Elizabeth Cook: Country Music Unfit for the Opry

| 3/11/2010 5:22:43 PM

Elizabeth Cook, singer-songwriter

There are two Elizabeth Cooks. There’s the one who performs on the Grand Ole Opry, as she has for more than a decade, singing the straight-up country songs that make up the canon of that venerable establishment. Then there’s the singer-songwriter Elizabeth Cook whose best known lyric is “sometimes it takes balls to be a woman” and whose new album, Welder, includes lyrics about a “heroin addict sister,” a mullet-wearing, El Camino-driving boyfriend, and a “rock and roll man” frequently driven to fisticuffs by “cigarette ashes in a Budweiser can.” The music on Welder careens well outside the bounds of Opryland, shifting from waltzes and bluegrassy numbers to alt-country, pop ballads, and flat-out rockers.

Cook and her band are among five acts that are playing at the Utne Reader-sponsored Americana Music Assocation showcase next week at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas. In a phone conversation from Key West, Florida, she spoke about coming to terms with the Opry playlist, dropping telling details into her songs, and growing up as the daughter of an ex-con and a hillbilly singer:

Keith Goetzman: You grew up in a very musical family in Florida, didn’t you?

Elizabeth Cook: “Yeah, my mom was a hillbilly singer from Charleston, West Virginia—she played mandolin, guitar, and was a songwriter. My daddy was just sort of a novice musician and he ended up playing upright bass in the prison band when he was in jail. So when Daddy got out of jail he met Mama and they started playing little honky-tonks around central Florida. They had me when my mother was 42 and he was 48. I came along late and was sort of born into their little honky-tonk band scenario in central Florida in the ’70s.”

And you performed at an early age, right?

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