DIARY - 9 NOVEMBER 2008 - ELIZABETH COOK INTERVIEW
IT'S ELIZABETH COOK - MOONSHINER'S DAUGHTER
a socialite, a decent housewife and she makes a mean lasagna/ so when
the mechanic, said 'Lady don¹t panic, but this one's gonna cost ya'/
she said 'I know I don¹t need my engine rebuilt, now just check the
oil and change the belt/ honey, I know you thought you saw me coming'/
sometimes it takes balls to be a woman."
Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be A Woman - Elizabeth Cook-Melinda Schneider.
born singer-songwriter Elizabeth Cook has this luxury of riches -
her family history is the stuff Hollywood movies cry out for.
And the Cook story looms more as a box office smash than three movies
that already feature her music.
Cook is the youngest daughter of an Octogenarian moonshiner who spent
11 years in prison in the sixties.
Her dad Tom learned to play double bass in gaol and was heading straight
to hillbilly hell until he met singing spouse Joyce when the prison
doors slammed behind him on his final release.
a country girl from Charleston, West Virginia, who played mandolin and
guitar and performed on radio and local television in her younger years
as the Melody Duo.
She sang for her supper until she met Tom - fresh from doing time for
operating a vast moonshine racket up and down the eastern seaboard from
The couple had 10 children - five each from previous relationships - when
Tom and Joyce, both in their forties when they wed, soaked their genes
to begat 11th child Elizabeth - first and only child of their union.
Cook was born at Wildwood in Florida and joined her parents on stage at
the age of four.
Aged nine, she fronted her own band Southern Breeze and released her first
double-sided record - both songs penned by mum Joyce.
DADDY AND THE BOTTLE
the sentiments of the B Side, Does Daddy Love The Bottle More Than
He Loves Me, rescued her dad, who learned to play guitar on a Georgia
cotton plantation, from alcoholism.
"My daddy was a roaring alcoholic and he quit drinking when she wrote
Cook told Nu Country TV in a call from North Carolina where she was touring
with Texan troubadour Guy Clark.
Tom is now 84.
And until Joyce died at 77 earlier this year, they performed as The Medicare
Duo in Nashville - opening shows for their daughter at the Station Inn
and other venues.
The A side was Homework Blues - somewhat sardonic for the singer
who retired from music at 12 to become a cheerleader, beauty queen and
straight A student.
Cook used her Georgia dual university degrees in 1996 to launch an accounting
career at Price Waterhouse before boomeranging to singing and songwriting.
Elizabeth, now a prolific writer and singing spouse of fellow roots country
singer Tim Carroll, is one of the most acclaimed artists of the new millennia.
Expatriate Australasian promoter and publisher Barry Coburn signed Cook
to her first major record deal with Atlantic Records in 2001.
After that deal headed south she became a finalist in the prestigious
Americana Music Awards in Nashville in 2007 with one of several songs
that she wrote with Australian country music queen Melinda Schneider.
Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be A Woman is the title track of Cook's
fourth disc and one of their three collaborations on Schneider's previous
album Stronger - also her fourth album.
Schneider and Cook both recorded Rest Your Weary Mind on their
albums - Cook added Bobby Bare Jr as her duet partner.
Now Schneider, Cook and husband Tim Carroll are planning an Australian
tour with another down under cameo.
Midnight Oil bassist Bones Hillman, now living in Nashville, is the latest
addition to Cook's touring band.
at Dolly and Loretta, they still live it to the letter/ Oh, sometimes
it takes balls to be a woman." - Balls - Elizabeth Cook-Melinda
raised on the pure country vocals of Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and
the late Tammy Wynette, also borrowed marketing strategy from the
Kentucky coalminer's daughter when she debuted on vinyl.
Well, her folks did with their radio blitz for Homework Blues/
Does Daddy Love The Bottle More Than He Loves Me?
"We went to a little studio in Ocarville, Florida, called Great
Southern Sounds and they recorded it and printed it up," Cook,
now 36, revealed.
did all the groundwork - we watched the movie Coalminer's Daughter
and saw how Loretta did it. We filled up the car and drove to radio stations
and walked in with the record and got local airplay. They started playing
it a lot around central Florida. We did that for a couple of years. I
then retired at 12 to be a cheerleader - I didn't start writing until
I got into college. I ended up in a Miss Georgia pageant in 1990."
Cook graduated from the Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, in 1996
with dual degrees in Accounting and Computer Information Systems.
STILLS IN THE HILLS
into Ashville, sometimes Memphis town/ the revenoors chased him but they
couldn't run him down/ each time they thought they had him, his engine
would explode/ he'd go by like they were standin' still on Thunder Road."
- Thunder Road - Robert Mitchum.
Elizabeth's flight path let's backslide to Tom's illustrious career as
"He got sentenced to 11 years and initially served eight years,"
"Three different times he got caught. He was sentenced to two three-year
sentences and a five-year sentence. So he served 11 years in total."
That might sound harsh but it was the sixties and the government needed
the revenue as it did in the Prohibition era.
And Tom Cook, latter day musical icon, was no mule.
"Dad was part of a crime ring that ran up and down the eastern seaboard,"
the singer explained.
"He had various assignments and functions within that ring. It was
He had a car that he drove that they called the white ghost because it
didn't have a back seat in. Instead it had these big jugs as cargo. He
would pull into a barn, close the door and unload the whiskey and fill
the jogs and would drive back out. He also oversaw the still and they
ran it like a serious business. They would look at the run off and how
efficient the stills were. They were dead serious about it. It wasn't
hillbillies with overalls and a donkey. It was the serious business of
crime. He had various roles taking the liquor from Miami north. One time
when he was arrested he was awaiting sentencing. The time kept piling
on - there were dozens of people arrested within an hour."
"Let me tell the story, I can tell it all/ about the mountain boy
who ran illegal alcohol/
his daddy made the whiskey, son, he drove the load/ when his engine roared,
they called the highway Thunder Road." - Thunder Road - Robert
Cook has written several songs about her mother but are there any about
Robert Mitchum created the template with the title track of his 1958 movie
Thunder Road - his saga of moonshining in Kentucky and Tennessee.
And seven times wed Texan born recidivist Aussie tourist Steve Earle updated
it with his herb superb - moonshine successor - for historic 1988 hit
But Elizabeth, maybe with restrained optimism for a belated movie or at
least a docco about family, has not written anything specific about her
"There will be songs, especially when he is such a colourful a character
that he is, that will be starting to come out," Cook confessed.
"I have a couple of ideas that will be on the next album pertaining
directly to him. I don't directly write to the topic - it's more the stream
of thoughts coming from his experiences."
So how important was time behind bars in the musical growth of the Cook
"Dad learned bass in prison," Cook revealed.
"He played a little bit of guitar before he went into gaol. I guess
there was someone in there who knew how to play and taught him. They had
prison band The Melody Boys. On my Myspace page there are a couple of
great shots of him with prison band. Mum was earlier in a band called
The Melody Duo."
WATERHOUSE TO PUBLISHING
my feelings, all my fears/ were confirmed by Britney Spears." - Times
Are Tough In Rock N Roll - Elizabeth Cook.
graduated from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro in 1996 with
dual degrees in Accounting and Computer Information Systems.
Cook utilised her degrees to kick-start a career with multi-national
Price Waterhouse in Nashville.
"I worked there in accounting and computer information systems
after I left university until I had a publishing company offer me
a contract for my songs," Cook recalled.
was a way to make a living in the music business if I signed the contract.
That was a cushion a lot of people who make the decision to pursue their
dreams don't have. I was fortunate to have that but of course it was for
a lot less money than what I was pulling at Price Waterhouse. I was not
happy at Price Waterhouse. I worked all the time and it was not a good
experience. I didn't enjoy the environment. I didn't see the future for
myself in that scenario. It was an easy out when the songwriting publishing
deal came along."
Cook signed with the publishing company Sis 'N Bro Music and recorded
debut indie disc The Blue Album in 2000.
BARRY COBURN AND ATLANTIC RECORDS
"My heartache went from bad to worse/ called the doctor and got his
nurse/ here's to you for messing up my everything." - Here's To
You - Elizabeth Cook.
made a huge impression on expatriate Australasian manager and publisher
Barry Coburn - he immediately signed her to Atlantic Records in Nashville.
Coburn is the original manager of Georgian superstar Alan Jackson,
and latter day handler of artists diverse as BR5-49, Lacy J Dalton,
Mark Germino, Holly Dunn, Suzy Bogguss, Marty Stuart and Diamond Rio.
The former Victorian Spurs Bar promoter ascended from his publishing
company Ten Ten - whose clients included Keith Urban - to become CEO
of the Nashville branch of Atlantic.
But just as Cook was recording her album Hey Y'all for Atlantic
it closed its Nashville label and she was handballed to parent company
Warner with high-profile label mates John Michael Montgomery and Tracy
the maverick publisher in Australia for artists diverse as former Seeker
Bruce Woodley, the late A P Johnson and this writer, I had one question
Was it Barry Coburn who signed you to Atlantic?
"It sure was," Cook recalled.
"I was kept on and my contract was transferred over to Warner Brothers.
That proved not to be a good relationship for me. After they released
Hey Y'all album on Warner Brothers I asked to be relieved of my
contract and they were gracious to let me go. It was painful and I have
this feeling Barry fought very hard for me when it came down.
It pained him greatly when it went down the way it did for him when it
Cook released another indie disc This Side Of The Moon for Hog
County in 2004.
Her 13 songs included vitriolic Hard-Hearted and Here's to You
about an acrimonious split with Warner.
"It's about my divorce with Music Row," Cook confessed.
"I write to heal myself. When an artist writes, they usually write
from personal experience. I think many mainstream artists are disconnected
from what they perform."
So, if the lyric quoted from Here's To You doesn't make it clear
try this from Hard Hearted.
"You're so hard hearted, dearly departed/ cannot connect to you/
you're so hard hearted/ but I keep on trying to get through/ cos I'm sentimental,
should be gentle/ but it's all lost on you."
That disc received rave reviews from New York Times and No Depression
and sowed the seeds for Balls that bounced from the gate in Nashville
more than a year ahead of its 2008 Australian release.
it takes balls to be a woman/ standing up to a test, while wearing a party
dress/ sometimes looks can be deceiving when you¹re quietly over-achieving/
yeah sometimes it takes balls to be a woman." - Balls - Elizabeth
and Schneider wrote a batch of songs together after Melinda saw
Elizabeth on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
The duo wrote Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be A Woman, Rest Your
Weary Mind and I Like Men In Trucks and several other
tunes in successive sessions.
"She visited the Opry and saw me perform," Cook recalled.
"She mentioned it in a meeting with a guy and he said he knew
me and organised a meeting and introduced us. She sought em out
on the streets of Nashville. I'm really glad she did."
Those sessions were fruitful - especially the end product.
"Balls took only 15 minutes to write," Cook confessed.
in a while I get an email saying bar bands are singing It Takes Balls
To Be A Woman," Cook confessed.
"I think there are also a lot of transvestites singing it."
So does Cook have many songs covered by mainstream artists?
"I'm still relatively young as a songwriter and have hopes of that,"
What about Texan singer Lee Ann Womack - one of the last traditional mainstream
female singers on a major label?
"I would love to have her cut one of my songs," Cook confided.
"But that would be her call. Are my songs suitable for her? I would
can be a hard gravel road/when the weight of the world is one heavy load/
when you need a place just to lay low/ and hear somebody say/ rest your
weary mind." - Rest Your Weary Mind - Melinda Schneider-Elizabeth
revamped Rest Your Weary Mind, originally recorded by Schneider,
as a duet with Bobby Bare Jr on Balls.
Bare's father Bobby broke in Australia as Bill Parson with All
American Boy in 1958 before a spate of pop hits and country comedy
classics from the salacious songbook of late Playboy cartoonist Shel
Silverstein and stone country tunes by Bob McDill.
"Melinda came in with the genesis of the song," Cook recalled.
wrote that on the same day that we wrote Balls and another song
we haven't recorded to date. She came in with thought and line and she
sat down on the couch and she was in the song already. I jumped in with
her and slapped the verses on it. It was fairly fast to write but not
quick as Balls."
The Cook-Schneider sessions also produced I Like Men In Trucks
- a song the writers were not sure about until they sought a third opinion
"Melinda was reticent about recording it but Tim thought it was a
great song. I did too. You write a lot of songs but can't record everything.
You look at the landscape of what you've got and try to make a well-rounded
album. That hasn't surfaced to for me yet but it did for her. It was what
she was looking for - for her project. I'm sure we have songs left over
from those writing sessions - ideas we haven't finished."
on walkin' my country mile/I got my heart up all the while/Some would
like to cramp my style/I keep on walkin' my country mile." - Times
Are Tough In Rock' n Roll - Elizabeth Cook
hired legendary Texan troubadour and producer Rodney Crowell - ex-husband
of Rosanne Cash and latter day singing spouse of Claudia Church -
for the album for 31 Tigers Records.
"We almost worked together on first record in 1999 but when that
deal fell through he was releasing The Houston Kid, and our paths
drifted apart," Cook recalled.
"I was looking for an overseer of this album and tried him again.
It was good timing. He was looking for something to do. It was a healthy
distraction for him. He came in and produced."
Crowell joined fellow guitarists Richard Bennett, Kenny Vaughan and
Carroll on the disc that features bassists Michael Rhodes and Alison
Prestwood and the famed Dead Reckoners drummer Harry Stinson.
was Matt Combs - fiddle and mandolin, Greg Davis - banjo and Tim Lauer
Crowell and fellow Texan born singer Nanci Griffith added their vocals
to Down Girl and Marcia Ramirez added harmonies to other songs.
"We tracked all 11 cuts in two days," Cook says.
"The record was finished in two weeks."
The album begins with the sardonic social comment of Times Are Tough
In Rock 'N Roll.
"Times Are Tough isn't about being female to me," Cook
"It's just about being at a certain point in your life where what
you're doing ought to be real cool but you see the struggle ahead and
you see right through all the mirages around you and you decide to keep
Cook has filmed video clips for Balls and Sunday Morning
- the first song on 1967's The Velvet Underground & Nico.
The Lou Reed-John Cale tune is the only cover on the album.
not a has-been/ I'm still a gonna be/ you just wait and see/ you just
won't believe/ keep looking out for me." - Gonna Be - Elizabeth
extended her musical dynasty when she wed Carroll, now 47, on May
Ironically, the couple live at Cooksville near Lebanon in Tennessee.
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
He formed a bar band called The Blue Chieftains who had 2 singles
issued on the Diesel Only label in 1990.
he has lived in Nashville, Tennessee, writing songs and playing gigs.
writer's tune If I Could, I Would has been covered by Sunny Sweeney,
John Prine and Asleep at the Wheel.
Two Carroll original tunes appeared on soundtracks of major movies Election
that stars Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick and Drop Dead Gorgeous
with Kirsten Dunst.
So how did the couple meet?
"I needed a guitar player a couple years ago, and Tim had been out
on the road with Sonny Burgess," Cook recalled.
"He came and did the tour with me. He's on the road with me now.
Our shows are just me and him. We're a country duet."
And how are the harmonies?
"Our voices sing together," she said.
"We'll do Jackson or some other country duet. I think we sound good."
"There is one co-write with him on the album but I don't write with
him a lot," Cook added.
"He writes a lot on his own. We write and bounce things off each
other. He is the first person to hear what I write and I'm the first to
hear what he has written. We're a sounding board for each other. When
we wrote Gonna Be that was really fast. We started it back stage before
we were going on to do a show. We finished it in the living room maybe
a few days later."
Carroll's optimistic tune Always Tomorrow closes this album - "If
you don't like the way things are/ you can wish upon a star/ there's always
Cook is proud of her salient song sequencing.
"Hope. That's sort of the key word I think," Cook says.
"It's like people at the end of the day want a little bit of hope.
It just seemed like the right thing to end the record. To start with Times
Are Tough in Rock 'n' Roll and end in Always Tomorrow, it's
like a little goodnight."
not in the hall of fame/ I'm not on the wall of shame/ I guess you'll
find me in between somewhere/ things go right and things go wrong/ sometimes
you hear me sing this song/ you'll always find me in my mama's prayers."
- Mama's Prayers - Elizabeth Cook.
wrote songs about her late mother on previous albums, included another
- Mama's Prayers on Balls.
The song depicts a lonely young woman kept together by the thought of
"Yes, it became more relevant when she died this year," Cook
"It came straight from my heart. I like to think most songs do. One
of the reasons I don't co-write a lot is there is only a small handful
of people that I'm willing to make that time commitment with or that it
seems to happen naturally with because if I'm really just shooting from
the hip and being straight about what I'm writing it seems to come out
as an honest lyric."
Cook also utilised maternal inspiration for Mama You Wanted To Be A
Singer, Too from Hey Y'all.
In a 2007 interview to promote Balls U.S. release Cook praised
her mother's spirit and talent.
"My mama is 75 years old and she still writes the occasional song
just 'cause she's got something to say and that's how she wants to say
it," Cook said.
"It's just what we do."
And Cook is equally proud of her parents' roots.
"I was very fortunate to have two very good, solid, hard working,
honest, loving - if poor, white trash country music people - for parents,"
"It's everything that I am."
- A FAMILY TRADITION
husband Carroll, has landed her songs in movies.
"I have had some success," Cook revealed.
"I had a song in a movie called Animal Factory. I had another
song in a movie called American Reunion. It was an independent.
The song was Demon Don't Get Into Bed With Me."
The 2000 crime movie Animal Factory, directed by Steve Buscemi,
starred Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, Danny Trejo, Seymour Cassel, comedian
Tom Arnold, Jake La Boetz and Mickey Rourke.
American Reunion, featuring Billy Wirth, Jennier Rubin and Corey
Glover, debuted in 2004.
"Blue Shades is in another movie called Killshot if
and when it comes out. I met the lead actress Dianne Lane in a bar in
Key West, Florida and said I had a song in her movie. I said I hadn't
seen the movie - she said she hadn't seen it either. I have done a deal
with a publisher who pitches for that sort of things."
Killshot, based on the 1989 Elmore Leonard crime novel, began shooting
in 2005 and has been revamped for release in 2009.
The cast includes Dianne Lane, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson, Thomas Jane,
Lois Smith and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Johnny Knoxville played body snatcher Phil Kaufman in Grand Theft Parsons
- the story of Gram Parsons posthumous kidnapping and cut rate cremation
at Joshua Tree in California - and also appears in Killshot, directed
by John Madden.
TOUR - 2009?
and Carroll are keen to tour Australia to promote their music.
The singer has a possible touring partner in songwriting collaborator
Schneider - and a well-known expatriate Australian bassist.
"Bones Hillman moved to town recently, he was the bass player
for Midnight Oil." Cook added.
"He's new to Nashville and wants to play upright bass. I had
another bass player but he plays with other people. So I had to substitute
my bass player and Bones has been with me since."
Cook has appeared on the Grand Ole Opry more than 100 times - twice that
of many mainstream peers - she hasn't been honoured in wax like co-writer
Schneider who will be unveiled in Tamworth's museum in January.
"Good for her," Cook joked.
HERE for Melinda Schneider feature from Diary on August 9, 2006 when
she recalled the night her mother sang backstage at the Opry with Tom
and Joyce Cook.
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