Legendary Songwriter Hank Cochran Talks About His Hits
Songwriters Hall of Fame member Hank Cochran was in studio with WSM radio’s Eddie Stubbs on Thursday night to discuss his legendary career in country music. On Saturday, Hank will be the inaugural guest in the Country Music Hall of Fame’s “Poets and Prophets” series which highlights the careers of the genre’s best writers. Eddie spun many of Hank’s greatest hits as Cochran told the audience stories of their inceptions.
“Make the World Go Away,” arguably Hank’s most famous song, did not find success quickly. It was inspired by a line in a movie that Hank attended with a date. Over the woman’s protests, Hank left the theater before the film was over and wrote the song on the way back to his apartment. The next day, Hank played the song for Pamper Music Publishing House President Hal Smith, who called the tune the worst song that Hank had ever written. Hank persisted and pitched the song to Ray Price one day while driving him to the recording studio. Ray liked the song but originally cut it as a shuffle, which was not the way Hank had envisioned it.
Eventually Buddy Killen picked up the song and had Timi Yuro record it as a follow-up to her hit “Hurt.” Hank liked Timi’s version much better and as soon as she released it, Hank took the recording to Ray Price and bet that he couldn’t sing the song better than Yuro. Of course, Ray disagreed and cut the song in Yuro’s style and made it a hit. A few years later, Hank pitched the song to Chet Atkins, who was looking for the next Eddy Arnold hit. Chet didn’t think that Ray’s version was right for Eddy’s voice, but loved the song when he heard Hank’s original demo. Eddy Arnold’s version became the most famous recording of the country standard.
“Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me” was written about Hank’s first wife and Hank calls it his favorite. The song was so personal that he couldn’t sing the song for two years after it was recorded without becoming choked-up. The song was written with a second verse that was not included in Jack Greene’s hit recording because it would have increased the length of the song to about three and a half minutes. In the age of the jukebox, any song over three minutes was considered unmarketable. Interestingly, the song was originally cut by George Jones but never released as a single. Ronnie Milsap also recorded it after Greene.
“Little Bitty Tear” was recorded in 1962 by Burl Ives. Before Ives recorded the hit version, Joe Allison of Liberty Records pitched the song to new artist Curly Sanders and Hank wrote the third and final verse in the bathroom of the recording studio immediately before Sanders cut it. Over Hank’s protests, Sanders cut it in the style of Stonewall Jackson’s “Waterloo” and the recording was ultimately not released as a single. Ives heard something different in the song and his hit version was nominated for a Grammy in the pop category, losing to “Moon River.”
The first verse of “Ocean Front Property” hit Hank while he was producing a demo recording for Dean Dillon. Hank ran out of the studio and had written the first verse and chorus when Dean walked in and finished the song. The demo was cut later that day but Hank wasn’t sold on the song. His wife, however, loved the tune and nagged him constantly to send it to George Strait. Hank agreed to send the recording to Strait if his wife would stop nagging him and the rest is country music history.
Patsy Cline had only two number one songs in her lifetime and Hank Cochran wrote both of them. The first, “I Fall to Pieces” was written by Hank and fellow songwriting legend Harlan Howard. When Harlan finished a song, he would throw the recording in a large box in his house and forget about it. One of Hank’s jobs at Pamper Publishing was to go to Harlan’s house, pull recordings from the box and pitch the good ones to artists. Harlan helped Hank finish “I Fall to Pieces” on one of these visits and Owen Bradley pronounced the song a hit after hearing Hank sing an a capella version. Patsy agreed to record the song after hearing the demo but soured on it immediately before the recording session and refused to cut it. The song was recorded only after Owen Bradley tricked Patsy into agreeing that she could record any song that she wanted if she would record any song that Owen wanted. Owen’s choice, of course, was “I Fall to Pieces.”
“She’s Got You” was Patsy’s second number one and was written in a two-car garage behind Pamper Publishing that Hank and Willie Nelson used as an office. The inspiration of the song came when Hank opened a drawer in the office and found an old photograph. The song reportedly moved Patsy to tears the first time that she heard it.
Hank and Dean Dillon literally wrote “The Chair” in less time than is required to sing it. Dean started at the end and Hank started at the beginning and each wrote toward the middle. In fact, the song was written so quickly that the famous line “can I drink you a buy” was actually a mistake. Hank wanted to correct the lyric but when George Strait saw the lyric sheet, he insisted upon singing the line and the song was altered to accomodate it.
Other Cochran compositions discussed during the interview included “It’s Not Love, But It’s Not Bad” (Merle Haggard) and “A-11″ (Buck Owens, Johnny Paycheck). Regarding the latter, Hank commented that he does not remember what song “A-11″ was supposed to be and in fact found out after the song became a hit that most jukeboxes of the period did not even have an A-11.
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