Hank Cochran, legendary songwriter, passes away at 74

I sometimes wonder if rock credibility has destroyed good music. Someone, somewhere down the line decided you weren't a credible act unless you wrote and performed your own music. Or, if you covered music by a band far better, but far less well-known and much more under appreciated, than yourself. (Hey thanks, Kurt Cobain, for introducing me at the age of 13 to the Meat Puppets!)

Once upon a time, there were tremendous songwriters, and there were tremendous performers. They came together to create tremendous songs, not poorly-written songs sung by amazing singers, or beautiful songs croaked out by men who with their spot-on Cookie Monster impressions make better actors than singers (cough Tom Waits cough cough). Good singers, and then good songwriters still exist out there, somewhere, but this songwriter/performer relationship is often kept hush hush. If someone puts out an album written largely by other professional writers, the token tune or two penned by the artist (usually the worst one of the bunch) is often highlighted.

This singer and songwriter relationship has produced some of the best songs in the history of country music, and one of the best of country music's writers passed away this morning. The legendary country songwriter Hank Cochran penned tunes for everyone from Patsy Cline ("I Fall to Pieces," "She's Got You") to George Strait ("Ocean Front Property") to Merle Haggard ("It's Not Love But It's Not Bad") to Ray Price, who hit #2 with "Make the World Go Away," a song Cochran wrote in 1960 after being inspired by a movie he was watching on a date. He ran from the theater to get it down on paper, and by the time he reached home he'd composed the piece - 15 minutes later.

Born during the Depression in Isola, Mississippi, Cochran evaded death after contracting pneumonia, whooping cough, measles and mumps all when he was two years of age, and learned how to play guitar while hitchhiking with his uncle from Mississippi to New Mexico to work in the oilfields. Soon after, he formed a duo with early rockabilly star Eddie Cochran called the Cochran Brothers (though the two were not related - Eddie was born right here in Albert Lea, Minnesota).

Film trailer for Cochran documentary Livin' for a Song

Cochran moved to Nashville in 1960, where he not only wrote songs for some of the city's best, but also became responsible for discovering our braided, bandannaed hero Willie Nelson (though he was not yet braided or bandannaed at the time). After seeing the newcomer to Nashville honky tonk staple Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, Cochran encouraged his publishing company to hire him.

In 1974, Cochran was inducted to the Nashville Songwriters Association International Hall of Fame by unanimous vote, and he is also a member of the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame and the Country Music Walkway of Stars.

Cochran was treated for pancreatic cancer in 2008 and in April, had emergency surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm. Surrounded by family and friends (including Jamey Johnson, Billy Ray Cyrus and Buddy Cannon, who all stopped by to sing songs with him), Cochran passed this morning. Both a private memorial and public service will be held in the near future, and the family has asked that in lieu of flowers, those wishing to honor Cochran make donations to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Foundation.

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