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photo of Hank Cochran today  The Essential Songwriter

Hank Cochran 
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early Photo Of Hank 

Songs such as 'I Fall To Pieces', 'Little Bitty Tear', 'Funny Way of Laughing', 'Make The World Go Away', 'It's Not Love (But Its Not Bad), 'Don't Touch Me', 'Ocean Front Property' and 'The Chair' are all classed as country standards today. These songs and many, many more were either written or co-written by Hank Cochran (nicknamed The Legend). His songwriting career stretches back almost half a century. The number of artistes who have recorded songs by Hank Cochran is too numerous to mention…almost anyone who is anyone will have recorded a song by Hank. More recently these include Lee Ann Womack, Ty Herndon, Wade Hayes and Daryle Singletary. He has seen 30 of his songs holding chart positions at one time. Even Dean Martin cut 'She's Got You' (changed to 'He's Got You') and invited Hank down to Las Vegas to see him perform the song.

While in Nashville during March (2002), Nashville's notable publicist Martha Moore arranged for me to meet-up with Hank at Sony Tree Publishing House to talk about his songwriting career.

Hank Cochran, was born Garland Perry Cochran in Isola, Mississippi during 1935. He worked for a while in the oilfields of New Mexico in the mid 50's, before playing gigs in Belle Gardens, California. "My mother and dad got a divorce when I was nine years old, so I went out on my own. I was working in the Mississippi making caskets and I told my mom…there has to be something better than this out there. I'm going to go seek it out…And I'm still seeking it out! (laughs)

early photo of Hank with his siblings
Hank with his siblings

My uncle and I hitchhiked to Hobbs, New Mexico. It was in the winter and we almost froze to death. We stopped in Hobbs because we had gone just as far as we could before we were going to fall over. I don't know where the hell we were going, but we were going. (laughs) I went out to California…I guess I was about 14-15 and I got a job at Sears and Roebuck…It was a huge store and I worked on the 5th floor and worked on roller-skates. I worked there for quite a while and had picked-up the guitar and was learning that and learnt everything my uncle knew. (laughs) So I was just searching for it, and started singing on those amateur contests, you know…squeaking, geeking an all that, anyway you could get a high pitch."

Hank with Ediie Cochran as the Cochran Brothers
Eddie and Hank Cochran

In 1954 Hank teamed up with 16-year-old guitarist Eddie Cochran (same name, but not related). After hearing about the impact Elvis was having, The Cochran Brothers moved towards rock 'n' roll, recording on the Ekko label. "I thought I'd put a little group together and needed a guitar player. I was checking around and it was said there was a kid over in Belle Gardens, which was about 5-8 miles from where I lived. They said he was a hell of a guitar player. I said what's his name and they said Eddie Cochran. I said Eddie Cochran and they said yeh…spelt the same and all that. I went over and picked him up and headed off, with two or three other guys with us. We ended-up doing duets and calling ourselves the Cochran Brothers. We went to work for Lefty Frizzell and as a matter of fact we went to Honolulu and all around with him. I couldn't handle the rock 'n' roll anymore. I told Eddie… damn I can't handle this anymore! People pulling on me and grabbing me and all that. I said…I'm going to stick with the country and you just handle this rock 'n' roll." Eddie died at about 20 years of age in a car crash on the way to Heathrow airport on the wet morning of April 17, 1960. His taxi blew a tyre and crashed into a lamppost on the A4 near Bath. Eddie died in hospital that afternoon, the year following the death of Buddy Holly. "It just tore me up, like I've been tore up in the last six months. It's just unbelievable here. What went on here….just too many funerals!"

Writing his own songs, 1960 saw Hank make a move to Music City to try and sell them and joining Ray

Hank with Harlan Howard and Hal Smith
Harlan Howard with Hank and Hal Smith Pamper Music

Price and Hal Smith's publishing house Pamper Music. Hank also helped sign other songwriters to the company and after meeting Willie Nelson at Tootsies Orchid Lounge; he brought Willie on to the payroll to an exclusive songwriter agreement. Hank became great friends with the late Harland Howard, writing 'I Fall To Pieces' together for Patsy Cline. "Me and Harland were real close friends for 42 years. I talked him into moving back here. He was staying in California when I started working for Pamper. He was sending songs and I was getting them cut. I said why don't you just come on back here. He finally said OK, and me and June Carter found him a house and he and Jan moved back. I first met him during a disc jockey convention in October 59. When we all moved back to California, I had a bunch of shows and stuff to do in the holidays…Christmas, New Year and all that. Then I caught a bus and a four day ride, I came back here…got a job with Pamper paying $50 a week and stayed (later to become co-owner). I was getting $50 a week and $10 went to mom Upchurch…the lady at the boarding house where I was staying. $25 of it went back to California to my wife and three kids, so what little bit of money left, was about $12 a week to live on. So I got to be friends with a lot of guys who were playing the Opry…the first spot paid $10 and the second spot paid $3.

"I got to be a real good friends with Patsy Cline when I was staying at mom Upchurch's. Darrell McCall was a good friend and played bass and worked the road with Patsy sometimes. He took me over and introduced me to her. I think he was going by the name of Darrell Young then. Donnie Young was there, who turned out to be Johnny Paycheck and George McCormack and 'Shorty' Lavender who played fiddle for Ray Price…part owner of Pamper. She was trilled that I was there.

Hank and Patsy Cline
Hank's Hank's first BMI Award Patsy Cline

I had this idea of 'I Fall To Pieces' and part of it wrote. I went over to Harland's and me and Harlan sat down and finished it. Harland said…well that is a little different melody you've got there. And me coming form California…I guess it was! One of my favourite singers was and still is, Nat King Cole. I guess that is why me and Jim Reeves got to be so close. So, as I was running the company and getting the songs recorded, we'd get a demo recorded by Harlan's wife Jan. I got to know Owen Bradley and I said when are you going to cut Patsy? He said you know, this is the first time that I'll actually be producing her and pick songs. You see before, anything she recorded had to be a Four Star song, because she was signed to Four Star in California. He said…do you have anything that sounds like a hit? I said I swear that I believe I do Mr Bradley. I sung him a little of it and he said…if you'll go and get me a dub of that, I'll cut that with somebody. Everybody on the label turned it down and Patsy didn't like it. I showed it to Chet (Atkins) and all the people he was cutting and they turned it down and everybody in town. It became one of the biggest songs in country music. I've told friends of mine just starting out who get discouraged. Always try to remember to keep this in mind…the better the song is, the harder it is to get it cut, because it's not the everyday run of the mill. Because it's different, they are afraid to take that step and the ones that ain't are the ones that have the huge successes!"

photo of Ray Price
Ray Price

Amongst his successes, Ray Price recorded 'Make The World Go Away' in 1963. Merle Haggard recorded Hank Cochran/Glenn Martin's 'It's Not Love (But Its Not Bad)', which not only made #1 in 1972, but also received nomination for CMA Song Of The Year in 1973. Haggard also recorded 'Don't Touch Me' and George Strait had #1 hits with 'The Chair' (1985) and 'Ocean Front Property' (1987) which debuted on the top spot, and both songs being co-written with Dean Dillon.

'The Chair' became a very popular song on the British country scene and the story line of the lyrics makes for an intriguing song. "Yes…(laughs) it really is! We were on my boat. It was after Christmas and before New Year and we went to stay on the boat. We were there just to write songs if they came along and to drink beer and stuff. We started working on some song…my wife Suzi was in the bunk back there laying down. And she said…there's a hit out by that same title. He (Dean Dillon) don't listen to radio and I don't. So I said, well hell, that takes care of that! Dean said yeh, yeh, "Excuse Me!!!" And it just started. It just went wham, wham, wham, and I said hold! I've already got the ending, the melody and everything, so let me go up to the mike and start. You just keep coming this-a-way and when we get about a minute and a half a piece, we'll stick-em together. Dean had a line and I said I've got a line that will fit that and I said 'Can I drink you a buy'. So we just stuck them together and when George Strait heard it, he said….I've just got to sing that line. 15 - 20 minutes it took"

photo of George Strait
Gearge Strait

Sometimes the best songs only take that long. 'Ocean Front Property' was another song with an intriguing line. "I was producing a demo session and I don't know where it came from, but I said to one of the guys…"grab that guitar and come here a minute". So we went into a room that ran off the studio. I had a verse and a chorus already written…just whap! I sang it to him and he played the guitar on it and about that time Dean kicked the door open and said…I knew you'd be in here writing another song. So I said….come on in, we need another verse. So Dean wrote another verse and that was it. Then we did a demo on it, but I wasn't pitching it. My Suzi says Hank 'An Ocean Front Property', is a hit! I said hey! I'm the writer, I'm the pitcher of this family and I don't think it's a hit. She said…well I think it is! And she stayed on me until I said…if you'll shut-up I'll send it to George. I sent it!!!…he came in and cut it. It was the first single from the album and that is what they titled the album. It was the first country album to go in at #1."

Jerry Lee Lewis recorded an album called 'Live At Hank Cochran's'. "I had a studio upstairs in my house and a friend of mine Sam MacVickery came up an idea to try and get Jerry Lee to cut a gospel album. Mac was real good friends with Jerry…I knew him, but not real well. We tried to get him to do it and he said…I don't know! Then one evening the phone rang and it was him. Jerry said…I've thought it over Hank and I think I'll do it. So I said OK when? So he said, I'll be over there in two and a half to three hours. So I said well OK, do we need some musicians? He said…no I just want to do it by myself and we'll put something with if we need it. So I called my engineer and said you need to get over here and make it real quick and hunt up all the tape that we've got. Jerry Lee said that he's coming over. It didn't seem as if we'd just turned around and there's Jerry Lee walking through the door. He had a fire-red Corvette and he just smoked that thing from Memphis. We did a hundred and five sides upstairs in my studio. There's a bunch of them that nobody's ever heard!

Hank released his album Desperate Men in 1996 and in April 2002 he released a new album, Livin' For A Song. The title cut is an ode to the art of songwriting and a tribute to the hard knocks and soul-searching lifestyle that the creative ones sometimes must endure.

current photo of Hank

"I said to Suzi…I've made a decision! She says…well that's news right there! (laughs) She says well what is it. And I said, I'm going to cut a record. She said You!…well that's the best news I've heard this year! So I said which one? And she said…well give me a day or two. She walked into my office and said…I've got it…'Livin' For A Song'. I said…well I'll be dammed, the closer it gets the harder it is to see. I said I can't believe I didn't think of that. I said hell that's me! That's my life in that song, and she said…that's right. Suzi said…there's nobody better than you, since you wrote it and it's your life, then you've to cut it. So I called Martha and told her and called Jim Vest and he said…God I think that's a great idea man! So we called Buck over at the studio and got some time as quick as we could, which was about three or four days. We went in and cut it. Mixed it and mastered it and Miss Martha shipped it over seas as the first single around February 1st. Martha called after about a week or so, and she said Hank, I think you may have a hit! So she said…you better get on it and finish the album."

'Livin For A Song' had been written about 2-3 years before, but never released by anyone. "I cut it with a guy, but he was another one that kinda just drifted off. And I don't know if I pitched it or not." The finished album was released in April with 14 tracks opening with Arlie Carter's 'Honky Tonk Angels'. "When me and Eddie Cochran started working together, we were doing rockabilly music. That first song on there…'Honky Tonk Angels', is a rocking version. So I put it there first to show everybody where I started…that far back and tried to bring it on up to where I am now. That is what I hope to do, because when I cut 'Livin For A Song', the steelwork is on a steel guitar…without pedals. Because when I came to town, there were no pedals, or they were just beginning to use them. In California a friend of mine who was a steel player, drilled out a hole in the fret board and fitted a stilson wrench with a coat hanger to one of the strings and when he stepped on that stilson wrench, it pulled it. All those Buck Owen records and Wynn Stewart records…well that's him. So I told Vest that when I came here, that was what they were doing and that was the way it was. And when I go out, that's the way it's going to be. So the ending of it…when they retard it, I raised him up, so that he'd be louder than the rest at the end. I hope everybody understands what I did."

photo of Hank and Willie Nelson
Hank & Willie

The second track to be released as a single is 'Something Unseen'. "It is one of those Ray Price shuffles that I wrote quite a few of. It just knocked me and everyone else out in the studio when we cut it. Gosh, we were playing it for the people who were coming in to record. (laughs) I said, hell damn, perhaps we should release that next. So that is going to be the next single." Hank has written many songs for Ray Price with 22 of Hank's songs on the Ray Price box-set (Bear Records) and that doesn't cover all the songs he's cut! "He's cut a bunch of other things of mine. In fact he signed a new deal with another label…Audio. They 're all excited about it, as I am too. I talked to him last week and I said…hello sir. This is Hank who works for you. (laughing) Cos he was one of the owners of Pamper Music and I've actually been with him 42 years. So has Willie Nelson. So me and Willie kid him all the time. You know…he asked Willie to get him half a chicken when Willie was going out to run. Willie looked over at me and said…he thinks we still work for him! (laughs) And I said…don't we! You go get him his chicken, I'm gathering up things for him here. (laughs) So when he calls, I say yessir mister, I'm still working for you! He was on his bus going to Florida and I called him. I said I had just cut a Ray Price smash. He said…you better hold it for me. I said I don't know man, I sure do like it. I said boy it just sounds so much like you, I don't know. He said, I'm cutting four of yours already and people will get to thinking something! And I said…I still works for you! (laughing)."

'Something Unseen' entered the EMS charts and stands at #31 at the time of writing (May) while still climbing. 'Livin' For A Song' made #15 on 14th March 2002.


All photos courtesy of Hank Cochran