing organic, funky groove music for the last 21 years, then by his (recently ended) two-decade tenure as the radio station’s director of production and technology, which involved training the other DJs and making the tech work behind the scenes.
You’ve likely also attended events like Schlafly’s Art Outside Festival or the Full Moon Festival, produced by Dogtown Records and Entertainment, the company Coco founded and has run since 2014, a label for which Coco also produces, engineers and mixes recordings, many out of his home studio in, yes, Dogtown.
Or perhaps you have even heard Coco’s silky baritone on audiobooks such as Eric Von Schrader’s recent A Universe Less Traveled speculative fiction series. Or, hell, there’s a reasonable chance Coco was in your wedding band.
You know the guy. Wavy black hair, often pulled back in a ponytail. Soul patch. Glasses. Huge hands. Almost always flashing an infectiously toothy smile while playing the bass. If you’re into music and you live in St. Louis, you can’t avoid him — nor would you want to.
The 53-year-old Coco is a blisteringly intelligent guy, given to spontaneous philosophical or scientific discourses that, as I sit in his living room, took firm grips on the sofa just to keep up with. Take his thoughts on the idea of perfect pitch: “The whole muscular reality is that you have a relative knowledge of your resonant chambers. I’m talking to you right now at probably about an F-sharp just below C, which is based on how I resonate, how this room resonates. It’s physics. It’s all these resonating chambers and diaphragms that are perceiving vibration.”
Such science-nerd pontification about music comes naturally to Coco. He was raised by a chemist father and a church-organ-playing mother, a genetic and environmental cocktail that led to Coco splitting his time between using his mathematical mind to run sound for high school theater productions and using his innate musical ability to rock out in high school cover bands. After a high school English teacher encouraged him to learn Beatles songs on an acoustic guitar, Coco later switched to bass to fill an opening in a local rock band and has been a bass-slinger ever since. Coco would later take his skills to Miami University in Ohio, where he explored chemistry, sound engineering, theatrical arts, rocking out in frat-party bands and dealing pot.
It’s easy to see Coco in all of these roles, as he still exudes a cool hippie-rocker’s vibe, a stoner’s grin, a fierce alacrity for figuring out how things work and a music nerd’s enthusiasm for deep dives into fandom. At one point, he sidetracks rhapsodically to the new deluxe editions of the Doors’ L.A. Woman and Morrison Hotel albums currently resting on his turntable sets. “It’s after they got off tour and brought their equipment into their rehearsal space,” he explains. “And they are just fucking around, and it’s just so badass.”
In this way, Coco is deeply moved by music and loves to be a part of the process of moving others. It is another subject that sends him in philosophical, even metaphysical, directions. “The best gigs you ever play are when there is a union of physicality going on, when everyone is vibrating together,” he says. “That’s as close to a real spiritual truth as I have.”
Again, Coco’s scientific mind blends deeper physical laws with a type of spirituality connecting a visceral reaction to music to organic forces that control nature. “If I’m going to worship something, it’s Mother Earth,” he says. “That means more to me in terms of giving life, giving birth, having genetic code to offer, having structure to offer, having reasons that things happen, consequence, gravity.”
Coco has lots of stories to tell. After college, he worked for Club Med in Mexico and France wearing a variety of hats — DJ, sound engineer for shows, singer of songs on stage, even amateur trapeze artist. Later, he gravitated to St. Louis, where his father had by then relocated for a job with Purina. After a stint with a local ad agency, which Coco admits was not an ideal ethical fit for him, he took the job at KDHX, a subject that causes him to turn more sullen.
“I resigned in protest a year and a half ago. It still breaks my heart,” Coco says, of what he sees as the current leadership failures that have squandered the opportunities he helped build at KDHX, including the station’s move to its current Grand Center home. “We were supposed to be like Austin City Limits or World Cafe. We were supposed to be partnering with PBS.
“KDHX was on that path,” he says. “It’s so, so sad. I’m so angry and traumatized by what could be, and what died.”
Since leaving KDHX, Coco has expanded his work as a producer, extending Dogtown Records’ reach, working regularly in New Orleans as a sound engineer, and he’s busier than ever as one of St. Louis’s most respected musicians, gigging regularly with Sean Canan’s Voodoo Players, performing in bands like the Rolling Stones tribute Street Fighting Band and rediscovering his own solo-guitar voice as Andy Coco & Co.
His latest project is Andy Coco’s NOLA Funk and R&B Revue, built specifically for a residency at Broadway Oyster Bar, currently held the first Thursday of each month. “Oyster Bar needs a band that you’d expect at the Oyster Bar,” he says of the Revue, which is made up of a rotating group of area heavyweights including keyboardist Nathan Hershey, guitarist Dave Black, saxophonist Charlie Cerpa and drummer Mike Murano.
Throughout, Coco wears his inspirations on his sleeves. Or just under them. On his upper right arm, he has a tattoo of his mother’s signature, a tribute to his first musical influence. On his left arm is a tattoo of a bass clef symbol, a reminder to remain intentional with his relationship to music making.
“I just love it,” he says of generating those musical vibrations. “It makes me feel present. The more I can do it the better,” a sentiment spoken like the musical maven of intellectual and spiritual richness that Andy Coco is, a mind and body continually on the move.
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