A bluff by any other name

German band Coogan’s Bluff is looking forward to performing songs from their latest album in Israel, and to soaking up the sunshine.

German band Coogan’s Bluff 370 (photo credit: Hanna Drabon)
German band Coogan’s Bluff 370
(photo credit: Hanna Drabon)
Had they been a trio the members of the Coogan’s Bluff rock band from Germany might have had an altogether different name, taken from a very different Clint Eastwood movie.
“We didn’t start out as Coogan’s Bluff,” notes 30- year-old guitarist Willi Paschen, who will come here with the other members of the band to play at Uganda in Jerusalem this Monday and the Syrup Club in Haifa on Tuesday. “One day we saw the movie of that name by Clint Eastwood, and there was a song in it which sounded a lot like a melody of ours. We had a concert to do, and we needed a name for the band, so we took the title of the film.”
There were four people in the band at the time – there are now five – but, possibly, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Eastwood’s best known movie, might have provided an intriguing title for a threesome.
In fact the band started out as a duo, in 1998, comprising the then 15-year-old guitarist and his 12- year-old drummer brother Charlie. “I couldn’t play guitar and he couldn’t play drums. We started together,” recalls Paschen with a chuckle. “I think I knew two chords – A and E or G – and we played whatever pop songs we could manage.”
The band’s earliest musical ventures were hardly groundbreaking, and they got into grunge – inspired by Nirvana – and other mainstream sounds of the day, but all that changed when they started digging back into some of the sounds that were all the rage in a previous generation.
“We began listening to our parents’ records and we really liked [avant rock guitarist and composer Frank] Zappa and [experimental rock artist] Captain Beefheart,” explains Paschen. The latter’s visceral performing demeanor is front and center in the track of the same name released on the band’s 2012 album Poncho Express.
But it wasn’t just the music that attracted the Paschen brothers and their bass player Clemens Marasus, who joined the siblings in 2002. “Clemens was my brother’s best friend, and that was the first song he sang,” says Paschen. “Our singer had to leave the band, for personal reasons, and Clemens started to sing. We heard how he sang on Beefheart and we thought wow! So we decided to play more of that kind of music.”
The move into wilder and woolier musical areas was prompted both by Marasus’s vocal contributions and also by the addition of saxophonist Max Thum and trombonist Stefan Meinking. “When Clemens started to sing and the brass section joined we changed our sound, and moved into this new direction, like Beefheart,” Paschen continues. “We like the energy. It was very intense and interesting.”
The arrival of Thum and Meinking also left its mark on the way the band performs live, and the focus of attention during concerts. “Before they joined I used to do a lot of guitar solos,” says Paschen. “Guitar players, of course, like doing that, but when you have two more instruments, you have to listen to the melodies that the brass section is playing, and that makes things really interesting. The other interesting thing is that you can double the brass section and you get a really fat sound.”
The band is very much a collective and new material is created and worked on by all five musicians.
“We come up with something and then we jam together with the new song, to see how it develops,” says the guitarist. “Then we’ll have a gig and we’ll play new material at the gig. That is the best way to feel a new song, and to find out if the song works, and what is the best way to play it on stage.”
Paschen says that the Coogan’s Bluff gang believe strongly in going with the flow, and bringing whatever they choose to the fray. “The sax and trombone players have something sort of jazzy in them, and when we started working on Poncho Express we just said to each other ‘play what you want, just play and play.’ We all had space, and there were parts where we played solo and parts where we improvised. But, with the new album, we play more together.”
Coogan’s Bluff have been keeping busy, playing regular concerts across Europe, and over the last decade or so, during which they have put out four EPs and three CDs, with a new one due out in February.
Local audiences will get a taste of things to come from Coogan’s Bluff at the band’s Jerusalem and Haifa gig.
“We will be playing songs from the new album in Israel,” Paschen confirms. “We have been working on the new CD for a while and we are really excited about presenting the songs to the public. We will probably play four or five songs from the new album in Israel.”
The guitarist says he and his colleagues like to stay on their toes, and to keep things fresh. “We wanted to make a new album because we were getting a little bit bored with our old stuff. We are really looking forward to playing the new numbers in Israel. Also, it is also already cold in Berlin, and we are all looking forward to enjoying the sun in Israel.”
Not a bad deal for all concerned.