Charlie Cooper, of Germantown, and his popular Humbleman Band have been playing local gigs for 24 years, but right now the 70-ish musician just feels lucky to be alive.
Just a few months after the COVID-19 pandemic began in March of 2020, Cooper began experiencing the widely publicized symptoms of coronavirus — a fever that eventually hit 102.5, fatigue, achiness, nausea, vomiting, blotches on the skin, loss of appetite, headaches and “COVID toe.”
“Psychologically I felt like I had the plague,” he said. “I don't recall ever feeling so sick in my life! My primary care doctor and the doctor in the emergency room were both confident that I had COVID.”
Eventually, however, many tests revealed that Cooper had Lyme disease, not COVID. He was put on antibiotics, and he recovered.
On Saturday, Aug. 12, three years after that scary episode, Cooper and his band of Mt. Airy and Germantown musicians will take the stage at Mermaid Inn for the first time since the pandemic. Singer/songwriter Abi Reimold will also perform.
Ironically, Cooper did contract COVID in October 2022, but he had been double-vaccinated and triple-boosted, so the case was relatively mild.
“Like most of the world, the band completely shut down all shows when COVID hit,” Cooper said. “We stopped rehearsing. Six people in one basement was too much. I know some other musicians and other artists used the shutdown to work up new material, but I wasn’t one of those. I wrote very little and found very little inspiration. It really took us some time to regroup as a band.
“When we did try to resume playing after things died down a bit, we scheduled shows in the spring and summer of last year but wound up having to cancel them again because of more COVID cases.”
Cooper, who is also a self-taught IT professional for 35 years, including two decades at the University of Pennsylvania until he retired in 2019, taught himself to play the guitar because he was so obsessed with music in the ‘60s, his teen years. He learned by getting over a false start with a guitar teacher who wanted him to learn “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Cooper wanted to learn “The Times They Are A Changin',” by Bob Dylan.
“Sometime later,” he said, “I acquired a piano and started finding my way around it. I moved on to acoustic guitar. Every step of the way, piano, guitar, I ran into musicians who would graciously show me chords, patterns and songs and encourage me to play. I still find that to be the case to this day. I have found musicians to generally be quite generous in sharing their knowledge. I also studied music theory on my own, which helped tremendously in finding my musical way.”
The Humbleman Band has performed many times at Mermaid Inn, often with the late, great Richard Drueding, of Mt. Airy. They've played bars around town and lots of block parties, street festivals, private parties and fund-raisers. “At some gigs there were more people in the band than there were in the audience,” Cooper said.
“Others were just so exciting, so happening, so much fun. It’s been a great ride! Drueding, God rest his soul, let us open up for him a few times at Mermaid Inn around 2000 until we got our own thing going. We tried bars in Center City a few times but were never able to pull folks in there.”
At the Aug. 12 gig, the band will play some of their own compositions, as well as covers from Etta James, Sly Stone, Gil Scott-Heron (who lived in Germantown), Amy Winehouse and others.The band will also perform on Labor Day, Sept. 2, at Gorgas Park in Roxborough and Sept. 8 at Dawson Street Pub in Manayunk. Their music has been on Spotify, but they have now assembled almost all of their music onto the DIY (Do It Yourself) music site, Bandcamp.com, and they have a channel on YouTube for their videos.
The band will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 12. For more information, visit humbleman.bandcamp.com. The Mermaid Inn is at 7673 Germantown Ave. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org