Her new album, Anita, features some swell guitar sounds, a fact Anita Cochran credits partly to the acquisition of a certain butterscotch-colored ’69 Fender Telecaster.
Cochran can talk guitars. She got her first at age 3. Her father gave her a Martin D-35 acoustic when she was 5. She found the ’69 Telecaster on a recent visit to Elderly Instruments in Lansing, Mich. She was searching for a D-35 similar to the one her father had given her all those years ago, hoping to present it to him as a kind of “thank-you” present on Father’s Day.
While in the store, she picked up the Telecaster and knew, immediately, that she had found a friend.
“It’s the guitar I’ve been looking for for a long time,” Cochran says during an interview at Warner Bros. Records’ offices on Music Row. “It’s beat-up, got some dings in it, but it sounds great and it plays great.”
Cochran plays almost all of the guitar solos — acoustic and electric — on Anita, her second CD for Warner Bros. and the follow-up to her 1997 debut, Back to You. Only on “Let the Guitar Do the Talking” does she yield the instrumental spotlight, briefly, to young blues titan Kenny Wayne Shepherd. She’s playing more guitar this time around than on the first album, favoring, she points out, a natural set-up of guitar, pedals and amp without digital effects. “Let the Guitar Do the Talking” and “God Created Woman” (a bluesy duet with Wynonna) feature long guitar codas, giving her an opportunity to stretch out some at the end. On the romantic “Thanks for Reading My Mind,” Cochran takes an acoustic solo.
“Let the Guitar Do the Talking,” written by Kelly Garrett and Craig Wiseman, might as well be a page from her own autobiography, Cochran says. When she was a child prodigy, she had to play her instrument to make believers out of club patrons. And when she went on tour to support her first album, it was not uncommon to encounter skeptics — including some sound technicians — who doubted a woman could play well enough to handle the lead parts.
“I’m the only one who plays electric guitar in my band,” Cochran says, her voice betraying some amused consternation at the memories. “Come ‘guitar solo’ time, Tony — my acoustic guitar player — his acoustic guitar gets really loud. Halfway through the solo, they realize it’s me. Me and the band get a big kick out of it now. They’re like, ‘We’re going to get T-shirts that have an arrow on them, pointing to you and saying ‘guitar solo’ so people get it.’”
Cochran has high hopes for Anita, which comes out Tuesday (April 18). She wrote or co-wrote seven of the 11 songs and again co-produced with Warner Bros. chief Jim Ed Norman. Sons of the Desert sing harmonies on “Last Kiss,” a Diane Warren song, and on “For Crying Out Loud.” Ricky Skaggs adds his voice to the mid-tempo weeper “Every Time It Rains.”
Wynonna trades vocal licks with Cochran on “God Created Woman.” Indeed, in several places on the album, including “Last Kiss,” Cochran sounds as if she’s cut from the same cloth, musically, as the Judd daughter. Like Wynonna, Cochran’s family roots stretch back to eastern Kentucky, where her mother and father grew up before moving to Michigan to farm.
“We listened to the same music growing up, bluegrass to blues,” Cochran reasons when asked about the similarity between her style and Wynonna’s. “My dad and my mom were bluegrass gospel nuts. They grew up about the other side of the holler from where the Judds lived, in Kentucky. I spent most of my summers down there.”
Cochran met Wynonna at a golf tournament and discovered that, in addition to music and Kentucky roots, the two women also share a passion for Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Wynonna invited Cochran to ride in the video shoot for “When Love Starts Talkin’,” and the women have been friends ever since.
Anita finds Cochran working with a new maturity. Back to You, her first CD, yielded the No. 1 country single “What If I Said,” a duet with Steve Wariner, and the affecting ballad, “Daddy Can You See Me.” The album has sold 142,000 copies to date, according to figures provided by SoundScan. However, though respected on Music Row for her talents as a songwriter, guitar player, singer and producer, Cochran has not yet cracked the code for getting her message across to country radio programmers.
This time around, she’ll get some much-needed exposure when she appears May 19 in a made-for-TV movie, Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood, airing on CBS. Cochran describes herself as “a huge Dukes fan” who watched the show every week during its original run.
“We had band rehearsal every Friday, and at 8 o’clock we’d take our break,” she recalls. “We were kids, so we’d have our cake and ice cream and watch The Dukes of Hazzard.
“My little nephew, who is 4 years old, is hooked on it [in re-runs on TNN]. They’re reaching a whole new age group. There’s nothing like the General Lee. It’s neat to see a show that, after this many years have gone by, reaches a whole new generation.”
In flashbacks, Cochran plays Tom Wopat’s first real love. One two-minute scene features “Every Time It Rains” throughout, one of four Cochran songs in the movie. The first single from Anita, “Good Times,” co-written by Cochran and Bob DiPiero, serves as the show’s theme song.
The same song will appear in TV and radio advertising for General Motors’ “Good Times Savings 2000″ promotion involving NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt and artist Peter Max. Cochran will appear as a spokesperson for GM, and she’ll do some touring under the GM banner. She sang the National Anthem April 2 in Ft. Worth to open the DirectTV 500, a Winston Cup Race, at the Texas Motor Speedway.
Meanwhile, Cochran’s personal life has improved considerably, she says, since moving to Nashville from her native Michigan. When she first arrived in Music City, she knew no one but label chief Norman, and she spent virtually all of her time in the studio, working on her first album.
Now Cochran and her butterscotch-colored Fender guitar have their own place, a 10-acre farm in Williamson County, south of Nashville. “In the middle of nowhere and very peaceful,” the farm has a barn where Cochran hopes to keep horses, and her two dogs are in heaven. Some of her best creative thinking has come at home.
“Right now, I love it out there,” says Cochran, sounding like a woman with her priorities in order. “It’s so peaceful and quiet. I love doing yard work, ’cause that’s where I come up with my songs. That outdoor stuff doesn’t take up a whole lot of your thinking space in your brain. You just have to think a little bit while you’re doing it. Then, it leaves the other half of your brain open for ideas and thoughts.”