An Interview With

by Barry Klein - Interview Date: February 11, 2002

NOTE: Hank's new CD, "Livin' for a Song",
will be released on 4-15-02.

Barry: Hank, according to the research I have done, you were born with the name Garland Perry Cochran on August 2, 1935 in Greenville, Mississippi. Is that right?
HANK: I was born on August 2, 1935 in Isola, Mississippi

Barry: [The Virgin Encyclopedia of Country Music apparently got it wrong].
I understand that you lost both of your parents as an infant, and you were placed in an orphanage. What were your earliest remembrances of your childhood?
HANK: Being on my own mostly. I didn't lose my parents, they got a divorce and I was just kind of out there. Since I was ten years old I have been on my own, but I spent some time with my grandmother and grandfather. If I had any raisin' or anything, that's where I got it from. Since I was ten I have just been out here.

Barry: Did you run away from home or anything like that?
HANK: No. There was no need to run away. You know when nobody cared; at least I don't think they did care if I was around or not. I just told my mother one time, or my grandmother, or whomever I was staying with at the time, that there must be something better than working at the Chicago mill where they make caskets, and I was going to go and see if I couldn't find it. Me and my uncle went away.

Barry: What were your earliest musical memories? When did you discover that you liked music? What kind of music did you like? When did you first discover it?
HANK: Well, I liked country music all the way back since I could even remember, and my uncle played the guitar. As quick as I could get a hold of the money, however I could go about gettin' it, I bought me a guitar and started pickin' and singin'. Before that I liked poems and I tried to write them. From then on I just tried to learn and listen to country music. In fact, one of the probably worst whippings I ever got was - we didn't have a radio in the house but we had one in the car, and I went out and listened to the Grand Ole Opry. It started raining and I fell asleep, and the next morning when they woke me up everything was just soaked in the gumbo mud, and the battery was down. So, naturally, they tried to pull it out to start it, and it pulled the tractor into the ditch. So - .I got it!!

Barry: So you were penalized for your love of music?
HANK: Yes.

Barry: At what age did you start playing guitar or an instrument?
HANK: I was about 10, I guess.

Barry: You say you were interested in poems? How old were you when you started writing songs?
HANK: Well the songs came about the same time that I learned how to play a little bit of guitar. I could make up my own melodies that I heard in my head, then I worked it out on guitar. So I was able to write songs, good or bad. Then I hitchhiked to California.

Barry: When was that?
HANK: Well, they made me go to school, so I would have had to be 14 or 15. Before that I was rough necking, working in the oil fields in Hobbs, New Mexico, and I was playing in clubs. When I hitchhiked out there I'd do amateur shows and any place around out there that I could pick.

I was going to put a little group together and I needed a guitar player, and I started askin' around if anyone knew someone, and they said, "Yeah - there's a great one over there in Bell Gardens", and I said, "Well I'm right close to there", and they told me his name is Eddie Cochran. And I said, "Spelled the same way?" They said, "Yeah". So I went over there and seeked him out, and he was a hell of a guitar player. I think he was 15 and I was 17 at the time. He was two years younger than I was.


CIRCA 1956

Barry: According to what I read, that was about the fall of 1954. Was there a fellow named Bob Bull that sort of was instrumental in putting you two together?
HANK: I don't know of anybody that was instrumental in - ..Bob who?

Barry: Well, Bob Bull. I think he changed his name to be a player in Eddie's band later on in his career. That's what I had read somewhere. [I later checked my source of this story, and it came from the booklet included in the Eddie Cochran Box Set by Bob Finnis, who went on to say that Bob Bull later recorded under Eddie's "patronage" as Bob Denton.]
HANK: In fact, I don't think anybody put me and him together. They just said he lived over there and I went over and - - Hell I was only 17 and he was 15. We couldn't play anything except things like VFW halls and stuff like that around there.

Barry: When you went to California a couple of years before that, were you living with a relative or were you on your own?
HANK: Part of the time I was livin' with - .my father and stepmother came out there and I lived with them. I guess I did that for a couple of years, and they went back to Mississippi. I stayed out there, and Eddie and I went to work playin' places around, and then we - I don't how we went about it, but we met Steve Stebins, I think that was his name of Americana Booking Agent. He also booked Lefty Frizzell and some other artists. Lefty was my idol. He put us with Lefty and we worked shows with Lefty, and even went to Honolulu with Lefty.

Barry: You were billed as the Cochran Brothers, you and Eddie Cochran.
HANK: Yes.

Barry: I guess at that time between The Louvin Brothers, Everly Brothers and other popular brother acts, they decided to bill you two as a brother act, although I don't know how much you two looked like each other. You were a lot taller weren't you?
HANK: Not a lot, but I guess I was a little taller. There are a couple of promo pictures that we had made if they're still running around. I've got some of 'em.

Barry: I have a couple on that 4-CD, I think EMI put it out, box set on Eddie Cochran, and I think in the bio information there's some pictures, and on the first CD cover the two of you are together in western outfits, and on the first CD one-third of the songs are the two of you together. A lot of rock-n-roll, a little country. You guys sounded pretty good. A lot of up-tempo stuff.
HANK: My wife came home the other day and had picked up, you know she goes shopping just like everybody else record-wise, and just pickin' up everything she finds that has anything connected to me, or she thinks it might. There is a new album out with Eddie Cochran, and the first song on it is "Tired and Sleepy" I think with me and Eddie as the Cochran Brothers.

Barry: Yep. I just listed to that about a day ago. Now you and Eddie were together for about two years?
HANK: At least 2 or 3 years. I know the last time I saw him ... we came back from a tour after working on one of our records one time -

Barry: Back where?
HANK: Back to Tennessee. The tour - all the way back, this guy who was supposed to be our manager, came with us. We did the Big "D" Jamboree and we came back all the way to Nashville, and did that all night show and they played our records. Then we went back up to Memphis, and in the meantime we heard about this guy. A policeman at the Big D Jamboree that was scratched all to pieces trying to protect Elvis - he didn't know what he was getting into. So I told Eddie, "We've got to see this!" I think it was WMPS that come out of Memphis, but the guy who was one of the biggest deejays there was like his manager or something

Barry: [That would be Bob Neal, who preceded Colonel Tom Parker].
HANK: But we got to meet him and saw his show, and I said, "You know, we ought to go back to California and maybe do a little of this." It hadn't gotten back there. The only thing anywhere near what he was doing was like Little Richard and some of that.

Barry: So initially you and Eddie when first in California were maybe a little more country flavored, then, as has happened to so many people even in the country field, when Elvis came along people started going a little more toward that rock'n'roll.
HANK: Yep. We tried that for a while. That's when I told Eddie, I said, "Man, I can't handle this here. That just ain't me. I just can't be that way."

Barry: Well it wasn't that long after you and Eddie went your separate ways that you moved to Nashville - sometime around '59 or 60' was it?
HANK: It was January of 1960.

Barry: January of '60.
HANK: I came here in October of '59 for the disc jockey convention. I had some shows that I had to do over New Years.

Barry: When you came to Nashville in '60, you envisioned yourself at that time primarily as a singer. Right?

Barry: You were both singer/songwriter?
HANK: I wanted to write songs, you know!

Barry: I remember hearing you on the radio in the early to mid 60's. It's hard to know when someone writes a song unless you've got the 45 or the record and you see the writing credit, but I remember hearing you on the radio sometime in the 60's.
HANK: I got a job with Pamper music. My job was to get writers and get songs, and to get them recorded. Anything I can do to get another avenue for getting the songs out, I did it. I happened to become friends with Joe Allison who was running Liberty at the time, a country A&R man, and he signed me.

Barry: He signed you both as a recording artist and a songwriter?
HANK: No. I was already signed as a songwriter. It was just a little company I was working for - Pamper Music. I signed as a recording artist with him. The first record was "Sally Was A Good Old Girl", and it was a pretty big hit. I worked the road very little. 'Cause right off the bat they talked me into going on tour. It was somewhere in Canada and I flew up there with Ray Price in his private plane. I got off there and it was like 40 or 50 degress below. Here I am in this little seersucker suit and I didn't even clear customs. I just said, "Where are we staying?". I told the cab driver and we rushed up there. I hunted up the booking agent who was booking the tour and told him I wanted to go home. But after four days, he was glad to let me go home. I had to pay the commission on the whole tour, which was supposed to be 13 or 15 days. I figured, "Well hell, when I get bookings I'll just send the Chamber of Commerce $200.00 and tell them I can't make it." I haven't worked a day yet that I didn't lose money.

Barry: When did you know Harlan Howard [Harlan collaborated on many of Hank's songs, including "I Fall to Pieces"]? Was that after you moved to Nashville?
HANK: Yeah. I met him in '59 doing the disc jockey convention, and we got to know each other pretty well. Then when I came back here and went to work, Ronnie Pamper (like I said it was my job), I was working back and forth with Harlan and he was sending songs. Then I found Willie and signed Willie Nelson. Then I talked Harlan into moving back here. Between the three of us, we let him have it.

Barry: You and Harlan had quite an association.
HANK: Still do. [Barry: Unfortunately, the legendary songwriter, Harlan Howard, passed away less than three weeks after this interview.]

Barry: That's great. Did the two of you know Patsy Cline before she recorded "I Fall to Pieces"?
HANK: She was a real good friend of mine. When I came back here I didn't know anyone. When that bus pulled into Nashville it was blanketed with snow, and I didn't know anyone. I had stayed with Mom Upchurch for two or three days while I was here for the disc jockey convention. I called her and I said, "Mom, this is Hank Cochran and I stayed with you a few days during the disc jockey convention, and I'm here and I'm outside, and it's cold, and I'm about to freeze to death, and I'm wonderin' if I can stay with you for a while". She said, "Well son, everybody over here has got the croup." I said, "Well Mom, if I stay out here I'm gonna die." She said, "Well, get a cab and tell him 3 Possible or whatever it was, and if you don't have the money I'll pay it and you can pay me back." That's what I done, and I stayed there for a while. She didn't have an extra bed, so when somebody would be on the road, I would sleep in their bunk. I would jump around like that until a bed come empty. Some of the guys that were workin' there, I knew real well, because they worked the Opry. Darryl McCall introduced me to Patsy, and we became big friends. She liked to hang out with songwriters. She was awful clever.

Barry: Every recording artist is always looking for a good song. In addition to the mega hits with Patsy Cline, you are very famous for many songs, but another particular classic, "Make The World Go Away", that song has probably been recorded by about as many singers as have ever recorded any song. I read somewhere that people with as far ranging backgrounds as Dinah Shore, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Jr., Henry Mancini, Jim Reeves, Lawrence Welk, Lou Rawls, Roger Whitaker and Tom Jones, have all recorded that song. I understand the first country singer to record "Make the World Go Away" was Ray Price, who actually scored a hit with it in '63. But wasn't Eddy Arnold's version the biggest seller?
HANK: Yes.

Barry: Just out of curiosity - Ray Price was big, Eddy Arnold was big. How does it happen that Ray Price recorded first and then Eddy Arnold does it two years later? Is that just the way it works out?
HANK: Ray Price recorded it and didn't put it out. Then, Buddy Killin, who was running Tree Publishing at the time, called me and said that there were a couple of people in his office that were looking for a song, and the singer was a great singer, and her name was Timi Yuro. Did you ever hear of her?

Barry: Yes, she did "Hurt".
HANK: Well, "Make The World Go Away" was her follow-up. It got like the Top 50 or Top 10 in the pop. I took her record and went back over and played it for Ray, and he said, "Well he could out-sing her any day of the week". I said, "Well you didn't or you would put it out." So he said, "Well, I'll show you." So he called Don Law, who cut it and put it out, and sold more records with Ray Price. But they did it completely different. Ray did it just like Timi Yuro, and when they were looking for songs for Eddy Arnold, Bill Walker I think is his name, stuck his head in the door and me and Chet [Atkins] were sitting there talking and he said he was looking for "world" songs. And I said, "I've got one". And he said, "What". And I said, "Make The World Go Away". He said, "That wouldn't be Eddy Arnold's type with all that range and the way they are doing it." I said, "Yeah, but I just it cut it for RCA for an album, and listen to this." Well Chet, he called down there and they brought up an acetate and I played it for them. He said, "Oh yeah, that would be great." I said, "If they would just sing it the way I really wrote it", which is just playing it straight. So they cut it, and while they were cutting it, a film crew came in because Eddy Arnold was doing the Jimmy Dean Show and they figured they would film him doing part of a song, and then he could do the rest of it live on the Jimmy Dean Show which was networked. When all that was comin' about, I said, "Well why don't you put it out as a single, you got all this happening." They said that was a great idea, and they did, and you know the rest.


Barry: Yep. I wish I had $10 dollars for each time I woke up in the middle of the night and see the Eddy Arnold "Greatest Hits" advertised, and the one song they are playing is "Make The World Go Away".
HANK: I know and I love it. Two weeks ago I had two different albums by Elvis. One was a country album by Elvis, and one was 50 of the greatest love songs of our time, and one was in the pop charts and one was in the country charts two weeks ago.

Barry: That's great. Having that repertoire of songs out there and getting the royalties, that's not a bad thing to have.
HANK: Thank God for it that those songs have hung on this long of a time.

Barry: Now in your career in the 60's/70's, did you get your choice of who would record your songs or would you just try to find the right artist for the song, or find an artist that was well known that you knew? Who do you decide to pitch the song to or how does that work?
HANK: Well I have never pitched a song to anybody that I didn't want to sing it. That has just been one of my quirks. Those songs are like kids to me because they are part of me. When I wrote something, and I knew everybody in town by then, I just took it to them or to the A&R man and said, "What do you think?" Then I played it for them and they either cut it or they didn't.

Barry: Now that you mention singers who you like- you had a lot of great artists record your material and I'd like to mention seven or eight names, one at a time. These are all people who have recorded at least one, and in most case much more than that of your songs. Some of them like Merle Haggard and Lefty Frizzell are favorites of mine. Tell me either a story or the first thing that comes in your mind, funny story, anything you want to do. Tell me whatever you want to tell me. Okay?
HANK: Like I said, Lefty was my idol, going up or getting bigger or whatever you called him. After I moved here from California, he was coming here to record. So when he came here, I would just go up and stay with him at his room and go over songs and pickin' songs, and he finally picked a couple of songs of mine. The first one he done was "Ain't That Being A Little Unfair". Then he did another thing of mine called "It Couldn't Happen To a Nicer Guy."

With Hag, before he ever got to be a big star, he came here and he would stay with me and my partner or something, he would stay with me or somewhere close. I remember he had a song. He said, "I've got a song that I got started, and I can't finish it. I want to play with it and I wonder if you would help me." I said, "Yeah". I helped him write "I Kept The Wine and Threw Away The Rose". He recorded it and I didn't put my name on it because back then it was only one cent for the writer no matter how many writers was on it. So I just left that and he cut a song of mine called "All Of Loneliness Is Eatin' Me Alive" and put it on the back, which was great.

Barry: Well you have your name in parenthesis on a lot of his songs.
HANK: Me and him are real close friends and I helped produce two or three albums or more on him. When he'd get mad and irritated everybody in Nashville and he wasn't going to come back, then I'd fly out there and he would call me or somethin', and I'd fly out to California and talk him into coming back. Then I produced "Ramblin' Fever" and "Always On a Mountain". He was better than all right then.

Barry: That was around l979/80. I think he was really in his prime then. Just so you know, talking about the Hag: I'm such a Hag fanatic that I flew to Las Vegas solely for the purpose, the first weekend of October 1999, just to sit in the front row and see him on that three hour "Pay-For-View" that was on cable. I went to Las Vegas from Michigan only to see that show, turned around and went back home.
HANK: Are you in Michigan?

Barry: Yeah. I'm in Michigan right now.
HANK: He's going to be here the 14th at the Opry house. Fly down here and I'll get you a front row seat.

Barry: I've got a little dinner date with somebody in Florida that night (Valentine's Day). But I'll tell you something, I would probably go 250 miles anytime I knew that Hag was somewhere and go see him. I always loved the guy. Let me ask you about other people, Patsy Cline. You talked about her a little bit. Now Patsy passed away in that plane crash with Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas in 1963.
HANK: l964.

Barry: Sorry. You mentioned that you knew her pretty well.
HANK: I knew her very well. We were pretty close friends. I was supposed to be on that plane when they went over to do that show. I went by her house and took her a song that I had wrote and told her that I wasn't going to be able to go because I had a session. She said, "I know you gotta be there to get a song recorded" and I said, "Yes mam, I do". She said, "Well, I'll just be gone a day and I will see you when we get back and go over some more songs."

Barry: That was a terrible tragedy. You know Waylon Jennings [Waylon passed away 2 days after this interview] almost went on that Beechcraft Bonanza on February 3, 1959 with Buddy Holly and gave up his seat, to J. P. Richardson. I think it really bothered him a lot for good deal of his life. He had a tough time dealing with it.
HANK: Well, I know how he feels.

Barry: What about Buck Owens?
HANK: I knew Buck. Buck only took one song of mine. He cut most of everything that was his. Some were out there, but he has a thing of mine called "A Eleven" and that's about the only thing. I new Buck earlier when I was in California. Half the music had a little label called Pep. He was recording on Pep. When I moved back here, he got so big, I worked on one of those first records when they put it out on Pep. Buck is just Buck, just like the rest of us, just a few years older.

Barry: How about George Jones, he has recorded some of your songs.
HANK: He has really done a lot of 'em. I love George. I will tell you how close we are. We have been knocked under a table together. We went over after the Opry one night across the street to a little restaurant, he was drinking a little heavy and so was I. As soon as we went in the door he saw a big guy over in the booth and he hollered at him and he said, "Are you looking at me?" And I said, "Hey, Hey George. Cool it man. We don't want no trouble". And he hollered at him again. And I said, "Oh, my". He went over to that table and tried to quail it down and he was trashing this big guy and I'm trying to stop it. I said, "He don't mean anything, he's just drunk." That guy unfolded, and unfolded, and unfolded out of that booth. He hit me and knocked me under the table. I was shakin' my head and here come George right behind me and slid up there with me. He said, "I'm going to kill him. He can't hit me and do that." I said, "I think you ought to just sit there George." He got knocked back again and I said, "How you doing now?" He said, "Maybe I'll just disappear. Why don't you reach up there and get us a beer and we'll sit here and talk."

Barry: I know you and Willie have been friends for a long time. You even appeared in his movie, "Honeysuckle Rose". Willie left Nashville and became one of the leaders of the "outlaw" movement in Texas in the 70's. Where were you in the 70's when all that was going on? How did that affect you? Did that affect you at all or your songwriting? You stayed in Nashville didn't you?
HANK: Yeah, I stayed in Nashville. He called me and I was on my boat in Florida. He wanted me to come out to Garland, Texas. He wanted me to show him somethin' or me help him with it. I went out there and he was cuttin' "Red Headed Stranger".

Barry: So that would have been like '73 or so ...
HANK: l974. It came out in 1975. He said, "What do you think?" I said, "Willie, I don't have the slightest idea. It sure is different, and it sure is good". He had cut one of my songs for that album and then they did an instrumental deal, which was mine also. I said, "If it comes around to them releasing the single, and if you think it's happening and you put out my song, I'll spend all the money and put that other instrumental in the back, I'll spend all that working on it and try to get us a hit." He said, "Well, we'll see." Then he called and I said, "What's happening with the record?" He said, "Well, CBS don't want it." I said, "What the hell do they know?". He said, "I don't know, but I told them I didn't give a damn whether they wanted it or not, I had their money and I stuffed it in my pocket, and they wasn't getting the album or their money back." He over-rode whoever it was, and they put the album out and the disc jockeys picked "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain" and wow! If you sold a million records back then, you had done somethin'.

Barry: Yep. How about Ray Price? Do you have any good Ray Price stories?
HANK: Oh, I have an unbelievable amount of Ray Price stories. I talked to him two hours ago.

Barry: Did you really?
HANK: Yeah. He's doing a new album for a new label, not a new label but that album that Loretta Lynn's on - do you now what label I'm talking about?

Barry: You know, I've seen an ad for her in No Depression, but I forgot the label.
HANK: Well, it will be on that label, the same label Loretta Lynn is on. I also think Darryl Singletary is on it. I don't recall who all else, but they seem to be really doing a good job. He's got a new manager. In fact, he just got out of the hospital. He had some kind of an operation and is just getting' over it. A while ago when I just talked to him, he is going to call me back because he was out there telling them what to do about his horses or somethin'. He said, "Let me call you back, I can't get these guys to do nothin'. But I think, so far, I have four songs on it.

Barry: Good. You are also pretty successful at getting some of the newer country artists to record your songs. I know that, well I wouldn't call him real new, but I know that George Strait picked up some of your songs in the 80's and has been recording some of your songs hasn't he?
HANK: Yeah. I have one on practically every one of his albums except this last one. The one before it, the "George Strait" album, which was also the title of the album, I had one on that. And the album before that which is "Always Never The Same"; I had one on that. The one before that I had "Ocean Front Property" and "The Chair". "Ocean Front Property" was the title of that album he came out with after the single. That was the first country album that was rated number 1.

Barry: Let me ask you about Burl Ives. I think all different types of music fans remember "Little Bitty Tear" (let me down), and he recorded some other songs that you wrote. How did the two of you get together where he has recorded so many of your songs?
HANK: You know, when I was a kid working in California, one of my favorite singers was Burl Ives. I went and paid money and bought his records like "one stormy night, and he prayed to the lord to give him light, there was many a mile to go that night, before he reached the town", remember that song?

Barry: Yep.
Hank. Well, I had all of them on that little thing they came out with - that forty-five player - that little ole square box. Its funny, but really him and Eddy Arnold, Ernest Tubb and Ray Price were my four, well until Lefty came along, and then Lefty came along and just swept all of them away, but that was my favorite bunch of singers.

Barry: I had a copy of Burl Ives' 45 of the "Moon Is High" by Roger Miller at one point.
HANK: "The moon is high and so am I" -

Barry: "The stars are out and so will I be pretty soon".
It's funny that Burl Ives picked that up, I guess. But I guess he had quite a repertoire. So Burl is actually on the list that you just mentioned on some of your favorite recording artists.
HANK: Yeah. When he first came in to cut, I had this song called "Little Bitty Tear" and Owen liked the song.

Barry: Owen Bradley?
HANK: Yeah. And also there was another guy who worked for Owen, Stevens or something, who died of cancer a long time ago. But he was crazy about the song and he thought it was a smash and I thought it was a hit. He talked Burl into recording it and Burl cut it. The album came out and they put out two singles out of the album and nothing' happened. Then Burl or somebody called, I think his name was Boshetta from California, to work on it out there and they broke it in California and it just skyrocketed - country and pop. So the next time he called me and asked if I had anything else and I said, "No". And he said, "No?" And I said, "Why I don't have anything." And he said "Well, you're the only son of a bitch in this town that tells the truth". But, while he was here I wrote "Funny Way of Laughing In My Sleep" and put it down on a little tape recorder I kept by my bed, went back to bed, and when I got up the next day it was on there, I played it over and over, and I called him and I said, "I think I have it Mr. Ives". And he said, "Well, bring it down here." I went down there and we all sat around having a guitar pool, and any time anybody did somethin' that he liked, he would write it down. When I sang "Funny Way of Laughing", he said, "that's the next single", and he wrote it down, and that won him a Grammy.

Barry: You have been known for some very catchy song titles: "For Christ's Sake It's Christmas", "I Know An Ending When It Comes", "It's Not Love But It's Not Bad", "Summer Was A Bummer", "Undo the Right", "Funny Way of Laughing", "Right in the Wrong Direction". In those songs, do the titles come first before the lyrics or the melody?
HANK: Those titles did. You know I usually try to, unless it comes so fast that I don't have a chance to mess with it, but if I'm working on one a little bit, I always try to put some line in there that will get our attention. When we were writing "The Chair", we started it and it was coming so fast, I said, "Wait a minute. I am going to start at the back and you just keep comin' this way and I'll come from the other end." Then I stopped about 10 minutes later and I said, "Hold it. I've got the ending, the melody, the whole last part, and I've got this line here that I think will connect with yours, but I don't know how crazy you think it is." He said, "What is it then?" I said, "Can I drink, you'll buy". He said, "You know how good that is?". I said, "Well, you asked for it."

Barry: I sent Martha Moore, your publicist, an email and I told her that one of the most unforgettable memories I have of listening to and watching country music for the nearly 40 years I've been enjoying it, is your appearance on Austin City Limits. I think that's how I really got into Merle Haggard and some stuff like that in the mid 70's. In about '79 or so, you were on a Songwriters Special, and I think they had a few of these afterwards, and I heard that you were instrumental in putting this together for Austin City Limits, but there was a little horseshoe-shaped bunch of chairs, and you and other songwriters: Willie Nelson, I think Floyd Tillman, Sonny Throckmorton, Red Lane, Whitey Shafer, were all part of this thing that was on about '79 or '80 I'm guessing.


HANK: I was out in Austin with Willie and we were filming "Honeysuckle Rose".

Barry: Okay. So that was about the same time.
HANK: The person who ran the Austin City Limits , I can't think of his name ...

Barry: [I had a blank on it too - it's Terry Lickona]

HANK: ... he came to me and asked me could maybe I do a songwriter thing, and could I get them together, and did I think that I could get Willie to do it? I said, "Well certainly"! And I said, "If we do it and I don't ask Willie, he'll whip the shit out of me." He said, "Well boy, if you could, it may save Austin City Limits because it's a PBS thing. So I asked Willie first and he said, "Sure." So I called all the rest of the guys, and I put it together and we went in and did it. We did it until they run out of tape. That's how long we recorded. They used every piece of tape that they had and when they run completely out, that's when we quit. It was about 3 or 4 hours.

Barry: Boy, I wish they would put that on the market, and I would be the first in line to buy it.
HANK: I don't know why they haven't. They ran two shows which was completely different. I don't know if you saw 'em both. But I did have the whole thing.

Barry: I saw both of them. I'm trying to find the other one, but I have the show where you sang "Make The World Go Away". I just thought that it was so great to start the show with that song. And the live audience was just eating it up. There were a lot of great songwriting people there that night but, quite honestly, I thought you stole the show.
You know, Sonny Throckmorton, I don't know how old he is now, but I see his name on songwriting credits on a lot of songs. He did a real funny one that The Geezinslaws out of Texas did not too long ago, two or three years ago, it's a knock-off on some of the contemporary "country" we hear in Garth Brooks and that kind of stuff, it's called "You Call It Country, I Call It Bad Rock-n-Roll". It's really a catchy tune. I could make a tape and send that to you. It's on one of the Geezinslaws' albums. It's really funny.
HANK: I see them all the time. A guy who owns a club in Gulf Shores, Florida and Alabama, and he's got a club in there called the Floribama which is right on the line. We started a songwriting thing, and it turned into a yearly thing, and it's turned into a monstrous thing. It's really unbelievable how big it's gotten. He's been there practically every year and I've been there for - ever since we started. That was one of the starters of it. We are still doing it.

Barry: I want to ask you a little bit about your personal life. A songwriter, Glenn Martin, was quoted as saying, "Hank's life is not as pretty as his music, yet all his songs come from his life." I guess sometimes people say that the most suffering people become the greatest artists, and do the greatest work.
HANK: That's the way it's been with me.

Barry: Well, I'm probably not saying anything that isn't public, but you know - I've been married and divorced twice. I think you've got me beat in that department, right?
HANK: Absolutely.

Barry: Do you care to share with the readers what your recipe is there?
HANK: Me and Susie, my current wife, have been together for 20 years. Probably longer than all the rest of them put together.

Barry: I'm longer than that cumulatively!
HANK: I've been married five times.

Barry: Was Jeannie Seely your first wife?
HANK: No. She was my second wife. Second or third, somewhere in there.

Barry: When you came to Nashville, you were 24-25 years old. Had you been married yet at that time?
HANK: I was married and had three kids back in California.

Barry: Oh, back in the Eddie Cochran days?
HANK: Yes. That was 24, we'd been. Well, my first boy - I was nineteen when my first son was born and they come pretty regular along there. The only three kids I got are by my first wife.

Barry: Your daughter that answered the phone, she sounded pretty young.
HANK: No. She's 30 years old. [Barry: That's young to me!]. My oldest boy is 47.

Barry: How did you and Jeannie meet?
HANK: We actually met in California. She was goin' with Bobby Bare and she was singing at those places out there ya' know where they sold cars and stuff - I forget what that television show was. She was on that and I heard her singing and Bobby said, "Man, you need to hear her sing." So I said, "I think I could get you a deal." So I asked Bobby to cut a demo of her. He cut one which was horrible. I don't think he wanted to get her in the business or whatever. She found out and I said "Why don't you just come back here", we were doing a disc jockey convention or something, and I said, "I don't think you are going to starve back here". But she came back and I took her out to Fred Foster's, who owned Monument Records at the time, and said, "Sit down on the floor there and sing for Fred." After the third song he signed 'em. I guess three weeks or a month later I wrote "Don't Touch Me" in her dressing room in Rochester, New York.

Barry: So you have been married five times. It also has been, how can I say this delicately? It's been in print that during your career there have been times where, like many people in country music or other parts of life, you've tended to imbibe.
HANK: Oh yes!

Barry: To have lived this long and had such a wonderful career, obviously I'm assuming you sort of mellowed in your more recent years.
HANK: If I wouldn't have mellowed, I would be in dust.

Barry: Do you drink at all, or do you drink a little bit, or did you quit, or what did you do?
HANK: It just went slower, and slower, and slower until I just completely quit. I haven't had anything to drink, not even a beer, in probably six or maybe seven years now.

Barry: Now let me ask you a question. We were talking earlier about how a rough life leads to great songs. You are still writing good songs that the newer, younger artists are recording. So that now that you're mellower, now that you're happier, you sound like you're a happy guy, you're married 20 years now to Susie, right?

Barry: Is it tougher to write a country song when you are happy?
HANK: No. It hurts. You have to go, or I do - I have to go with something - it's like going into a computer, it just sometimes comes out so fast - like when we wrote "The Chair", it comes out so fast - zap - the melody, all of it, and it's hard to keep up with it when it comes like that. The other ones, when they come like that, you work a little bit on it. It hurts so bad that - but that's the only way to get 'em. That's the only way that I can write and put the heart in it. You just have to put myself back in that same position to when somethin' or those bad times. Cause, my wife now can just tell. I can't. But somebody will be around the house and we'd been planning on writin' and it might be a couple of days or so and we ain't wrote nothin'. Then they will start to leave or somethin', and she stopped 'em two or three times and said, "He's about to write, I can see the difference in him." He said, "Well hell, I can't." They manage to stay, and it just comes out.

Barry: Well Hank. You have received many honors as a songwriter during your career. I know that in 1974 you became the only songwriter to receive a unanimous vote in being elected to the Nashville Songwriters International Hall of Fame. I know this was probably very dear to you and you have received many, many other songwriting awards, but I imagine that one was one of your favorites.
HANK: It still is. That was '74. In fact, I've got that the big part of it, not the bronze hand with the pen in it, but I've got the big part of that deal hanging by the side of my bed right here so that I can look at it. Every time I get discouraged, I can come in here and look at that.

Barry: Well, there's no doubt about it. You're a great songwriter.
I want to ask you another question. Two years ago - this wasn't just before this interview - I was reading about you, I think in an Australian publication, or the Virgin Encyclopedia of Country Music. Anyway, they listed a bunch of great albums that you did, and in 1980 there was a compilation album where you sang your own greatest hits, "Make The World Go Away", etc., and I tried like heck to find anything that you had recorded that was available on CD, and I really haven't found too much stuff. Now I've heard rumors that Bear Family, and it would be better late than never, is considering doing a box set retrospective on your singing career. Any truth to that?


HANK: Yeah. In fact, my wife, at the present time, is in Palm Springs and I was supposed to go out and meet with the guy out there.

Barry: Richard Weize?
HANK: I think so. There is a guy up there who is really a big fan of mine, and he has talked to the people already, and they are real interested. I've got a new album that will be out. In fact, I think I mastered it Wednesday.

Barry: Tell us about that.
HANK: Well, I've been working on it seems like four or five years or somethin'. Putting it together has been somethin' else. Somethin' else would come along and I just finally turned it in - my daughter come up with the title. She said, "It's my autobiography in songs." And that's what it is. It's called "The Pen". The single out of it has already been shipped all over Europe. It was shipped the 1st of February over there. I don't know how many things that we've got already that - I had an old stack of 'em here I was looking through earlier, and it's already on it over there. So I mastered this new album on Wednesday, and then start putting some stuff in it to kind of go along with the songs. That's what it is - kind of like an autobiography in songs.

Barry: So when do you think we might see that on the shelves? When might that be released?
HANK: Well, at least two months.

Barry: Oh. So it's going to be relatively soon before the middle of the year or so?
HANK: Well, this is what - the middle of February.

Barry: Yes. February 11th is this interview.
HANK: February, March - it should be out sometime in April I would think.

Barry: I just hope my secretary transcribes this whole interview and gets it for me to look at before then too. [Barry's secretary: Very funny Barry!] I'm just kidding, Pat! We will get her to do it. We've been doing this for over an hour. I really have enjoyed this!
Thank you very much for taking the time, Hank. There are so many people out there that may not even know, most do, just how many songs of their favorite artists that you have written, and you were behind. You are a national treasure, a living legend. I know you are not letting that go to your head. I wish you all the health and happiness, and much more productivity for years to come, and I hope you get that Bear Family record out and keep living a great life.

Thanks again.

Editor's Note: Barry Klein writes for the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and his book, "Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll", was published in 1997. To contact Barry, email him at

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