Country legend Hank Cochran died yesterday at his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee, after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 74. Cochran was a Nashville titan in the 1960s, writing Patsy Cline’s first Number One hit, “I Fall to Pieces.” He later penned tracks for George Jones, Eddy Arnold, Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn.
“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,” Merle Haggard said in a statement. “He wrote some of the classics — it’s impossible to have a favorite,” Kinky Friedman tells Rolling Stone. “Anything by Hank Cochran is going to be good or great. It’s the passing of another piece of Nashville emotional history, back when Kris Kristofferson was the most talented janitor in town.”
Born Garland Perry Cochran on August 2nd, 1935 in Isola, Mississippi, the musician spent some of his childhood in a Memphis orphanage and eventually dropped out of school. In 1951, he moved to Los Angeles where he met future rockabilly star Eddie Cochran (no relation). When Hank Cochran was 17, they formed the Cochran Brothers, a rockabilly duo that played bars around California and at one time backed Lefty Frizell.
Cochran moved to Nashville in 1959, earning a gig writing for $50 a week for Pamper Music. When he wrote the heartbreak ballad “I Fall to Pieces,” Cline was reluctant to record it at first because country star Brenda Lee had already passed on the track. Producer Owen Bradley convinced her to record it, and it became a hit in January 1961. Rolling Stone called it “stone country wrapped in elaborate pop, with Cline crying inside, like a nerve rubbed raw by heartbreak” on our 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The success prompted Cline to record Cochran’s “She’s Got You,” which spent five weeks at Number One on the country charts in March 1962.
Around this time, Cochran met Willie Nelson at Tootsie’s, a Nashville hangout. “He sang these songs that just knocked me down,” said Cochran, who used his Nashville leverage to score Nelson a publishing contract. “Instead of taking his fifty-dollar-a-week raise in salary as a writer, he convinced Pamper Music to give it to me,” Nelson wrote in his autobiography. “It was then I felt like a professional songwriter. Thanks, Hank.” Nelson wrote “Hello Walls,” one of his most memorable songs, while working at Pamper. Cochran later penned Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger track “Can I Sleep in Your Arms” and in 1978 the two dueted on “Ain’t Life Hell.”
“We liked to work together a lot,” Nelson said in an upcoming documentary about Cochran titled Livin for a Song, which is due in the fall. “I would sing I had written the night before. He would sing things he had written the night before — it gives you something to bounce off to.”
Cochran and Jeannie Seely were married from 1969 to 1979, and she became a Grand Ole Opry star with his encouragement. Cochran penned Seely’s “Don’t Touch Me,” which won a Grammy in 1966, along with a few of his own hits, including “Sally Was a Good Old Girl” and “I’d Fight the World.”
He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1974, two years after he wrote Merle Haggard’s 1972 hit “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad).” Loretta Lynn also scored Top Ten hits with “She’s Got You” and “Why Can’t He Be You” in 1977.
Bob Dylan performed Cochran’s jukebox weeper “A-11” at several shows in 2005, the same year Cochran underwent triple-bypass surgery. “It’s always nice to know that one of your songs is being played for a whole new crowd,” he said at the time.
Cochran was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two years ago. The night before his death, friends including Billy Ray Cyrus and Jamey Johnson visited the house and sang with him.