Tammy Cochran Biography
Last updated: 10/01/2007 12:00:00 PM
In a sea of merely beautiful singers there are always a few truly extraordinary voices that cut through the commercial din, rise above fashionable musical poses of the moment and pierce the timeless emotional heart of things.
Thirty year-old, northeastern Ohio-born Tammy Cochran truly possesses one of these extraordinary voices. "I want to sing about real things," Cochran says in her plainspoken mid-western way. "I really like songs that make me feel something powerful, one way or another. Songs that either make me feel sad or make me feel like drivin' fast. I want songs that ordinary people can relate to, and you'd be surprised sometimes how hard it is to find songs like that."
In Cochran's hands, and heart, songs like "If You Can," the first single from Tammy Cochran, her debut Epic Records CD, take on an extraordinary beauty, urgency and power that even she is at loss to fully explain.
She is, after all, a down-to-earth lady at heart who's not inclined toward hyperbole or self-promotion. She hails from what would seem-at least at first glance-a rather ordinary small-town Ohio background. Yet her life story represents one of those remarkable everyday parables about determination and the ability to triumph over tragedy and personal disappointment.
Yet before you read further, let's also clarify what Tammy Cochran isn't: She's definitely not some 15-year-old teenage wonder who took sabbatical from middle school to make a record that somehow manages to sound worldly. No, Cochran is no such under-age poseur or child prodigy. She's the real deal- a woman who's definitely been there, done that. She's had her share of trials by fire and learned to triumph over personal adversity. If the anguished poetry of heartbreak, emotional survival and the brighter celebration of self-discovery resonating through sounds like "What I Learned From Loving You," "Better Off Broken," "So What," and "Say Goodbye" lead you to believe that Cochran has been duly tested by life's tragedies, traumas and hard knocks, it's simply because she has been.
"Even songs of mine that at first sound sad or negative always have truth and even some hopefulness and optimism in them," she emphasizes. "Even the worst experiences that you go through in life, there's always some good that comes out of it and shapes you as a person. I really think that's what the songs on my album are about: They're about growing, and feeling, and life."
Cochran hails from Austinburg, a puddle jump town in extreme northeastern Ohio, between Cleveland and Erie, Pennsylvania, just a long stone's throw from Lake Erie. "Austinburg is not near anything" she laughs. "It's really in the boonies, really country! I mean, when I was growing up, even going to the mall was an event!"
Tammy is the only surviving child of Mabel (a private investigator and home maker- turned realtor) and Delmar Cochran, a retired heavy equipment operator. Though neither parent did much singing, they were both die-hard country music fans.
"I was about eight when my dad taught me my first song - 'Heartaches By The Numbers,'" she remembers. "Then that Christmas my parents gave me a little 'Raggedy Ann and Andy' record player. It played LP's and had a microphone built in so you could sing along. We had two albums - one by Loretta Lynn and one by Barbara Mandrell. I sang the hell out of those songs! I'd put on these little concerts in my bedroom and my two older brothers would charge my parents fifty cents to get in. That's when it started to dawn on me that this was what I wanted to do with my life.
"Tammy sang in church, and when she was twelve her mother suggested that she enter a local talent contest. She did, and won. It was a revelation - of sorts. "I got twenty dollars and a barbecued ox roast sandwich," she recalls with a grin. "It was that ox roast sandwich that did it! I was hooked!"
Yet in the Cochran household it truly was the best ("I have the greatest parents in the world," Tammy says fondly) and worst of times. Her two older brothers and only siblings, Shawn and Alan, both suffered from cystic fibrosis, a genetic lung disease that eventually took their lives. Shawn died in 1980 at age 14: Alan in 1991, at 23.
"I was actually a mistake", Tammy recalls. "Once Mom and Dad found out the boys had it, they said, 'Okay, we can't do this anymore. We can't put another person through this.'
"As far as the way I've lived my life, that (her older brothers' illnesses and deaths) has influenced me totally," adds Tammy who celebrates Shawn's and Alan's short, sweet lives on "Angels In Waiting," a song she co-wrote for her debut record. "There's a lot of people out there who, thank God, have never gone through anything like that. And it is very hard - especially to watch your parents go through it with you. You always think of them as strong, as your protectors. But you see their vulnerabilities, too, and you realize it's hard for them as it is for you.
"Above all, though, it made me realize that it really doesn't matter what you wear or what you look like. What matters is who you are, and that we're all just so lucky to be here."
Throughout their travails, the Cochran family drew closer and was blessed with the love and support of a tight-knit community, which also gave Tammy an outlet to find increasing emotional expression and personal identity through her music. She entered and won more talent contests. She joined various bands, and eventually fronted a band of her own, called TC Country - a name that admittedly makes her cringe a little today. ("I like to tell people now that it stood for 'Totally Cool' country," she laughs.) She opened shows for Melba Montgomery and other stars who passed through northeastern Ohio.
"I pretty much played the 'animal clubs,'" she recalls. "The Elks, The Moose, The Eagles...My band and I played weddings and fairs and made fifty or sixty dollars each a night, which was pretty good when most of my friends were working at McDonald's."
After graduating high school, Tammy found herself at a crossroad. She wanted to pursue her musical dreams. But for practicality's sake she did a brief stint at vocational school, training to be a "glorified secretary, so I'd at least have something to fall back on," She briefly entertained the notion of going on to a four-year college.
"I was wavering between college and seriously pursuing my music," she recalls. "Mom and Dad were brutally honest with me, though not in a harsh way. They said, "We believe in you; we think you have a chance. But you really need to make up your mind that (the music) is really what you want to do."
When Cochran finally did commit to her musical dreams, her parents gave their complete blessing and support, and even more. When she moved to Nashville in 1991, Mabel and Delmar packed up and moved along with her.
Yet, even surrounded by her family, Nashville proved to be a culture shock for this small town Ohio girl. "Growing up in Austinburg, we knew everybody," Tammy explains. "Our house was always filled with people, the phone was always ringing. But in Nashville, we didn't know anybody, and nobody came over. It was kinda depressing at first. You expect Nashville to be glamorous - you know, country stars on every corner. Well, Nashville's nice but it's not glamorous. Pretty soon reality sets in."
During Cochran's first six or seven years in Music City the going was often slow. Some of her jobs to keep her afloat included the 5:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. shift at McDonald's, and later in a department store. She sang in clubs once in a while, though "I never sang in a band or a bar room in Nashville, because I heard it's never good to get a reputation in the industry as a bar room singer."
Her first visit to Music City came in 1988 when she auditioned for the Nashville Network talent show, "You Can Be A Star." "I made the show, but lost," she laughs. "I think that was probably a good thing, because a lot of people, like Randy Travis, who are very successful now, also lost when they got on. So I could deal with that."
But she ends with that, during those early years, "nothing really happened that great... I ended up getting married in 1996; I ended up getting divorced in 1998."
Naturally the extreme highs and lows of her short-lived, whirlwind nuptials have found their way into songs on her first album, like "So What" and "What Have I Learned From You."
Yet Tammy, both in her music and in her life, now has the maturity and wisdom to look back even on that misguided episode (which she now tends to write off to the blind optimism of youth) and see hopefulness and personal growth rather than lingering pain and bitterness. She hopes other women who've been through similar experiences can find the same sense of self-discovery and renewal through her songs.
"Granted, the marriage didn't work, but I'm not the only person in the world who's didn't work, nor the last person in the world who will have one that doesn't work. I feel that if it wasn't for that experience, I wouldn't be the person I am today. And that's what the song, "So What" is about: learning from your mistakes, and growing, and moving on."
After her marriage broke up, Tammy briefly moved back in with her folks. Looking back, she admits that just then she was so disillusioned that she was thinking of enrolling in junior college and chucking her musical dreams. "But my mom put a stop to that," she recalls fondly. "She said, 'Oh no you're not! We moved here so you could sing, and that's what you're going to do!'
Her two-year hiatus from singing was snapped one night in early 1998 when a friend called and urged to come out and sing at a writer's night. Reluctantly, she did. "That night, after I sang, a friend introduced me to Shane Decker, who wrote for Warner-Chappell Music. Shane, who's since become a great friend, offered to put a demo together for me. At the time I just said, 'Yeah, okay.' Not because I didn't believe him, but I just didn't have my hopes up."
Nonetheless, she and Decker began working on a demo. And on his recommendation, she signed as a songwriter with Warner-Chappell in the summer of 1998.
Back in 1995, Tammy had come across a song called "If You Can." She loved the song and still had a tape of it when she and Decker started working together in the studio. "It turned out that Shane knew the writer and he called and asked her if, by any chance, she still had the (instrumental) tracks to her demo of "If You Can." She did. "By this time, Blake Chancey (who produced Tammy Cochran, along with associate producer Anthony Martin) was letting us use his studio for free, and we went in and I sang the song over those original demo tracks. We did it in one take.
"By the time I'd gotten to know Blake, and he told me, 'Tammy, I love your voice, but at the moment we don't have room on our roster (at Sony) for you. We already have a ton of girls.' So Shane and I began shopping the demo around. I remember sitting in record label offices and in other people's offices and they would actually sit there and listen to the song all the way through - which I took as a good sign. It was only at the end of the day I'd realize, 'Oh my gosh! I've been here for eight years, and this is what I've wanted the whole time. Now it's all happening so fast!"'
Eventually Tammy held industry showcases, and several different labels offered to sign her. "Blake (Chancey) tells me that around that time he took the demo into a staff meeting and told everyone, 'I just wanted to let you know about this girl, that there's a big buzz going on around town, that I do know about her, and that I've already passed on her because we have too many girls,"' Cochran says with a grin. "Blake ended up playing the tape, and they said, 'What do you mean you passed!?' (The executives) at Sony then asked to see a showcase. After that they said, 'We'll make room for her!' And that's what happened."
And it seems certain that music fans, if given half a chance, will find similar "room" in their hearts for Cochran and her plain-spoken, yet eloquent and deeply felt songs of heartbreak, self-discovery and everyday celebration. Tammy Cochran hails the arrival of a major new talent with an uncanny knack for reminding us what really does matter, when you get right down to the musical heart of things.