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Anita Cochran: I Love That European Fans Study Our Music

Posted by: Petr Mecir

Interviews 09/14/2012

Anita Cochran emerged on the country music scene in the mid 90's and became the first female artist to produce her own record. And not only did she produce it, but she also recorded many of the instruments herself. She found major success with her duet "What If I Said" with Steve Wariner, which topped the charts in 1998. In recent years Anita has extensively toured with Terri Clark as a member of her backing group as well continued to play solo shows and recorded a new album "Serenity". In an interview I taped with Anita in Switzerland we talked about her music, plans and also an extraordinary collaboration with Conway Twitty.

You were named Anita after Anita Carter of the original Carter Family and I'm wondering if you were got to meet June Carter and if she knew about you.

"Actually I never got to meet June or Johnny, but I was on a television show called Crook & Chase in Nashville and they surprised me and had Anita Carter call on air on the TV show live and we got to talk. I was live on TV, they shot me, I had no idea they were doing it, so I got to talk with her on the phone."

"And June and Johnny ended up calling us a few months later when Anita passed away. I was scheduled to play the Grand Ole Opry one night and the manager of the Opry, Pete Fisher, asked me if I would do a tribute song to Anita, since I was named after her. It was a very big honor for me to get to do that and I did the song 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken' and he also asked me if my parents would sing it with me since my parents were in Nashville visiting and so they got to perform on the Opry with me that night. And it's like one of the biggest highlights forever!"

"But after that Johnny and June called and thanked me for doing that. That was very special. 'Folsom Prison Blues' was the first solo I ever learned to play the guitar! I'm a big Carter Family fan and I'm a big Johnny Cash fan."

About two years ago Rodney Crowell told me in an interview that he should have never produced his own albums, which was quite shocking to hear from Rodney, and he said that he realized when you make a record, you should be always objective, which is not quite possible when you produce albums on your own. So I would like to know what your perspective is.

"I agree with Rodney on that anyway, because when you're in the room working by yourself, you don't have anyone else to bounce ideas off of. That's how I work when I do my demos at home. I have a studio in my house, I do all my demos and I play most of my instruments by myself. But when it comes to record, I always have a co-partner, a co-producer. And that way I've got another idea or somebody giving me some information coming from. And it makes it more interesting, too, because you're not doing this project by yourself. Obviously when you're tracking and you have musicians in the room with you, the musicians are talking with you and that obviously helps."

"But Rodney's right and I think it's a good idea to have a co-producer with you, too, because the more people you have involved in your record in Nashville, the more successful it's gonna be. Whoever's worked on that record wants it to be successful, right? So it's hard for a songwriter and artist like me. When you write your own songs, you don't have other publishers pushing for your record very well, because they don't have any songs on your record. The more people you can have involved, that definitely helps."

Why specifically did you choose Steve for the duet?

"I would've been a fan of Steve Wariner my whole life since I was a little kid. Not only is he a great singer and songwriter, but his guitar playing... You know, I learned to play guitar from my parents. My brothers play, all my aunts and uncles play, my cousins play like our family, everbody plays. So it's a running joke where we say: when we're born into our family, we learn to sleep, eat, walk, play guitar, and sing, kind of in that order. But I never had any professional lessons. My dad taught me the chords on the guitar and I taught myself pretty much the rest and that was by playing Steve Wariner's record in my bedroom and rewinding it. And the casettes, rewind, rewind, trying to learn a solo. And it was Steve and Vince Gill and Chet Atkins, Ricky Skaggs, those guys were really my big heroes, guitarwise."

"When I wrote this song 'What If I Said' and I was like 'oh I wanna do it on my record', because I'm a huge Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn fan, they really were the ones that inspired that song, because they did so many great duets together. I could hear Steve singing it with me right after back. I even wrote the song in a key I thought he would be able to sing it with me. And I had never met him before."

"So when I moved to Nashville and we actually started the record, the label asked me 'who do you want to sing this with you' and I said 'I would love it'd be Steve, I've never met him, I have no idea what he's doing with his career right now', because I haven't heard any new songs or anything. And they called him and said 'hey we got a new girl in town, she's a great guitar player, she loves you to death, and she's written this duet'. And they sent him the song and he loved it and wanted to do it."

"So the first time I met him was in the studio. We were singing our song together and that was a weird situation for about five of ten minutes, because he was asking me like 'am I singing it right? Am I doing it right?', because I was co-producing my record. It was so weird for me to tell Steve what to do. And I'm like 'you can sing anything and it will sound great, it doesn't matter!' But after being with him for like five or ten minutes, I felt like I knew him my entire life. I mean he's such a wonderful guy and we're actually neighbours now."

So you keep in touch with him?

"Yeah, and we actually bought steel guitars together one time from a guy in Nashville. And it was funny, because Steve said like 'hey I heard you had a guitar made from Jeff Surratt' and I said 'yeah' and he said 'I'm getting one for my son, too' and I'm like 'really?' He said 'when you get your steel, let me know and we'll learn licks with each other on the steel'. So I'm like 'OK' and I get my steel and learning different stuff. So I'm calling him on the phone and he's like 'listen what I've been playing today!' and we're playing the steel over the phone with each other. I literally live less than ten minutes from him and he's like 'hey, just bring me your steel guitar up here!'He's like 'we'll see and play'. So I'm like 'OK', so I loaded it in my car, went up to his house, sat down and he starts playing and he's playing like Paul Franklin. I mean he's an incredible steel guitar player and I didn't even realize that. I said 'Steve I thought you said you were learning to play steel!' I'm like 'I'm learning it!' I know how to do a lot of stuff on steel, but there's stuff that I don't know, I was learning how to do that. And I thought it was a big thing like finding how to play something."

"We were calling each other like 'hey listen to this!' We put the phone down and played the steel for each other on the phone and I'm like 'this is not fair! You are a professional player!' But he's great in everything he does. He's a great artist, painter, he does some incredible paintings."

The first time I heard 'I Wanna Hear A Cheating Song' I thought OK, she chose some less known song by Conway or maybe some old demo. I couldn't believe the way you made it! What's the story behind this song?

"Actually I wrote the song inspired by the fact that we got to point in country music when we couldn't sing about drinking and cheating and things that real country music was about always, about the real life what really goes on. And I was very frustrated about a lot of the stuff I've seen on the radio. So that's really where the song came from. I was talking to my producer one day, Jim Ed Norman, and he said 'I love the song, let's go and cut it' and he said 'it reminds me of that song 'I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool', maybe you can bring one of your heroes to sing the last chorus with you'. And right there I said 'it's too bad Conway Twitty isn't still alive, because I would love for him to sing it'. And we started talking about Conway and Loretta, because Loretta Lynn was the first artist I ever opened up for professionally and Conway Twitty was the first artist that my co-producer had ever opened up for."

"So we were having this conversation and I left and I went home. And before I got home, my co-producer Jim had left a message on my machine saying 'hey Anita, don't think I'm crazy or lost my mind, but I think there might be a way to record this with Conway'. And I immediately knew what he was thinking. The way we record these days with computer and software you can do a lot more than you could years ago."

"So I called him and we ended up talking to his family and his widow and they were also excited about it and we told them what we were gonna do. If they didn't like the way it sounded, we would not release it. But it was a tribute to him, we told everybody how we did it. It wasn't like we were trying to pretend that Conway came from the grave and sang this new song. But it was really a tribute song to all the heroes of country music that I had. About the songs that they sang. And I miss hearing that kind of thing."

"It took a two-year process to do the song. I listened to every song Conway ever did, which was a pleasure obviously. But it was work, because everytime he said a word we needed, what key it was in, how he phrased it, what note it was, so I had like pages and pages and pages of just words. Whenever he sang the word 'I', 'want', 'to', 'hear' anywhere, I had to write it down."

But it feels so natural, nobody can tell!

"Thank you! We took 32 songs, nailed it down to 32 songs. We found when they were located, because there were some old. They had to bake the tapes, the two-inch tapes because they were sticked together, becase they had been sitting together for so long. So they baked them in an oven, and then they sent me a harddrive just his vocal, no music, nothing, just his vocal of the 32 songs. And I sat and just picked the best 'I', the best 'wanna', the best things. So he's singing every single word that's on that record. There's nothing computerized, he's singing every word."

"It's the same way when we compile vocal like if I go in or artists go in to sing a song on a record, they sing the song ten times and fifteen times or twenty times whatever it is and then the engineers or the producers will take certain sentences and place them together. That's all we did. We did it from Conway from 32 different songs. It wasn't one song he sang over and over, we just took the words from 32 different songs."

"It was such an honor to get to do that and to spend the time that I did with his family really meant a lot."

And there was also a Conway Twitty musical, right?

"Yes, they hired me to be the musical director and I helped with the play, writing some of the stuff and directing it and that was so wonderful. The guy that we had playing Conway sounded so much like Conway. And the girl we had as our Loretta Lynn on the show sounded so much like Loretta and she was even from Kentucky. We had a big industry showcase that only people from Nashville from the industry could come to it and people were blown away when they came out and did the duet medley that I put together of Conway and Loretta. I mean you could close your eyes and think it's Conway and Loretta. It was a great, great musical. It toured for a little over a year and then it stopped, so..."

Is there a video of it?

"No, they were filming it to put it on DVD, but they didn't. Some of the artists that were in the musical got record deals and they were doing another things. It just didn't work out for to continue. They've talked about putting it back together again, but I don't know if we'll ever get another guy to sing as well as this one. His name was Glen Templeton and he sounded so much like Conway. When he sings normal, when he does his own songs, he doesn't sound like Conway, though. It's really weird."

This is not the first time you're in Europe and I've noticed that you really enjoy these adventures of long distance travels like this week, so how do you feel about playing and exploring Europe?

"I love, absolutely love playing Europe. I've played Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Poland, France, I've played quite a few and love it to death. I mean the fans here are so incredible. When you're an artist, the musicians who play on your record, it really means a lot when a fan comes up to you and says 'you play the electric guitar on this song' or 'you wrote this song'. It means a lot. And they tell you who plays bass guitar on your records. It's like they really study your music. In the States you really have to be a die-hard fan to study people's albums nowadays. And it's a whole different kind of performance when we play over here."

Thank you for the interview.




Anita Cochran & Steve Wariner - "What If I Said"


Anita Cochran feat. Conway Twitty - "I Wanna Hear A Cheatin' Song"


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