High-Energy Tour including May 9 Show In Keith Whitley's Hometown with Jesse Keith Whitley
By: Phil Sweetland
Music & Radio Contributor
The New York Times
NASHVILLE / ACCESSWIRE / April 10, 2014 / Stephen Cochran has wanted to be a country singer and songwriter since he was a little kid. This spring, backed by an elite band, the Stephen Cochran Project’s new self-titled CD shows that he’s joyfully and powerfully been able to return to that lifelong dream.
Born in Eastern Kentucky and raised in the heart of the country industry in Nashville with Opry legends such as Bobby Bare and Del Reeves among his family’s friends, Cochran had a development deal with Epic as a student at Western Kentucky University.
Then 9/11 happened. The son of a proud military family, Stephen knew exactly what he had to do.
“After I watched my country be attacked, there was no second guessing. My country needed me,” Cochran said in a telephone interview on March 31.
He joined the United States Marine Corps, always known as the toughest service of all and always, even in the days of the draft, an all-volunteer unit. Sgt. Cochran served as a combat Marine with the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
Semper Fi, the Marine motto which means “always faithful,” will forever have a special meaning to Stephen Cochran.
He fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan. During a combat patrol in the Afghan city of Kandahar that was supposed to be the final one of his tour of duty, Stephen was severely wounded.
He left the Corps as a paraplegic, without the use of his legs, and missing a finger or two from the hand that he had used to make chords on his guitar.
“I play guitar with three fingers. I will find a way to adapt and overcome,” Cochran says.
Told he would never walk again, Stephen spent his first nine months back in the States in a wheelchair. He was paralyzed from the waist down. But neither Cochran nor his doctors at the VA Hospital in Nashville – a few blocks from the city’s famed Music Row – ever gave up trying or gave up believing that he would recover.
The doctors finally tried an experimental surgical procedure called Kyphoplasty, which the U.S. government’s NIH says is “used to treat painful compression fractures in the spine. In a compression fracture, all or part of a spine bone collapses.”
The surgery was a success. After a brutally difficult period of physical therapy, Stephen Cochran regained the use of his legs. He was now able to refocus on his music career, all the while musically and spiritually remembering his friends and colleagues in the Corps, many of whom died in the service of their country.
“I’ve grown a lot as a writer compared to my early projects,” Cochran says now. “I was, and will always be, a Marine. I was a Marine singing country music and now I’m a singer/songwriter who was in the Marine Corps.”
Soon Stephen, who sings the SCP’s lead vocals and plays acoustic and electric guitar, gathered the band he knew could help his musical dreams come true.
Mark Erhardt (background vocals/steel/banjo/acoustic and electric guitars/mandolin/road manager) has known Stephen the longest, even playing countless shows with Stephen’s father, who was named Steve Cochran, back in the day. Ryan “Smitty” Byrne (bass/sax/BGVs), Kenney Phillips (drums), Carrigan Shields (keyboards), Solomon Littlefield (lead guitar/BGVs), and Matthew Seay (second guitar/BGVs) round out the all-star Stephen Cochran Project, often called “SCP.”
In Nashville, background vocalists are frequently abbreviated as BGVs.
Many national figures have already noticed Stephen’s music. Larry King interviewed Cochran, and wrote back to say, “Stephen, you’re a force. Anything you need, I’m there.”
Cochran was also thrilled when he heard through his wondrous publicists, Elaine Schock of Shock Ink in Hollywood and Deborah Danker of Danker & Danker PR/Marketing in
Nashville, that longtime Shock Ink superstar client Willie Nelson would listen to Stephen’s new cut “Whiskey Lies,” a song Cochran says was “written about a Willie situation in Willie chords.”
Many may wonder whether Stephen Cochran is related to either the legendary country songwriter Hank Cochran or the rockabilly star Eddie Cochran of “Summertime Blues” fame.
“I’m not related to Eddie or Hank,” Steve explains, “but growing up, Hank was a mentor to my dad. They joked that we all had the same feet, so from then, at age 6, until the day Hank Cochran died, I called him Uncle Hank and we claimed each other as family.”
Stephen has played military tours in many of the highly dangerous combat zones he served in himself, and has played countless shows in support of veterans’ groups.
He’s been especially proud that the VA has asked him to speak about Post Traumatic Stress to Marines and veterans and their families, encouraging, empathizing with, and updating them on new developments in research, stressing to them that they are not alone. He also feels the “D” should be dropped from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “It’s not a disorder,” he explains.
Great American Country (GAC) viewers quickly fell in love with an early Stephen Cochran Project song, 2007’s single “Friday Night Fireside.” The fans voted it the No. 1 video for five weeks in a row.
John Rich of Big & Rich and Aaron Tippin have been among Stephen’s greatest supporters and mentors. Rich Redmond, Tully Kennedy, Kurt Allison, and David Fanning of New Voice Entertainment, whose A-list Music Row clients include Jason Aldean, Thompson Square, Parmalee, and Kristy Lee Cook, have helped produce the current album.
Cochran’s band members and his songs are just as much rock as they are country, along the lines of what the Zac Brown Band and Jason Aldean have been taking to the top of the radio charts in recent years. That’s the high-energy music of the Stephen Cochran Project, whether on tempo tunes such as “Gasoline On A Goodbye” or ballads like “She’ll Thank Me Later.”
Cochran wrote or co-wrote all but three songs on the new album, The Stephen Cochran Project, and even those he didn’t write he delivers with absolute conviction.
“I will never sing a song that I haven’t lived,” he says. “I’ve been bashed by management teams and record labels in the past who told me, `you’ve got to cut this song.’ But I’m not going to sacrifice my integrity in music. It’s always been a fight.”
America’s fighting men and women in the military have long had a warm spot in their hearts for his music. Few writers in any genre write so convincingly.
In “Pieces,” which Stephen started in Afghanistan and finished in a VA Hospital without the use of his legs, his lyrics talk about the agony a wounded and wheelchair-bound warrior feels after returning to the States: “Here I sit not knowing where I stand/two years of therapy and still just half a man/Well, this town moved on without me/now where do I fit in? . . . But how do you paint a picture back in focus . . . If no one understands and you scream for Jesus/and all you’ve got left is these pieces?”
Faith plays a huge part in Stephen’s life and his music. As he says: “Almost all my songs have Jesus or God in them.”
The Stephen Cochran Project (SCP) will play a remarkable homecoming on May 9 in Sandy Hook, Kentucky, the hometown of the late country star Keith Whitley. Keith, whose passionate vocals were the finest ever heard at country radio, scored No. 1 Billboard singles with hits like “Don’t Close Your Eyes” and “When You Say Nothing At All.”
Keith died on May 9, 1989, exactly 25 years before this year’s show. The SCP will share the stage that day with Keith’s son, country artist Jesse Keith Whitley.
It’s also a trip home for Stephen, who was born in Pikeville, Kentucky, just over an hour from Sandy Hook.
So in many ways, this album and that tour stop are bringing Stephen Cochran back to his musical and spiritual roots. It’s been a long time coming, with a lot of terrifying and gratifying stops along the way, but country fans and country radio will be delighted to hear this music by the Stephen Cochran Project.
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