|RAY CAMPI REMEMBERS
JACKIE LEE COCHRAN:
"Jack the Cat" As I Knew Him
Some time in the morning hours of Sunday, March 15, 1998, Jack "Waukeen" Cochran (Jackie Lee to many) died in his sleep on his sofa in his apartment in Burbank, California.
He was proud of his American-Indian heritage and in the 1970's he adopted the name "Waukeen."
He was a close friend to Tony Conn and Tony's former wife Toni, and his custom was to have coffee and a donut with one or both on Sunday mornings around 10:00 a.m. On this Sunday, Toni called him, did not receive an answer, so she went to his place and knocked. Again there was no answer.
The landlady was summoned and opened the door and she and Toni discovered Jack lying in a sleeping position, hands under chin. Unfortunately, he was not asleep. Three heart attacks he had suffered in recent years had taken their toll. He was 64 years old.
Now Dig This has done much to document Jack's recording career over the years as well as his friend Jonny Whiteside, writer for the LA Weekly. Jack and I traveled many of the same routes in music, harboring most of the same dreams and ambitions. His passing left a void for me as we had many very similar origins.
Jack's Early Career
Jack was born in Dalton, Georgia, and was raised in Louisiana and Texas, where he was inspired by many of the same country musicians we both heard on the radio - by Paul Kallinger on XERF in Del Rio, by KWKH's Louisiana Hayride, and of course, Dallas' Big D Jamboree with Johnny Hicks and Al Turner, who I auditioned for in 1952.
"Waukeen" was lured to California and Los Angeles in the mid-1950's, where he became a featured act on Cliffie Stone's Hometown Jamboree working with some of Cliffie's and Spade Cooley's great musicians. This show in the early years brought Mitchell Torak, Jim Reeves and Johnny Horton to Southern California and was influential in bringing me to L.A. also, in 1959. Unfortunately, it was my bad luck that the program had left television the year before. But years later, I met and interviewed Cliffie and we became "friends." (Everybody Cliffie ever met became his friend.)
Jack performed regularly with some of these musicians at Marty Landau's famous Riverside Rancho nightclub in Burbank. I met and interviewed Marty in the early 1970's and these were the years, actually the final years, before Nashville's prominence, and Rock and Roll's impact, of a great Southern California music scene that developed on radio and early television, beginning in the early 1940's, blossoming during the World War II years, and starting to fade by the late 1950's, spearheaded of course by by pioneer promotors like Bill Wagonon of Town Hall Party fame and Ken Nelson's and Cliffie Stone's great positive influence on the country division of Capitol Records, a music arm that always made a profit for the company, putting on disc the works of some of the best pickers the world has yet to surpass. (Eat your heart out, Eric Clapton! Jimmy Bryant rules!) This scene is fastly becoming re-activated by new young bands like Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys as well as the Lucky Stars.
Jack managed to grab on to the tail of this Bakersfield/Hollywood tiger during these dwindling years, and Cliffie produced for him a session to be released by Decca Records. Jack's "Ruby Pearl" disc featured blind pianist Jimmie Pruett, Cliffie on bass, and although "The Cat" needed no training on electric guitar solos, he was overjoyed and proud to have "the master" Merle Travis playing lead. Although Merle told me, "I could never play Rock and Roll very well," and he shied away from it on recording sessions, his break on "Mama, Don't You Think I Know?" is one of the fastest and most interesting I've ever heard on record. (Wake up, Guitar Player magazine!)
Like many young men unschooled in music law, at this time Jack was not fully aware, or just didn't care, that he had a prior contractual commitment to some managers and a publisher in Dallas and should not have been recording for Decca. When Decca was informed of this, to prevent a lawsuit, "Ruby Pearl" was pulled from stores days after it began to attain national attention in the U.S.
Jack & Marilyn
"Waukeen" was bursting with stories of his exploits and was known to embellish the truth "with fact" at times (me, too!), and could deliver "anecdotes" to arouse interest. Once, he told me that he had appeared in the 20th Century Fox film Let's Make Love (1960) with Marilyn Monroe and British songster Frankie Vaughan, who still performs and lives in the U.K. Jack told me the story:
The Slate Brothers owned a very successful nightclub on Fairfax Avenue in West Hollywood where all the famous show business people hung out. By 1959, Jack had tailored his act to the Rock and Roll scene - thus "Jack the Cat" - and would appear on stage with a large cutout of a cat with glowing eyes and perform an Elvis-oriented stage show. One night, famous film producer Jerry Wald was in the audience and signed Jack to appear as an extra in an upcoming film he was producing starring Marilyn Monroe. Jack was star-struck and appeared on the set at Fox bright and early and worked there for a week or more. (Maybe Frankie Vaughan is worth an interview with more details?)
He reminisced to me that most of the cast and crew of this film was greatly intimidated by the "sex goddess" Marilyn and were usually too frightened to speak to her when she arrived on the set in the morning. This, of course, only added to her frustration and insecurity. Jack was a very unassuming, and a brave, fearless southen gentleman who relished to be in the presence of beautiful women who were most often charmed off their feet by him. To the utter amazement of all who watched, Jack would greet Marilyn with a kindly bear hug around the waist or shoulders with a "Hi, honey," or "Good morning, you beautiful thing," or "How you doin' today?" You could hear a pin drop on the set and Marilyn would "eat it up," loving every second of this spontaneous affection coming from a great guy, which she needed more than anything else in her life.
Tom Ewell & Marilyn
Years later, Tom Ewell told me similar stories about Marilyn and how he treated her the same loving way and was rewarded by her honest sweetness and tender feelings she showed towards him in the two films they starred in. Jack Cochran and Norma Jean are kindred spirits, today more than ever before.
Jack & Elvis & Hank Snow
Once, Jack told me that during a southern show - oh yes, it was one of the early shows in honor of Jimmie Rodgers in Meridian, Mississippi, in 1956 - he and Elvis were watching from the front fender of Hank Snow's Cadillac, Hank noticed these two nobody add-on acts sitting on the fender of his newest car and asked them to find another seat. They were quick to jump off the car, not wanting to upset this great country superstar who was headlining the festival. I wonder if Hank was punished a few times later for this act of irreverence by being completely cut out of his financial interest in the career of Elvis, who became "The King"? (I have a restored 1956 Cadillac limousine and I would have driven these two punks off of my fender, too!)
I'm writing this in my favorite coffee shop in Eagle Rock, California (Jack loved to sit in coffee shops in the morning hours after a show - myself, Tony Conn and Ron Weiser did this often with him after a Burning Tree show) and today with my breakfast I'm suffering through a most unbearable sound on the radio. In the distance, I am hearing the most hoarse, straining, croaking voice; tight, and unable to get a note out in a relaxed, pleasing, romantic, natural way. Is it? It can't be! Jimmy Durante? No! It's that million-seller, old, worthless, aging hippie pop star Michael Bolton, inept as usual to produce any note of quality without letting out a "kicked in the nuts" howl. A man symbolic of one of the worst singers I've ever heard, but very much in keeping with the lackluster male-singer pop stars that the major record companies had glorified and promoted to superstardom over the past 25 years.
I contrast this voice with a great voice, pulled from the racks by his only major label, Decca Records. The voice of Jack Cochran. On Wednesday, March 25, 1998, as I sat in the company of many of his friends who enjoyed his records, danced at his many live shows at the Gaslight club in Santa Monica, and with Jack's favorite black and white cowboy boots, his name enscribed, attending, with his vintage Gretsch guitar standing at attention by his resting form, with enlarged photos surrounding the room, reminding the world of the various stages in his music career and contributions, I was most struck by the voice, a voice that has never been equaled; for an important part of this final visit with Jack and his supporters was the playing on tape of all of his many impressive recordings. His voice was one to remember, as through all the stages of his life on record it was never strained, displayed terrific range, never tired-sounding, always rich, easy, on note, and perfect. Years of club smoke, cigarettes and frustration had no effect. His voice was God's gift to the end of breath for Jack Cochran.
I first met Jack around 1973 when he was playing at a Santa Monica club called the Burning Tree. Ron Weiser had heard about him and we went to see him, and that same night we met our Rock and Roll Caruso, Tony Conn, whose voice is also a wonder. (Tony and I have finally recorded an album together.)
Jack's Live Shows
Jack's sets were something I could have put together myself, displaying a great combination of styles: country ("Behind Closed Doors"), pop-rock ("Proud Mary"), pop ("Sweet Caroline"), blues ("Hootchie Kootchie Man"), rockabilly ("Mystery Train"), hillbilly ("Blues, Stay Away From Me" and "Old Mountain Dew"), Rock and Roll ("Ain't That A Shame"), and thousands more songs coming from all great styles.
I was enthralled at seeing Jack. After giving up music completely during the sick, drug-infested 1960's, the scum-bag hippie period, I was completely shocked and pleased to learn that someone who knew and loved the kinds of music I liked and played, persisted. It felt great to know there existed a few artists in music who grew up with my same roots, someone who hated heavy metal music, and the major label one-month wonders of the charts, and the scratchy-voiced rock stars of Midnight Special on TV. Here was a man who looked, dressed, and sang like the best musical acts of the 1950's and he was playing in the '70's right before my eyes.
The Rockbilly Rebels (left to right): Jerry Sikorski, Ray Campi, Jack Cochran, Colin Winski.
Palomino Club in North Hollywood - September 19, 1976
I was also impressed by Jack's songwriting and his own tunes that he played when I saw him perform. After one of his Rollin' Rock albums was pressed by Ron Weiser, I would grab one and put into my mind a few of the tunes I could record at a later date. This lead me to recording "Rockabilly Music," which became a chart record for me in Finland, and "Hungry Hill," which I recorded in 1991 with the Bellhops for Rockhouse Records and also featured in my live video.
Recently, I recorded his tune "Swamp Fox," which is unreleased. I feel lucky to have played bass on 99% of Jack's Rollin' Rock records; his first CD of this music is now released by HighTone Records, Rollin' Rock-HMG label in the US. Jack's newest compilation is called "Rockabilly Music" and is in shops worldwide.
It was a joy to be around him, a personable, affable, amusing friend, as well as a super-professional songwriter, musician and singer who was and never will be improved upon by anyone.
Listen to Jack sing "HUNGRY HILL" (RealAudio)
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"Jack, you musta drove your mule too hard!"
- Dub Dickerson (BMI)
"Hey, Mr. Record President,
Holding all that gold,
You tried to kill our music,
But you just can't kill our soul!"
- from "Rockabilly Music"
(pub. Ron Weiser Publishing)
Thanks again, Jack!
P.O. BOX 250425
GLENDALE, CA 91225-0425
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