Although he’s a respected singer in his own right, songwriter Hank Cochran’s role in the Patsy Cline story might’ve been enough to warrant his 2014 induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In the grand scheme of things, hits like “I Fall to Pieces” merely previewed the talents of one of the most consistent songwriters of the past 60 years.
Off to a Fast Start
In 1960, the same year he hitchhiked to Nashville from California at age 24, Isola, Mississippi native Garland Perry Cochran (Aug. 2, 1935- July 15, 2010) co-wrote “I Fall to Pieces” with the great Harlan Howard. He also wrote Cline’s jazz-pop hit “She’s Got You” and the less obvious “Why Can’t He Be You.”
If that’s not an amazing enough start, 1960 is the same year that a trip to the movie theater inspired Cochran to write “Make the World Go Away,” a future Ray Price hit and the career-defining song of Eddy Arnold. Before his mid-20s, the newest Hank in Music City (following Williams, Locklin, Thompson and Snow) had written signature tunes for two of the greatest vocalists in the genre’s history.
Talent Finds Talent
While working at the Pamper Music Publishing company, Cochran moonlighted as a singer at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. He was no stranger to performing, having been a member of the Cochran Brothers alongside rockabilly legend Eddie Cochran. Despite their group name, the two legends weren’t related. During his stint at Tootsie’s, Cochran became one of the first taste-makers to notice the talents of a down-on-his-luck singer and songwriter named Willie Nelson.
A few singles by Cochran for RCA Victor, Capitol, Monument and Elektra cracked the top 100 over the years, including “Sally Was a Good Old Girl” (1962), the aptly-titled “A Good Country Song” (1963) and a pair of duets with Nelson, “Ain’t Life Hell” (1978) and “A Little Bitty Tear” (1980).
The Traditionalists’ Choice
In the ’80s and beyond, country traditionalists found success with Cochran’s songs. George Strait’s “The Chair” and “Ocean Front Property” were Cochran co-writes with Dean Dillon, as was Keith Whitley’s “Miami, My Amy.” The like-minded Jamey Johnson also flocked to Cochran’s music, honoring him with 2012 tribute album Living For a Song.
Other songs from the mind of Cochran include Waylon Jennings’ “The Eagle,” Vern Gosdin’s “This Ain’t My First Rodeo.” his one-time wife Jeannie Seely’s “Don’t Touch Me” and the often-covered “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me?”–a number one hit in 1989 for Ronnie Milsap. A list of additional artists who’ve covered Cochran’s material reads like a pop culture who’s-who: Burl Ives, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Costello, Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard.
A 1974 shoo-in to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Cochran’s plaque was hung in the Country Music Hall of Fame’s rotunda the same year as Milsap and Mac Wiseman. Not bad for a songwriter who’d lived by a simple yet potent creed: “Make it short. Make it sweet. Make it rhyme.”