After dropping out of college—first UGA, then Georgia State—and a stint in California, Cooley managed a pizza joint on Roswell Road. It wasn’t doing well, so he brought in doo-wop performers, but it still went bust. A few months later, driving to Miami, he heard a radio station announce the Miami Pop Festival. He went and was blown away. Back in Atlanta, he and seventeen partners started the first Atlanta International Pop Festival. Janis Joplin showed up and said to him, “I want a drink and a fuck. In that order.” In July of 1969, weeks before Woodstock, she, Chuck Berry, and Led Zeppelin performed for more than 100,000 at the Atlanta International Raceway. Cooley later launched the Electric Ballroom and the Roxy, started Music Midtown with partner Peter Conlon (now president of Live Nation Atlanta), and was instrumental in saving the Fox. Last year he consulted on the renovation of the Buckhead Theatre. “Music,” he says, “has been my life. Now rock is respectable, though, which takes a little something away from it.”
Big Buddies Over the years, he became good friends with James Taylor, Willie Nelson, Steven Tyler, and Bruce Springsteen, who once asked him to shut down the cash registers at the Electric Ballroom because they were making too much noise. He did.
Mute It “I listen to everything—from classical to Portuguese fado—but this mindless, repetitive electronic music I heard on a recent trip to Costa Rica gave me a headache. The same way disco did.”