Hank Cochran, who died july 15 at 74, was one of the greatest songwriters--and characters--ever. We all called him the Legend, and he called himself that too. Years ago, when I was a young songwriter in Nashville, he said, "Listen, young man, don't ever say anything really clever around the Legend. The Legend has a very creative memory."
Hank wrote many hits, including the fabulous "Make the World Go Away" and, with Harlan Howard, Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces." Jeannie Seely (below), whom he married, won a Grammy for singing his ballad "Don't Touch Me." But one of my favorites is "He Little Thinged Her (Out of My Arms)." It was so intuitive. Usually when men and women fall apart, it's because the little things were neglected--maybe smiling at your mate across breakfast, saying thank you. And so "He Little Thinged Her." Hank got it.
There's a famous story among songwriters who knew him: Hank was asleep in his house, where Red Lane was writing a song, which went something like "Her love was so sweet, that I can still taste it ..." Red kept singing that over and over, but he couldn't think of the next line. All of a sudden Hank opened his eyes and said, "She made her mark and then erased it," and he went back to sleep.
Hank taught me that it doesn't have to be complicated, that simplicity is the key. You can put 54 chords in a song, but, boy, you can make a lot of money and write quality songs with just three or four.
The last time I saw him, after many years apart, we did as old friends do. He shaped his goatee into a point, and I lifted my chin and said, "Are you still the Legend? Do you still have that creative memory?" We started right back where we left off.
Gatlin is a Grammy-winning songwriter. His most recent album with the Gatlin Brothers is Pilgrimage