Dick is one of The Cooper Brothers - a local band that hit the spotlight in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s; a band that made the U.S. charts. And Dick, my neighbour, wrote that great hit song (and most of their songs) The Dream Never Dies. It went on to win a music award in 1980 as one of the most-performed songs on U.S. radio. I didn't live on my street then, but I certainly knew the song. Who didn't? And today, more than 30 years later, even I remember the lyrics. The song that my rock-star neighbour says was like "manna from heaven."
"It was the easiest song I ever wrote," recalls Dick with a grin. "I woke up in the middle of the night, wrote it down, and went back to bed. I still get royalties from that song."
Do a quick YouTube search and you can watch a live performance of the song recorded in 1986 at the Civic Centre. The fan comments are plentiful - many remarking on the great staying power of this classic song. Says one follower: "Best Canadian song ever! Aw heck, best country song ever."
Not bad for an Ottawa boy and his younger brother. Not bad, given their only real training came from their Dad who showed them three chords on the guitar and then told them they were on their own.
It started in the usual fashion. They were teenage boys playing in teenage bands. But, by 1974, they'd begun to make a name for themselves as a cover band, playing music by Paul McCartney, The Eagles and the like. Then in 1977 Brian and Dick took what Dick calls a leap of faith. They began playing their own music and were signed to a recording contract with Atlanta-based Capricorn Records.
"It was like winning the lottery," says Dick. "Suddenly we were on tour with all our heroes." At the height of the glory days, they shared the stage with big names like the Doobie Brothers and Joe Cocker. Dick remembers one memorable gig in Alabama when, after a couple of songs, he realized the entire audience was singing along with them.
"Two thousand kilometres from home and they knew all the words," he says incredulously. "And I just thought, ‘How cool is this?'"
By 1983, the dream did die - at least temporarily. Capricorn Records fell apart and, not long after, so did the Cooper Brothers' time in the limelight. Dick and Brian moved on with their lives, got day jobs, had families. Dick barely even picked up his guitar.
"Whenever I had a nine-to-five thing," he explains, "it was like the music faucet turned off."
He turned his passion for writing music into other kinds of writing - he worked as a writer for TV and film, which led to writing for video games. All the while, he thought about writing a book based on the journals he kept when the band was on the road. Four years ago, he released Jukebox, a novel about an ex-rock star and his attempt to ease back into "normal" life. And though Dick insists "the main character is not me," he does admit to having lived some of the craziness in the book. "You can't make this stuff up," he quips.
2006 turned out to be a watershed year. A Cooper Brothers' "Best of" CD of the was compiled and released by Pacemaker/EMI. So the boys threw a release party at The Prescott hotel. As Dick tells it, it was supposed to be private. But word got out.
"We showed up to do our sound check at five in the afternoon, the place was packed and there was a lineup down the street," he laughs. "So we thought - hey, we still have a few fans."
The Cooper Brothers were back. They played here and there. They opened for James Taylor at Bluesfest in front of a 25,000-strong crowd. More importantly, Dick's musical faucet turned back on. That summer of 2007, just a few houses down from mine, he sat in his backyard and pumped out more than 20 songs after a two-decade hiatus. The new album (recorded in Nashville) was christened In From the Cold because, as Dick explains, "Being in real jobs and out of the music world . . . that was like being banished to Siberia."
For Dick, music is once again all around him. Whether he's teaching his Algonquin College songwriting class (where the kids think it's "pretty cool to have some old rocker up there teaching"), or playing head coach of the Ottawa chapter of The League of Rock to help the hidden adult musical population get out of the basement and onto the stage, this is one happy rock and roller. He's back in from the cold. As Dick's own song says, "those rock-and-roll cowboys, are on the road again!"