A Ry Cooder soundtrack is often instantly recognisable, and its style is closely associated with its geography. Although blinded in one eye as the result of an accident at a young age, Cooder learned to play the guitar and became proficient in certain variants of the instrument and their associated musical styles. As a guitarist he has played with a number of leading bands and singers, playing popular music, jazz and latin numbers. As a session musician he also worked on several films with Jack Nitzsche for example. As a composer, he is a master at song and instrumental styles which have emerged from the southern states. That is not to say that his music is one-dimensional, for they cover a broad range of styles from folk to blues and many shades in between. Also his music is able to bridge across different periods in history. For "The Long Riders" he arranged traditional pieces from the times of Jesse James, and composed additional tracks set in the same time period. For "Crossroads" and "Paris, Texas" he moves into the 20th Century and the styles emerging in those states at that time.
"Crossroads" was an ideal film project for Cooder. Being a master of slide guitar, he was the obvious choice of composer for a film about a boy learning guitar craft from an old pro. Guitarist Steve Vai plays the part of Jack Butler and performed much of the music on the soundtrack along with Cooder, while the lead actor Ralph Macchio (famous as the original Karate Kid) does an accurate mime of playing the notes on screen. Here's the famous Guitar Duel scene (on youtube), which culminates in a guitar arrangement of Niccolo Paganini's Caprice No. 5, originally for solo violin. This piece was surely used for the scene since Paganini was said to have sold his soul to the devil, due to his demonic virtuosity on the violin. Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca also gets the guitar treatment in the film.
In 1999 Ry Cooder brought together a group of near-legendary Cuban musicians to record their music, and perform it in a number of venues. The "Buena Vista Social Club" is a documentary film directed by Wim Wenders about these elderly musicians with interviews recounting their experiences, a number of performances and the process of making the recording. Both Ry and Joachim Cooder (the composer's percussionist son) appear in the film and play with the group. Ibrahim Ferrer, a lead singer with the group, died on 6th August 2005 at the age of 78.