I don’t call myself a fan of the force of Vegas lounge nature known as Cook E. Jarr, but I am a relentless aficionado — I love talking about him. I’ve seen him at least three dozen times in at least seven casino venues over his four decades in Las Vegas. For the uninitiated, Cook E. (sometimes with his backup band The Krums) is a maybe-too-cheesy performer doing cover versions of familiar songs. Standard enough.
But he also sports a shaggy haircut that’s a cross between Little Lord Fauntleroy, Cher, and a ’70s porn actor; bling on every finger; a Mr. T.-esque necklace/medallion collection; and ornate sunglasses, which, naturally, he wears indoors. He dons a decorative two-piece suit, usually shirtless (or close) underneath. And the man has chest hair. Lots of it. It verges on becoming an immersive experience when he gyrates.
Musically? No one quite belts/growls “Candy,” “Knock on Wood,” or “Hot in Herre” (as seen on Jimmy Kimmel) quite like Jarr. A decent vocalist, he intersperses almost every song with his trademark — and somehow enthralling — dog barks, salacious banter, and the hypnotic dangling of all his jewelry in service of giving 110 percent.
I last saw him at the long-closed Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall, so I’m not sure if he still performs. But his essence as paradigm lingers, for better and worse. Cook E. Jarr, the man, the myth, and, sure, why not, the legend, had it all: sweat, swagger, sultry song-styling, swearing, and surrealism. I might also add smarm, which provides fodder both for those who mock the style and those who seriously love a trainwreck — a trainwreck whose oddly compelling, raspy-throated enthusiasm inspires people to boogie. From living-it-up party monsters to ironic hipsters to older couples grooving close and sexy-like, I’ve seen them all having a blast at a Cook E. Jarr show. He’s an icon of bodacious funk forever reminding us that if you don’t take Vegas too seriously and learn to love the kitsch, that’s when the fun really starts. ARF ARF, indeed!