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Hank Cochran dies at 74; country music songwriter

Hank Cochran, the esteemed country music songwriter revered for the poetic economy and power of such enduring hits as Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces" and Eddy Arnold's "Make the World Go Away," died Thursday at his home in Hendersonville, Tenn., after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 74.


FOR THE RECORD:
Hank Cochran: A news obituary of country music songwriter Hank Cochran in Friday's LATExtra section listed the name of one of the three sons who survive him as Bobby Cochran. His name is Danny Cochran. —


Cochran was joined Wednesday night by musicians Jamey Johnson and Billy Ray Cyrus and fellow songwriter Buddy Cannon, who sang songs with him at his bedside.

In a career spanning more than half a century, Cochran wrote or co-wrote hundreds of songs recorded by Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, Ray Price, George Strait and numerous others.

"He was a great friend, and a great mentor, and he was responsible for some of the music that inspired me to do what I do," Haggard, himself one of country's most prolific songwriters, said through a spokeswoman Thursday.


FOR THE RECORD: A news obituary in Friday's LATExtra section on country music songwriter Hank Cochran listed the name of one of the three sons who survive him as Bobby Cochran. His name is Danny Cochran.


Cochran's name can also be found on the credits for Cline's "She's Got You," Strait's "The Chair" and "Ocean Front Property" and Ronnie Milsap's "Don't You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me," the latter being the one he usually cited as his favorite of his own songs.

"People study songs and go over them and all that," Cochran once said, "and they tell me that's one of the most well-written songs, but that has nothing to do with why it's my favorite. It's my favorite because it can still cut me up just like the day I wrote it."

One verse looks at heartache from the viewpoint of a man who is unable to move on:

You must think I look bad with a smile

For you haven't let me wear one

In such a long, long while

Still I keep running back — why must this be?

Don't you ever get tired of hurtin' me?

"Of my top 20 favorite songs of all time, he wrote about half of 'em," country star Brad Paisley tweeted Thursday after hearing the news. "What a great guy and great life."

Garland Perry Cochran was born Aug. 2, 1935, in Isola, Miss. After his parents divorced when he was 9, his father placed him at St. Peter's Orphans' Home in Memphis. At age 12, he hitchhiked with an uncle to Hobbs, N.M., and spent two years laboring in the oil fields there. Having learned to play guitar from his uncle and having sung in church, he dreamed of making a living in music.

After a brief return to Mississippi, he headed west and, still a teenager, settled in Los Angeles.

In 1954, he met soon-to-be-rock star Eddie Cochran and although they were not related, they billed themselves as the Cochran Brothers, appearing on KTTV-TV Channel 11's "Town Hall Party" and touring as an opening act with country great Lefty Frizzell.

When Presley's career started to break nationally, the Cochrans traded country for rock 'n' roll, but they couldn't score a hit as a duo and broke up. Eddie Cochran soon charted his signature hit, "Summertime Blues," while Hank Cochran moved to Nashville to pursue a solo career.

He was hired as a $50-a-week staff songwriter for Pamper, a music publishing company run by singer Ray Price, who also hired a young Willie Nelson on Cochran's recommendation.

What distinguished Cochran's songs, Price, 84, said Thursday, is that "they were down to earth. They wasn't accusatory kind of songs, they wasn't drunken songs, they was just love songs.... Everything was placed just right, and it wasn't contrived. That's something I don't like, is a contrived song."

Several artists who were pitched Cochran's songs turned them down until Cline recorded "I Fall to Pieces," which came out in 1961. The song, which Cochran wrote with Harlan Howard, another fabled name in country songwriting circles, became a No. 1 hit that stayed on Billboard's country singles chart for 39 weeks. Cochran's first royalty check stunned him: $11,000.

He promptly wrote Cline another song that became an even bigger hit, "She's Got You," which held the No. 1 slot for five weeks in 1962. That year he also scored a Top 20 hit as a recording artist with the song "Sally Was a Good Old Girl," one of seven he charted as a performer.

He wrote Jeannie Seely's first, and biggest, hit in 1966: "Don't Touch Me," for which she was nominated for a Grammy Award for best country female vocal that year. He also married her — after divorcing his first wife, Shirley. Upon divorcing Seely, he married a third time and remained married to Suzi Cochran, who survives him, along with a daughter, Booth Calder; and three sons, Garland Perry Cochran Jr., James Lee Cochran and Bobby Cochran.

Cochran continued to write and perform in recent years, but he never became a star performer in his own right. His lasting mark is his songs, for which he was inducted in 1974 into the Nashville Songwriters Assn.'s International Hall of Fame.

"They were real simple," Price said, "and to me, real simplicity is real beauty."

randy.lewis@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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