"Yeah, sometimes it takes balls to be a woman/ look at Loretta and Dolly/ they still live it to the letter." - Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be A Woman - Melinda Schneider-Elizabeth Cook.

Imagine this.

It's backstage late at night at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and an octogenarian reformed moonshiner and an iconic Australian yodeler join forces on a classic from a distant era.

Suddenly a crowd gathers to watch and listen to the duo harmonising.

Time stands still.

But not Australian country music queen Melinda Schneider.
Melinda reaches for her mobile phone and films this spontaneous performance by her mum Mary and songwriting partner Elizabeth Cook's dad Tom.

Minutes later she replays it for these kindred spirits before Cook takes the stage and enters homes all over the U.S.

The senior Cooks - Tom and Joyce - have met Mary for the first time but their female offspring have been making music together for a couple of years now.

Melinda and Elizabeth have written at least a dozen songs together on Schneider's trips to Nashville and three grace the Sydney chanteuse's fourth album Stronger.

But it's this meeting off the not so odd couple that captured the lens of Schneider's phone.

"Liz was on the Opry that night so mum and I went down to see her perform as I was playing it the next night," Schneider, 34, told Nu Country TV on the eve of concerts in Melbourne as part of the Broad show.

"My mum and her dad Tom hit it off right away. I've got them singing old traditional harmony cowboy song together backstage. I filmed it on my camera - just priceless. They just met - they were kindred spirits too. It makes sense because Elizabeth and I are too."

Kindred spirits maybe but oceans apart in their geographical genetics.

Mary Schneider and her sister Rita emerged from Queensland in the forties.

They blazed their own trail across Australia.

Mary has become internationally renowned for her singing and yodeling.


Tom, 81, and Joyce perform in Nashville as the Medicare Duo.

As a teen, Joyce was half of The Melody Duo, performing on farm radio hours and TV shows in Charleston, West Virginia.

Tom learned to play guitar on a Georgia cotton plantation.

He later worked as a bootlegger and still supervisor for an organised crime ring in Jacksonville, Florida.

He spent 11 years in state and federal prisons, where he learned to play upright bass and performed in the prison band.

After his release, Tom met Joyce, by now a single mother of five.

They got hitched musically and legally and added baby Elizabeth to the brood.

When Elizabeth's husband, singer-songwriter Tim Carroll, bought Tom a bass amp for his 80th birthday last year, The Medicare Duo was born.

But the Opry wasn't the first meeting of Melinda and Medicare - that was one of her six songwriting sojourns in Nashville over the past three years.

"I went out to their farm and had a ride of their horses," Melinda revealed of her visit to the family farm at the aptly named Cooksville near Lebanon in Tennessee.

< Elizabeth Cook & Tim Carroll

"I had turnip greens and cornbread and ribs and stuff. It was fantastic. We talked a lot about his time in jail. He was a little bugger - a bootlegger. Apparently he had this car that had a smokescreen. It also had these buttons he would press and the number plate would disappear or cover up so the cops couldn't see who it was. It was really like something out of Maxwell Smart."


Daughter Elizabeth, born in Wildwood, Florida, is the youngest of 11 children.

Cook attended Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, earning a double major in accounting and computer information systems.

She became an accountant with Price Waterhouse before choosing a music career that resulted in her self-titled indie debut disc in 2000.

Expatriate Australasian CEO Barry Coburn then signed her to Atlantic in 2001.

Elizabeth Cook

Cook began recording her second album that year but AOL-Time Warner, which owned Atlantic, closed its Nashville office.

Along with high-profile label mates John Michael Montgomery and Tracy Lawrence, she was bounced to Atlantic's parent, Warner.

Her album Hey Y'all eventually made its debut in August 2002, but it was too little, too late.

She resorted to writing songs including Hard-Hearted and Here's to You about her demise that was a feature of her new album This Side of the Moon (Hog County)

Cook wed fellow singer-songwriter Tim Carroll, 45, on May 13, 2004.

Carroll, born at West Terre Haute, Indiana in rural Vigo County, graduated from college at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, where he joined punk rock band The Gizmos and moved to New York City in 1980.

He formed a bar band called The Blue Chieftains who had 2 singles issued on the Diesel Only label in 1990.

Since 1993, he has lived in Nashville, Tennessee, writing songs and playing gigs.

The prolific writer's tune If I Could, I Would has been covered by John Prine and Asleep at the Wheel.

Two Carroll original tunes appeared on soundtracks of major movies Election (which stars Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick) and Drop Dead Gorgeous (with Kirsten Dunst).


"Sometimes it takes balls to be a woman/ standing up to the test while you're wearing a party dress/ sometimes looks can be deceiving when you're quietly over-achieving."
Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be A Woman - Melinda Schneider-Elizabeth Cook.

The writing sessions of Schneider and Cook at the Nashville home shared with her singing spouse Tim Carroll were not quite as exciting.

But two songs on Stronger came to fruition on the same day - the first was Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be A Woman.

"It was really just a flippant comment on life," Schneider recalled.

< Melinda Schneider

"The song didn't come from a specific personal place. We were having a conversation about being female in the music industry. That's how it came out - one of those girlie conversations about life, how being female some times makes it harder. We were at her house talking about the industry. She's also struggling to be known - we're both on same path. There's a lot of competition out there, having to push yourself and be focused and gung ho and all the qualities to get somewhere in this business. She said - "well, Melinda sometimes it takes balls to be a woman.' I said 'you're flipping song titles, let's write it.' It was a perfect case of a song being born from a title."

The song, featuring Cook, expatriate Queensland singer Natalie Howard and fellow Australian Janine Le Claire among the choir, has the joyous vibrance of the Matraca Berg song Back In The Saddle.

"We also wrote Rest Your Weary Mind in the same session," Schneider recalled.

"The night before I came up with the chorus. So we fleshed it out. We worked on Balls and Rest Your Weary Mind in the same day - two different mood swings."

But not Men In Trucks.

"I thought it was a bit of silly song but when I came back and played it for Graham (Thompson) - her husband and producer of 10 years with whom she split in 2005.

"He loved it. He said you've got to do that - Elizabeth didn't put it on her record - her husband Tim said I don't know why you didn't do it. He's really cool - he wrote the fishing song, If I Could that Kasey did and John Prine did. We should listen to him."


"This time is my stop, it's time to get off/ though I'm not too sure where I'm going/ I've spent the best part of my life so far/ in a love that just wasn't growing." - Stronger - Melinda Schneider- Jerry Salley.

Schneider exorcised her painful divorce from Thompson - also owner of her record label Compass Bros - in two songs she penned with prolific writer Jerry Salley.

But she didn't inject her album title track of The Letting Go with vitriol or angst.

"I formed a bit of a bond with him on the last album," Schneider revealed.

"We wrote Dreaming Him Home two weeks after my dad died. I had met Jerry for the first time that day. We got into the grief in the first day - he's a great country writer. I felt comfortable writing with him. The initial idea for Stronger was mine. I wrote about three quarters of the lyrics, Everything that I say in that song is true. I wanted to keep it positive. It can be sad but it's got to be positive too."

Then song reflects Thompson's compassion when Schneider's policeman father died and supported her through the tough emotional crises.

"I had a couple of other songs that I loved and he loved," Schneider confessed.

"One was a little darker and I made the decision I didn't want to have three break-up songs on the album - that would have tipped the balance. Stronger is personal and the other The Letting Go is a real country song - it's personal but has broader appeal. The moving on in The Letting Go was Jerry's line."


Schneider and Salley also wrote Send Them Love.

"It's about another friend of mine," she added.

"We turned negative feelings into a positive vibe. I had that that chorus, it was almost fully formed."

Schneider not only ensured the balance of moods was reflected in her 13-song disc but also that it started with on a positive note.

"Big World, Small World is a very happy, positive song," Melinda added.

"He's a new writer I have been writing with for the past year. He's great - he's on my wave-length and I'm very happy with it. We also wrote Truly True Love together."

Schneider made a video clip of Big World, Small World that will be featured on Nu Country TV.

So what other songs are being considered for video clips?

"There are so many songs that could be singles," she added.

"What do you think?"

Well, obviously Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be A Woman.

"We could have a lot of drag queens in that," she joked.

"Well Vince Gill was in drag for the video he and Rodney Crowell made as Notorious Cherry Bombs for Its Hard To Kiss The Lips At Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long, I reply.

Ironically, Crowell already has a link with the Schneider-Cook anthem.

"There was talk of Balls being used in the movie The Devil Wears Prada," Melinda said.

"Rodney Crowell pitched it to the producers. But I guess it didn't make it. The film is already out."


Although Schneider and Thompson suffered in their split they remain good friends.

"The break-up was very difficult as anyone would know after being married for 10 years," Schneider says candidly.

"But the relationship is still strong - we're good mates. We're working together very well which we're both very happy about. It's a credit to both of us."

Thompson also sourced Biff Watson as producer of Stronger - featuring a Nashville A team.

They include hot guitarists Brent Mason and Bryan Sutton, bassist Michael Rhodes, drummer Greg Morrow, pianists Gordon Mote and Mike Rojas, Mike Johnson and Randy Kohrs on pedal steel and dobro, Aubrey Hayney on fiddle and mandolin and Flood accordion player Tim Wedde.

"Graham was going to be producer of the album when start writing for it," Melinda added.

"Even after we split up I still had him in mind as the producer. It came to a point that I was going to work with writer Gordon Kennedy as produce but he couldn't do it for personal reasons. Graham was in Nashville. I said 'maybe you should do it - it'll be a healing time.' He said 'it's too hard - too emotional.' He met with Biff and said see if I like him. He said you'll like him - he'll do a great job. I met him and liked him and decided to go with him. I love Graham's production but it was obviously time for a change in direction - we moved on in two ways."


Schneider plans to compensate for Australian radio boycott on country music by her national Broad tour with Deborah Conway, Mia Dyson Kate Miller Heidke and Ella Hooper.

The tour began in Lismore and brings the quintet to The Athenaeum in Melbourne on August 22.

Melinda plans to belatedly release an album in the U.S featuring some of the songs on Stronger.

But what's happening with the other 47 songs she wrote in Nashville?

"I have half a dozen really good songs I'll save for my next album," she explains.

"It's not as it they're not good enough. But I was repeating myself on some subjects.
I don't thing they'll date. The others I'll pitch to other artists. Bobby - my publisher in Nashville - will pitch those songs after I do demos."

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