Hank Cochran Biography
Last updated: 12/26/2008 11:00:00 AM
On any given day, in one of Nashville's myriad recording studios, there's likely to be an artist recording a song written by the legendary Hank Cochran. And that's been the case for the past six decades, as hundreds have mined the massive Hank Cochran catalog for award-winning gems such as "I Fall to Pieces," "She's Got You," "Make the World Go Away," "A Little Bitty Tear," "The Chair," "Don't Touch Me," and "Don't You Ever Get Tired of Hurtin' Me." Not bad for a man whose pre-hit-songwriter resume included job titles such as "roustabout" and "roughneck" in the oil fields of New Mexico, and whose early musical career included a stint with similarly-named (though unrelated) rockabilly star Eddie Cochran.
Now in his late sixties, Hank Cochran is still as prolific and passionate a songwriter as he ever was, as tireless and successful a pitch man for his own material as one is likely to find on Nashville's Music Row, and as faithful a believer in divine intervention as he's ever been, when it comes to where his songs originate. Take, for example, the one he still calls his favorite: "Don't You Ever Get Tired of Hurtin' Me." A No. 1 record for Ronnie Milsap in 1989, it's also been cut by (hold your breath): Ray Price, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Jeannie Seely, Don Gibson, Jack Greene and Bobby Bare, among others. "I don't know how much I had to do with it," he says. "My name is on it as the only writer, but I know where it came from. People study songs and go over them and all that...and they tell me that's one of the most well-written songs, but that has nothing to do with why it's my favorite. It's my favorite because it can still cut me up just like the day I wrote it."
Hank Cochran emotions are as honest and hard-fought as his own life has been, especially his troubled, nomadic childhood and adolescence. Born Garland Perry Cochran, August 2, 1935 in Isola, Mississippi, his parents divorced when Hank was nine years old. Hank moved to Memphis to live with his father for a while, but the hardscrabble post-Depression-era existence proved too much for them, and Hank was soon placed in the St. Peter's Orphan's Home in St. Peter's Memphis. "I ran off two or three times," Hank recalls. "The last time I run off, he just took me back to Mississippi and took me to my grandparents. What little raising I had was from them." Hank's grandfather was a preacher who also filed saws for a living. At 10 years old, Hank was playing guitar and singing in church. He also had an uncle who played guitar, and like many young hopefuls, tuned in regularly to the Grand Ole Opry for musical inspiration. At 12 years old, Hank and his uncle hitchhiked from Mississippi to Hobbs, New Mexico, to work in the oilfields, working first as roustabouts, cleaning up after the drillers on the oil rigs, then roughnecking, drilling oil wells, for two years. Hank says working the derricks was both physically demanding, and often quite dangerous. When he was ready to move on, though the dream of writing songs for a living was still far beyond his grasp, Hank says he knew there was no looking back.
"They said I'd always be back, because if you ever got that oil in your hair, you'd return to it. Wrong!" Hank did return to Mississippi for a while, but was soon headed out to California, while still in his mid-teens. Once there he went to work on the 10th floor at a Sears & Roebuck store in Los Angeles. "They made me go to school because I was under 16. Here's this kid that had done everything imaginable--was big for his age, and worked in an oilfield--and I'm in there with 4th graders."
With his additional education, a solid work ethic, and success at numerous amateur contests throughout the area under his belt, Hank began entertaining thoughts of forming a group to play at various clubs and events. His search for a guitar player led him to one Eddie Cochran, who, though not related to him, certainly shared his passion for music. The two teens formed a rock 'n' roll duo called The Cochran Brothers. They appeared on KTTV's Town Hall Party and toured with country legend Lefty Frizzell. When the duo disbanded, Eddie found stardom in rock 'n' roll (albeit briefly--he died in a car accident in April 1960) and Hank soon decided to make the move to Music City.
Hank arrived in Nashville in January 1960, and immediately began working with Pamper Music for a mere $50 a week. Along with his duties as a songwriter, he was also helping the company sign other writers and to acquire songs and get them recorded. Among those he brought on to the company's payroll was Willie Nelson. Hank even gave up a spot as a recording artist with Liberty Records to allow the label to sign Willie, though eventually they were able to sign Hank as well.
Though he held down other non-music-related jobs, in April 1961 Hank was able to become a full-time songwriter, with the release of Patsy Cline's No. 1 smash, "I Fall to Pieces," which he co-wrote with Harlan Howard. In fairly short order Hank was playing guitar with Justin Tubb on the Opry, touring some with Ray Price, had scored his first hit as a recording artist, with the Top 20, "Sally Was a Good Old Girl," and earned three BMI Awards for songs he'd written on his own. He also became a co-owner (along with Ray Price) of Pamper Music, which was eventually acquired by the Sony/ATV Tree Organization in 1989. Perhaps the most life-altering experience of all of these was the arrival of Hank's first BMI check for $11,000--a staggering amount, considering this was the early '60s. Hank recalls that at the time, the number of songs he was getting cut was "mind-boggling."
In 1974, Hank Cochran was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Association's International Hall of Fame. He's the only writer ever to receive a unanimous vote. He's also the recipient of numerous BMI awards, including one for two million performances of Patsy Cline's "I Fall To Pieces."
An alphabetical listing of just a few of the artists who've recorded Hank Cochran's tunes reads like a musician's encyclopedia: Lynn Anderson, Eddy Arnold, Chet Atkins, Junior Brown, Jimmy Buffett, Tracy Byrd, Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello, Bing Crosby, Don Gibson, Vern Gosdin, Ty Herndon, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Joe Henry, Harry James, Waylon Jennings, Tom Jones, Loretta Lynn, Dean Martin, Reba McEntire, Wayne Newton, Buck Owens, Elvis Presley, LeAnn Rimes, Linda Ronstadt, Nancy Sinatra, George Strait, Carla Thomas, Ernest Tubb, Lee Ann Womack.
As a recording artist Hank topped the Americana music chart in 1996 with Desperate Men: The Legend and the Outlaw, and in 2002 he released the album Livin' For A Song: A Songwriter's Autobiography.
Today Hank revels both in reflection, and in looking forward: "I'm sure thankful to be where I am, and that the good Lord has run enough songs through me that I'm seriously satisfied with. As long as He keeps giving them to me, I'm going to try to do something with them."