Tyree Cooper Recounts the Story Behind the Song He Was Prepared to Go to Prison For

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Tyree Cooper Recounts the Story Behind the Song He Was Prepared to Go to Prison For

The legendary Chicago house producer gives us the lowdown on TC Crew's seminal "I Can't Do It Alone"
November 18, 2015, 2:50pm

In the second part of our series "The Story Of," that takes in depth looks at some of dance music's greatest ever tracks, we've decided to let the creator speak. Tyree Cooper is a genuine Chicago legend, one of house's true luminaries and his 1992 classic "I Can't Do It Alone" is one of those records that'll be forever timeless. It's a deep house masterpiece, and our favorite end of the night tune ever. We reached out to Tyree in his Berlin studio for the full story of one of clubbing's most unforgettable records.

This shit was basic. Me and a friend were doing a bunch of different projects at the time and I had a pseudonym at DJ International, which was TC Crew. One night, at about one or two in the morning, we started producing stuff. We put a few samples together, some drums, and then his brother, JT, came down and said, "hey guys, guys, I've got these chords I can't get out of my head!" So he played us these chords. We thought it was nice. We found a sound for them and were like "Yeah!" Then we put the bassline in it. I arranged the whole thing and mixed and there you have it. I'm a pothead so I'm always stoned and I was vibing to it. If I can vibe to a motherfucker when I'm stoned it's on point.

We did an album, a 10 track thing, and I took it to DJ International and they heard it and liked it, but the guy who did the distribution for the label, Benjy Espinoza, flipped. Then Mike Dunn heard it and flipped. So we thought we were onto something. We did the album and Benjy started circulating the test pressings for the album and immediately he was like, "Guys, you've got to put out a 12" of this song!" We wanted to but we needed a singer. I went to high school with a guy called Marco Anderson in Chicago and he'd sung on a lot of stuff. He works for Dr Dre now. I asked him and he sang it and then I put a rap to it because of the whole hip house thing — and that was it: Bob's your uncle. So we had a vocal version and an instrumental version and there was our 12". But Mike Dunn said fuck that, you need a version with background vocals on it. Mike Dunn put that twist on it, but that song was pretty much finished. Next thing we knew it was out.

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Maybe six months later I heard this song by Kristine W called "Feel What You Want" when I was out. It had the same chords, the same bassline as "I Can't Do It Alone". This was her first hit song. Now, I'm from the south side of Chicago so my first instinct was to go and beat somebody's ass. In this business you can't beat anyone up, really. So I tried to get DJ International to go after them. They were pretty much non-responsive. That wasn't the first time they'd been nonplussed about people stealing my material.

I got to go to the UK once during that time period. I'm in a studio —I think it was called Round Way studio—and me and the engineer were talking about the other producers he'd worked with. He said, "Have you ever heard of Rollo and Sister Bliss?" I was like, kinda, sorta, maybe….wait, who did you say? "Rollo" And I knew that was who'd produced the Kristine W song. I needed to see him. Get him down to the studio, I want to meet him! My intenton was to whoop his ass for stealing my song. There was no way he was going to be able to tell me that his song wasn't a rip off of my song. It was probably good he never came down to the studio because I was prepared to go to jail, in London, for him stealing my song. Luckily it didn't happen, which is a good thing because it would probably have killed the vibe of the song.

Read more: Robert Hood on the story of "We Magnify His Name"

People tell me it's an end of the night record. Back then, in Chicago, DJ International were more interested in the radio then the club. Mike Dunn was playing it out at the Warehouse, which was owned by the president of the label, but no one else was playing it out, apart from me and Mike. Years later when I started travelling and people started asking me about certain records and certain DJs I kind of knew it'd gotten out there. Initially when I asked Rocky Jones, the president, how the album did he told me it was a flop and the 12" only sold a couple thousand records. Now, I'm not a mathematician but I can put two and two together: with the amount of people who've talked to me about "I Can't Do It Alone" I think I can say it's sold over two thousand copies.

Tyree (photo by Marie Staggart)

At the time it wasn't a record that people mentioned to me. People'd talk to me about "Turn Up the Bass" and the other hip house stuff, but never TC Crew. Maybe they hadn't worked out that it was me! When I was sitting down writing and arranging the song, it was strictly for the club. It wasn't for radio. It wasn't for the casual listener. It was deep house. I wanted it to be a deep house record. I didn't want it to be anything other than one of those New York songs. I was competing with producers and DJs from New York and wanted something for them to play. Back then they weren't playing much shit from Chicago.

Things are cyclical, tracks come back around. Twenty odd years later, deep house is the sound of the day and people are trying to get back to what we were doing back in the day. It is what it is. People figure that new music isn't worth it so they've got to go back. That's all good. Maybe the energy we created in '92 is everlasting. When it's real, it's real. You can't deny it. You can't deny "I Can't Do It Alone". I can't, at least.

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