The Lowdown on Jamey Johnson’s Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran

Living for a Song coverWhat do the following songs have in common?

  • “She’s Got You” by Patsy Cline
  • “A Little Bitty Tear” by Burl Ives
  • “The Chair” by George Strait
  • “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)” by Merle Haggard
  • “Is It Raining at Your House” by Vern Gosdin
  • “Bury the Bottle With Me” by Robbie Fulks
  • “Miami My Amy” by Keith Whitley
  • “A Little Unfair” by Lefty Frizzell
  • “We Never Touch at All” by Merle Haggard
  • “Set ‘Em Up Joe” by Vern Gosdin
  • “You’re Stronger Than Me” by Patsy Cline
  • “Ocean Front Property” by George Strait
  • “Memories Cost a Lot” by Whitey Morgan & the 78s
  • “He’ll Be Back” by Lee Ann Womack
  • “I’m a Long Way from Home” by Waylon Jennings
  • “Undo the Right” by Willie Nelson
  • “Why Can’t He Be You” by Patsy Cline

Give up?

They’re Hank Cochran songs that didn’t make the cut for Jamey Johnson’s Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran, out October 16. That’s not an indictment of the songs chosen by Johnson and producers Buddy Cannon and Dale Dodson for the tribute – rather, it’s a reflection of the fact that Hank Cochran wrote (and cowrote) many excellent songs. Far, far too many for one album.

So, what songs did Johnson and his producers choose?

Here’s the track list, along with selected bits of commentary from Suzi Cochran, Jamey Johnson, and some of the album’s featured guests, all courtesy of Mercury Records.

1. “MAKE THE WORLD GO AWAY” (Hank Cochran)
performed by Jamey Johnson & Alison Krauss

“Hank’s favorite singer was Alison Krauss,” says Hank’s widow, Suzi. “He always used to listen to Alison Krauss and every new CD that came out, Hank had, but he never met her. When I heard she was doing ‘Make the World Go Away,’ I was thrilled to death. Hank would have been thrilled. It turned out wonderfully, just the way it would have been if Hank would have produced it. Perfect.”

2. “I FALL TO PIECES” (Hank Cochran / Harlan Howard)
performed by Merle Haggard & Jamey Johnson

“I always loved Patsy’s recording of it,” Haggard says. “I was just hoping I could do that.

“Hank was unique. He wrote the kind of music that we needed. He understood what each artist was and he was able to tailor a song for you and usually brought it to you in person.

“He was really an artist who chose not to be an artist. All the artists respected his ability to perform a song. One of the things that was a secret about him getting so many good cuts was that the singers wanted to see if they could just sing that good. He had a real light, timid voice, but if you got down close to it, it was really good. Singers that understood wanted to sing his songs right. I know I did.”

Adds Suzi Cochran, “It’s great that Merle sings ‘I Fall to Pieces.’ To hear Merle sing it is wonderful. That was a special song to Hank because of Patsy. He and Patsy were really close. They were really good friends.”

3. “A WAY TO SURVIVE” (Moneen Carpenter / Hank Cochran)
performed by Jamey Johnson, Leon Russell & Vince Gill

“I told Buddy that Leon would be a good one to do one of these Hank songs with because of the obvious connection,” Johnson says. “Leon and I met at a studio in Nashville that’s meant a lot to me over the years. It’s where I recorded Lonesome Song and a lot of The Guitar Song. He came by that studio right there to do that part.”

4. “DON’T TOUCH ME” (Hank Cochran)
performed by Emmylou Harris & Jamey Johnson

5. “YOU WOULDN’T KNOW LOVE” (Hank Cochran / Dave Kirby)
performed by Ray Price & Jamey Johnson

“Ray is a good definition of an old Marine, a rock-solid spirit,” Johnson says. “A guy whose direction is so strong and whose will can’t be bent. I hear that his dogs don’t even come when he calls!”

6. “I DON’T DO WINDOWS” (Hank Cochran)
performed by Jamey Johnson & Asleep at the Wheel

“I like the song because it’s so irreverent, which is certainly one of Hank’s qualities,” says Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel. “Recording the song was so simple because Buddy Cannon and Jamey just said they cut a demo of it in Nashville. Asleep at the Wheel has a very distinctive style. I said to Buddy and Jamey, ‘You know, the cut you did in Nashville of the demo is fantastic. Nashville has the best players in the world. We don’t really want to just copy that because you’ve always done it as good as it could be done.’

“Buddy said, ‘No, I just want you to do what y’all do.’ So it was like falling off a log. We went in and did it in two or three takes maybe. First of all, it’s live. We all sit there and we play it. It’s got a good little slide kind of feel.”

7. “SHE’LL BE BACK” (Hank Cochran / Dale Dodson / Red Lane)
performed by Elvis Costello & Jamey Johnson

8. “WOULD THESE ARMS BE IN YOUR WAY” (Hank Cochran/Vern Gosdin/Red Lane)
performed by Jamey Johnson

“That’s a fantastic song,” says Willie Nelson. “It’s great, just the title of it. He could have just sold titles.”

9.“THE EAGLE” (Hank Cochran / Red Lane / Mack Vickery)
performed by George Strait & Jamey Johnson

“I was introduced to Hank by my friend Dean Dillon,” says George Strait. “They wrote one of the most clever songs which I was lucky enough to get to record called ‘The Chair.’ I wish I had known Hank better, but unfortunately our paths only crossed a few times. Those times, however, were very special.

“I remember him coming to my office in Nashville one time with Dean. I was in the process of recording a Christmas album and they had just written ‘For Christ’s Sake, It’s Christmas.’ They played it live for me there and it just blew me away. I recorded it that day. ‘The Eagle’ was a song I wasn’t that familiar with, but what a message it sends, especially in this day and time. I had thought about Jamey and me doing ‘The Chair’ together, but after he played me ‘The Eagle,’ it was so obvious. I’m very proud of Jamey for doing this and am so glad I was able to be included.”

10. “A-11” (Hank Cochran)
performed by Ronnie Dunn & Jamey Johnson

“Buddy (Cannon) sent the song to me,” Ronnie Dunn says. “I think Buddy was probably doing the casting there and did it because it’s just hard-core honky-tonk. It’s from an era when country music was pretty much confined to beer joints and clubs. It refers to a jukebox. I mean, for him to be able to write stuff that goes from the gamut of ‘I Fall to Pieces’ and ‘Make the World Go Away’ to a song like ‘A-11,’ which is pretty primal, straightforward – I call it beer-joint music – is pretty cool.”

Haggard says, “’A-11 is a wonderful song, one of the all-time greats. I guess you can call it a standard.”

11. “I’D FIGHT THE WORLD” (Joe Allison / Hank Cochran)
performed by Bobby Bare & Jamey Johnson

“The song I did was a song that I had recorded back in the early sixties,” Bare says. “I chose that song because, number one, I wouldn’t have to learn a new song. Number two, I’ve always loved that song.

“This current cut compared to the one that I did back in the sixties is better really, in my opinion, because it’s simpler, not as tricky. It’s straight-ahead. The one I did, of course, I was selling millions of records to kids, so they had to sweeten it up with strings and stuff like that. This one is just straight-ahead good. Good feeling. I think we did Hank justice on this one.”

performed by Willie Nelson & Jamey Johnson

“I learned some new things,” Nelson says. “I learned Hank wrote some songs that I hadn’t heard before. I thought I knew all of Hank’s songs. But I chose the one that I really liked, ‘Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me.’ Ray Price had such a fantastic record of that and so that was the one that I thought I would want to do. There’s a lot of great songs on there.”

Adds Haggard, “I recorded that, but Ray Price, I think, had the best well-known record on that. I even wrote a line on that song, so I know Hank didn’t write that line. When I said it, I did it at the session. When the take was over, Hank hit the button and he said, ‘I’d a thought of it eventually.’”

Says Bobby Bare, “My favorite Hank song is ‘Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me.’ I love that song. Who besides Hank could come up with a line like, ‘You make my eyes run over all the time?’ That’s classic.

“The reason Hank wrote so simple was because he didn’t know any big words,” Bare says. “Hank was not an educated person; he wrote strictly from emotion, and that’s what I love. The people who use big words are just trying to cover the fact that they’re afraid to put their emotions on the line. Hank was the most fearless person I ever met when it came to writing a song. He would lay it out and say, ‘Here it is.’ Unbelievable. That nerve doesn’t exist anymore.”

13. “THIS AIN’T MY FIRST RODEO” (Max D. Barnes/Hank Cochran/Vern Gosdin)
performed by Jamey Johnson & Lee Ann Womack

“Man, I’m not going to do a duets record and not call Lee Ann,” Johnson says. “To me, she’s one of the finest singers out there. If it’s country music, it’s a good fit for her. That was just a given. I know she’s a fan of all kinds of Hank songs over the years because it’s the same stuff I listen to. Ain’t nobody better, and I can say that for everybody on this record too.”

14. “LOVE MAKES A FOOL OF US ALL” (Hank Cochran / Glenn Martin)
performed by Kris Kristofferson & Jamey Johnson

“It’s probably one of his least-known songs,” Nelson says. “It’s a really great song.”

“Kris Kristofferson picked that one out,” Johnson says. “It’s one of my favorites.”

15. “EVERYTHING BUT YOU” (Hank Cochran / Willie Nelson)
performed by Willie Nelson, Jamey Johnson, Leon Russell & Vince Gill

16. “LIVING FOR A SONG” (Hank Cochran / David Holster / Bo Roberts)
performed by Jamey Johnson, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson & Hank Cochran

Suzi Cochran says, “This is my version of how this song got on the album and why it’s so wonderful. Hank and two friends wrote that song. Somebody brought it to Hank and Hank wrote the second half of the song, then he gave it back to them. But Hank always considered that his biography.

“They were in the studio and I kept saying, ‘You have to listen to ‘Living For a Song.’ Well, I knew every time I was handing it to them, they weren’t listening to it. So there was one thing they needed and I sent down the master of ‘Living For a Song.’ About 20 minutes later, Buddy called me up and said, ‘Who owns that?’ ‘I do.’ He said, ‘We’re going to use it.’ Then it came back just how I saw it in my head because of all of his dear friends on that. It’s unbelievable how it came out.”

Haggard says, “Hank’s ability to perform comes across right there. I mean, he’s in there with some of the best singers in the world and he gets it across better. That’s just the way he was: he was a great entertainer. He entertained the entertainers.”

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  1. Hoggy from Oz says

    I am really looking forward to this album. Thanks for this inside info CM. It is interesting to see how Johnson decided on these particular songs over the rest of Cochran’s fantastic legacy.

  2. says

    Ohhhhh, I can just hear what Alison Krauss would sound like on “Make the World Go Away,” not to mention Emmylou on “Don’t Touch Me.” Those could hardly have been more perfect matches.

    I cannot wait to hear this album.


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