Speed Bumps, Detours and Destiny: Cheryl Cooley Talks about the Road to Pursuing Her Passion

Photos courtesy of the artist with permission to use

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Special Edition 2022 – I Belong

Cheryl Cooley is a music legend. She was born in Chicago, Ill., where her fascination with the electric guitar came to life. She is an original member of the legendary band Klymaxx. Cheryl still performs with Klymaxx all over the world today.

She has worked with superstar artists like Bruno Mars, Prince, Earth, Wind & Fire, Metallica, Chaka Khan, Sly and the Family Stone, BulletBoys, Chicago, Average White Band, Whitney Houston, Mint Condition, and many others. Guitar Girl Magazine was pleased to interview Cheryl about her experiences as a Black woman who plays lead guitar in the music industry, her gear, and her creative process. 

Tell us a little about yourself and how your journey as a musician and guitarist began.
First of all, let me say thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for Guitar Girl Magazine. I am honored to be part of such a great community of female musicians. I started taking guitar lessons at age 11. I was fascinated with music theory as I learned about it in school. Even though my parents tried to convince me that majoring in commercial music was not a good “stable job” career move, I received my music degree and followed what I enjoyed doing. 

During some downtime in my music journey, I became an electrician. Though it may have seemed like a detour in my music journey, it turned out to be training and knowledge on how to build my own rehearsal room. So I always encourage musicians that, even though it looks like a block in your music journey, when you look back at it from your future, it will all define itself as part of the steps of the trip.

Photos courtesy of the artist with permission to use

What sparked your passion for music? Why was the guitar the instrument of choice for you?
As a child born in Chicago, my parents always gave me a toy guitar every other Christmas. I was an only child at home after my older sister, 16 years older than me, went away to study choreography at Juilliard in New York City. So to entertain myself at times, I found it fascinating to watch bands on television because I always had my toy guitar near me. I knew then that that was what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Who are some artists and musicians who inspired your love for music?
Bruno Mars, Prince, Earth, Wind & Fire, Metallica, Chaka Khan, Sly and the Family Stone, BulletBoys, Chicago, Average White Band, Whitney Houston, Mint Condition, and the list can go on. But let me just say, I prefer bands to solo artists. No insult to any artists. Clap your hands!!!

What is your experience as a Black Female guitarist in the music industry?
At the time that I started playing in bands, I was put down about “playing like a girl” or not being able to get in a particular band because “they” (males) didn’t want to “play with a girl.” As I got more experienced and could get in other bands, I accepted that I could play just as well as male guitarists. Naïvely, I just wasn’t aware that there were guys out there trying to discourage or destroy me because I was just so driven to play music.

What are your songwriting and creative process like?
Most times, melodies or groove lines come to me when I just wake up or while practicing. I then play the notes, write them on staff paper or record them on my cell phone so I won’t forget and can come back to it later to complete them. However, there have been a few times where the entire song just played itself through my guitar.

What is your practice routine? What do you do to stay motivated and inspired?
I’ll admit I don’t practice as much as I used to. I find short 30 to 60-minute practices throughout the day/week are best for me, as opposed to hours a day. I enjoy playing guitar, and to be honest, the fans at my concert performances keep me motivated. It is an honor to me that they still want to hear old-school music and Klymaxx music.

Let’s talk about your current setup: what amps, guitars, pedals, and pickups are in your current rig?
For amps, I play my Roland JC120. For guitars, I play a Fender Squier Telecaster, Gibson Les Paul Custom, Valley Arts Custom Pro, and Schecter Omen Extreme-6. I mainly use BOSS GT-8 and Cry Baby Wah for pedals. For pickups, I use EMGs (active and passive). 

My favorite guitar to play is my Fender Squier Telecaster with a treble clef pickguard that I got at a pawn shop for $150 years ago. (Are you laughing?)

Who were some artists and musicians you performed with and played for before you joined Klymaxx?
I played in various club bands/cover bands throughout my high school and college years. At one point, I rehearsed with an all-female band that was supposed to be the female version of Earth, Wind & Fire, backed by their label at the time, named Flight Ten. I was rehearsing with both bands, that band and Klymaxx, at the same time. One day, I came to a crossroads where I had to decide which band I would continue with. One band had musicianship, backing, and financial support; the other was having fun, no training, and a dream. I followed the fun and dream-filled journey, and the rest is history. I would never tell anyone to take a chance like that. I can only say it was a divine plan I had no idea of.

What is it like being a part of an all-female band from 1979 to the present? How were you and your crew received at the beginning of your career? How did people feel about seeing an all-female band?
We’ve been part of an all-female band for so long; is there anything else? We have had our ups and downs, but it is about the fans and the appreciation of the music. Any band has several personalities, but the main thing is the music, mutual respect, and love.

Our first two albums did not garner the same success that our third album, Meeting in the Ladies Room, did. We kept releasing music until we got a hit. At first, people didn’t really understand the concept of an all-female band until they saw our first video, “The Men All Pause.” Then our fan base grew!

Break down the creative process for your hit song “I Miss You.”
“I Miss You” was about an actual breakup experienced and written by the keyboard player, Lynn. At first, the lead singer, Lorena, was scheduled to put vocals on the track. During the recording of the music of that song, Lorena went to get some lunch, and when she returned to the studio, the bass player, Joyce, had already gone into the recording booth and recorded the lead vocal negating Lorena from singing the song.

The video for your song “Meeting in the Ladies Room” opened the door to Klymaxx’s commercial success as an all-female band. What was the inspiration behind “Meeting in the Ladies Room “? What was the creative process like for the song and your video?
Rumor has it that one night, a member of Midnight Star (a Solar Records label mate) was at a club with his girlfriend when one of the girls from Klymaxx walked in and saw him and was so excited that she hugged and kissed him in her greeting. His girlfriend got mad, got up from the table they were sitting at, and left for the ladies’ room very mad. He thought, “What a great idea for a song: meeting in the ladies room.” Quite a few of Klymaxx’s songs were written from actual experiences.

What are some upcoming projects Klymaxx is currently working on? Where can fans watch your band perform?
We have a few new singles out released in the 2000s. We are continuing to tour and perform the Klymaxx music legacy. It’s great that the fans still love Klymaxx music and want to be a part of the live music experience. All of our tour dates are listed on our calendar at Klymaxx.com.

What are some of your favorite songs you and your band like to play during live performances?
“The Men All Pause,” “Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman,” “Meeting in the Ladies Room,” “Girls Will Be Girls,” and “Nasty Girl” by (Vanity 6).

What advice can you give to aspiring female-identifying guitarists and musicians?
Learn all you can about the art of music and your instrument, the business of music and trends, how to read a contract, and how to be financially savvy. Put money away, stay healthy, stay safe, be honourable, compete with yourself, and know that your dreams are not too big to achieve. Make sure you are having fun when you are in your music zone! And my final advice… I must repeat: SAVE MONEY. 

Photos courtesy of the artist with permission to use