Elizabeth Cook – Makin’ ma & pa proud
Every year new artists are accepted by each of the various facets of Nashville and touted as the saviors of…whatever. So to say that Elizabeth Cook is the latest artist in Nashville to catch the attention of certain ears isn’t anything new. You’ll read such statements many more times throughout the year.
What is unusual about this situation, however, is that Cook is dazzling the whole of Music City, from the major record labels to the Nashville Underground, from Music Row magazine’s Robert K. Oermann (“She sings with enormous heart”) to Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter (“She’s so good. I can’t believe there’s anything better.”).
Cook was born in Wildwood, Florida, to a mother from West Virginia who grew up playing guitar and mandolin and sang on the early-morning radio shows and jamborees. Her father, from Bainbridge, Georgia, also grew up performing country music on a variety of stringed instruments. “He really got to hone his skills while serving time in Florida for running moonshine with an organized crime ring,” Cook reveals. “The picture on the back of my CD is the prison band, the Melody Boys. Daddy is the one on upright bass.”
After he got out of jail, he and Cook’s mother met and started playing in local bands together. They ended up marrying, and Elizabeth was born in 1972. “Instead of getting a sitter, they took me with them on their gigs,” Cook recalls. “I started getting up and doing songs with them. By the time I was nine, mama and daddy began focusing on me.”
Cook moved to Nashville in 1997 and by October had a publishing deal with Bro ‘N Sis Music. An album was eventually created from a sampling of demos recorded between then and March 2000, with well-known local musicians such as Kenny Vaughan, Tim Carroll and Rick Schell backing her in the studio. Cook and her publisher felt they needed something to help industry execs “see the vision,” so they put together the CD and gave it to anybody who would take it.
The ten originals songs on the self-titled disc, which eventually became available for public purchase through mail-order company Miles of Music, showcase her terrific songwriting, no-doubt-about-it-country instrumentation, and her absolutely stunning voice, which can catch a roots music fan’s attention quicker than a rhinestone-studded Nudie suit.
About this time she met Grand Ole Opry manager Peter Fisher at a party, and later took him some music. He invited her to come out to a show sometime.
“So, I picked a night when some friends of Tim [Carroll] and mine, the Derailers, were making their debut. We were standing in the wings watching and Pete said ‘So, you wanna play next weekend?’ And I, with my game face on, said ‘Give me two weeks.’ I then made my debut two weeks later on March, 17th 2000.” Since then, she has performed on the Opry more than 30 times.
Atlantic Records was impressed enough to sign Cook to a recording contract. Over the next few months, she’ll be recording her major-label debut, something she’s really looking forward to, as well as continuing to perform on the Opry and keeping her independent project moving.
“The demo CD is now considered my first independent release. I feel a little relief,” she says, adding with a laugh, “If I die tomorrow, or someone – not me of course – blows up the Warner Brothers building, at least there is a little bit of my music out there hanging around.”