Earl Cookie performs his birthday set at Adams Lounge in Toledo. He turned 27 this year.
The Blade/Lori King
Stacey Edward Carey, Jr., was only 21 when he first grabbed his cousin’s guitar and played two notes that sounded right together. Because it was so easy for him, he knew he had something special.
“I wasn’t brilliant or anything, but I knew I could really do this. So I bought a cheap, piece-of-crap $50 guitar and wrote my first song within two days.”
After a few years of refining his music, Stacey changed his stage name to Earl Cookie and started busking on the streets of Toledo.
A busker is a licensed street performer who works for tips, and if you work or live in the downtown area, you’ve probably seen Cookie. He’s the guy with dreadlocks who likes to stand on street corners and sing cover songs amplified through a beat-up stereo speaker. He prefers busking at the Anthony Wayne Bridge, but he can also be spotted jamming at the entrance to Fifth Third Field during Mud Hens game nights and Art Walks on Adams Street.
When Cookie is strumming his guitar and shaking a tambourine with his right foot, dollar bills pile up in the square plastic Tupperware container he uses to collect tips. Santana and Bob Seger songs are fan favorites.
Tips are certainly appreciated because busking is his full-time job, but he said waves and smiles are just as good as money, if not better.
“It’s not even about the money,” Cookie explained. “I love the feeling I get when I’m appreciated. When I go out and busk it’s a joy that people love what I do. I feed off their energy. The fact they’re going to give me money for it is like icing on the cake.
“I can sit on the corner and sing 10 songs for about 30 minutes, and tons of people drive by and sometimes I’ll get people who try and ignore me like I’m not there. They’ll roll up their window because they think I’m a bum. It kinda hurts sometimes.”
Cookie, 27, admits he would love to be famous, “but a more realistic goal is playing a few gigs a week that would make me enough to survive and live comfortably.
“I also love the idea of being the first openly gay black rock star, but not just to capitalize on being gay. I just want to empower people. I got to thinking about my childhood, and particularly minorities, where the whole culture is very homophobic, and I wished that I’d come out a lot sooner than 26,” he said.
“As a black kid I got picked on for not being black enough. I’m the only person in my family who doesn’t play sports and I’m the only musician,” Cookie lamented.
“You are never going to be happy if you’re stuck in the closet, and I just decided that as soon as I started playing music I wanted to change how the world thinks about itself through my music. I think if they had a role model to look up to, someone more like them, it would be easier for them to come out.”
In the meantime, he’s happy playing open mic nights in downtown pubs and busking with a voice he now appreciates.
Contact Lori King at: firstname.lastname@example.org.