[Interview] Elizabeth Cook

A life full of the stuff of classic country songs

Elizabeth Cook, who plays the Southgate House Halloween Night, Oct. 31, was much different during a 2016 interview than the singer-songwriter who broke through in 2010 with “Welder,” the album that spawned “Yes to Booty” and “El Camino.” She was playful and candid the first time on the phone, basking in the glow of the album’s success that soon led to multiple appearances on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” Six years later, she was divorced from guitarist Tim Carroll, plagued by rumors of substance abuse and guarded in conversation. But she still put on a great show.

2016 - Album Release Interview

Elizabeth Cook burst onto the Americana music scene in 2010 with her album “Welder,” 14 songs that were alternately knee-slapping funny and heartbreaking sad.

The Florida-reared and Georgia-educated singer-songwriter became the toast of East Nashville and beyond, charming David Letterman on “The Late Show” and entertaining fans around the world with her Sirius XM radio show, “Apron Strings.”

Sometimes, however, whoever is pulling the karmic puppet strings of life decides to test a person. It must have felt like a final exam to her.

“There are things that happen that change people that are outside our control,” says Cook. “Those change your experience and change your perspective and I’ve been through that.

“(Those) include a parent’s death and divorces, house fires and many other deaths on top of that. It’s like getting struck by lightning: there’s a before and after.”

The after landscape isn’t as humorous as before, as some titles from her latest album, “Exodus of Venus,” hint: “Dyin’,” “Slow Pain,” “Straightjacket Love, “Methadone Blues” and “Tabitha Tuders’ Mama,” which references the unsolved case of a 13-year-old East Nashville girl who went missing in 2003.

Not exactly the soundtrack to your next dance party, but Cook has earned the loyalty of fans over the years. Although “Exodus” doesn’t have anything that resembles “El Camino” or “Yes to Booty,” it is filled with hard-edged rockers, including seven that she co-wrote with producer Dexter Green, the lead guitarist on the record and in her new touring band.

“I think the co-writes tend to be a little more adventurous than I would be on my own,” Cook says. “What I’m bringing is more concentrated in the lyric department. So when I sit with someone who is really strong on their instrument, on guitar, of course that’s going to come into play.

“There are chords and riffs and stuff that I wouldn’t do on my own. That’s why it’s musically more sophisticated than it would be if it was just me and my guitar and three chords.”

Cook’s three chords might not be as sophisticated as Green’s repertoire, but she is still adamant that the truth be told. She has talked about being tested emotionally, mentally and physically, but says the recent trials have been a lesson in resilience. Granted, there is work to be done.

“No, not yet,” Cook says when asked if she can laugh as easily as she once did. “But, for sure I want to get to that point. I don’t know where I’ll be five years from now.”

Hopefully, she will be having the last laugh.


2010 - Interview

What can you call a singer who puts these titles on the same album?

“Heroin Addict Sister”
“Yes to Booty”
“Mama’s Funeral”
“Snake in the Bed”

Angst ridden and fun loving? Serious and flirty? A walking, singing contradiction?

Actually, you can call Elizabeth Cook one of the next stars of the alt-country genre. The Florida-born singer-songwriter has a life story that will provide enough musical material for another dozen albums. Look for her latest, “Welder,” when the year-end best-of lists start to appear.

Cook, on tour with her like-minded East Nashville neighbor Todd Snider, has been putting her career together like a, well, welder, fusing pieces that started with “The Blue Album” in 2000 through “Hey Y’All,” “This Side of the Moon” and “Balls,” all of which offer hints of the possibilities realized on  “Welder,” which was produced by Don Was (Bonnie Raitt, Rolling `Stones).

The cult following has had to add a bandwagon,

“It’s pretty interesting,” Cook says of the heat generated by the new album. “It’s been a lot of hard work, but I’m very flattered by it.

“The most important (thing) is the growth at our shows. We’re going into places that I’ve never played before … and it’s really starting to get out there … and having a hundred people show up is like very cool, very promising.”

One of the songs making more people show up is “Yes to Booty.” A close relative of Loretta Lynn’s classic “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (with Lovin’ on Your Mind),” Cook poses the conundrum of “When you say yes to beer, you say no to booty.”

It’s the age-old question: Will the boy trade his brews for his girl?

“I’m grateful to have something that people respond to so much,” Cook laughs, talking about the possibility of being held hostage by raucous frat boys (think Snider’s “Beer Run”).

“It gives them joy, it gives them escape. I just feel really lucky to have a song that does that.”

On the flip side of fun are the heartbreakingly sincere tunes about the family. The 30- something singer is one of 11 children to a father who became a certified welder while serving “two threes and a five” in an Atlanta penitentiary for running moonshine and a “hillbilly singer” mother.

“Yes, I have 10 half-brothers and sisters, most of whom were grown and gone by the time I came along,” Cooks says. “I had a lot closer to an only child experience.”

She won’t talk about the inspiration for “Heroin Addict Sister,” saying “I don’t care to divulge that.” She has admitted in other interviews, however, that the story is close to home.

Even closer to home is “Mama’s Funeral,” which pays tribute to the mother who wanted  Hank Williams’ songs played during the services and “Her children all took turns trying to find the words just wantin’ to saying something right ’bout the best friend they found in life.”

The songs — upbeat or dark-hearted — are sung in a voice that brings to mind a melding of Julie Miller, Dolly Parton and Iris DeMent. It has hints of the little girl who would join her mother on stage and the woman who has been performed at the Grand Ole Opry more than 300 times.

It was likely a combination of the voice and the quality of “All the Time,” the lead track on “Welder” that convinced Cook’s friend Buddy Miller (Julie’s husband) to sing harmony with her.

“I’m not nearly as good a singer as any of those (aforementioned) people and certainly not good enough to try to emulate anybody, I’m not that skilled at it,” she says. “(But) his approach is emotional and raw and that’s what I’ve been trying to get at.

“I’m just really, really lucky to get to have that kind of company (Was, Snider, Miller and Rodney Crowell, who produced “Balls”) around me to study. My writing is something that I’ve always been really serious about, more so than being an entertainer or a star or any of that. … The craft of that is what I’ve been driven to get better at.”

Forgive the one dangling preposition in a 30-minute conversation. Focus on the songs, the music and the performance with her band, led by husband Tim Carroll, which will play with her here.

Chances are Cook will make you laugh and make you cry. That’s a pretty good calling card.



Each week, Bob Hust and Bill Thompson feature the best songs – old and new – from artists they have loved for many years and others they have just discovered. The best songs transport people to a time and place. That’s the foundation of BS&B.

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