Now, here’s one for all you quiz compilers out there – who was the first (and, so far, only) British songwriter to be inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame? Yes, it’s Roger Frederick Cook, one of the most prodigious songwriters the UK has ever produced.
Cook started out as a performer in the early 60’s and he met his musical partner, Roger Greenaway, in Bristol based band, The Kestrels, while still in his early twenties. After leaving the band, Cook and Greenaway continued as pop duo, David & Jonathan, achieving a minor UK hit with their cover of The Beatles ‘Michelle’ and a more substantial one with their own composition ‘Lovers of the World Unite’. Around this same time they penned their first big international hit, ‘You’ve Got Your Troubles’, which was a top 10 success for The Fortunes in both the U.K and the U.S.
When the interest in the David & Jonathan duo waned the pair turned their attention to songwriting full-time, though Cook would continue to perform as a lead singer, most notably alongside Madeline Bell in the 70s band, Blue Mink. The Greenaway/Cook songwriting team had outstanding success in the UK throughout the late sixties and early seventies, with songs that ranged from the mawkish pop of Cilla Black’s ‘Something Tells Me (Something’s Gonna Happen Tonight)’ to the pop/rock of The Hollies’ ‘Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress’ (co-written with Hollies singer Allan Clarke) and the sheer magnificence of Gene Pitney’s ‘Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart’. They also wrote major hits for the likes of Cliff Richard, The Drifters, Johnny Johnson and The Bandwagon, White Plains and many more. And, of course, they wrote the advertising jingle ‘True Love & Apple Pie’, which was then re-written, with American songwriter, Billy Davis, for the Coca-Cola company, where it became ‘Buy the World a Coke’ and, from there, became ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’, an international hit of considerable size for the New Seekers.
When Blue Mink split up in 1974 it also signalled the beginning of the end for the Cook/Greenaway writing partnership and Roger Cook, increasingly interested in the songwriting possibilities for the American market, moved to the U.S in 1975. Briefly trying stints in New York and L.A it wasn’t until he moved to Nashville and turned his hand to writing for the country market that he found his niche in America. His first big hit was with Crystal Gale, who took Cook’s ‘Talking In Your Sleep’ to the top of the country charts in 1978 and gave him a crossover hit in the pop charts too. Don Williams also had a top ten country hit with the Cook song ‘Miracles’ a couple of years later.
It all sounds like a charmed existence but Cook faced more than his fair share of problems over the years. When he first moved to Nashville he teamed up with Canadian singer/songwriter Ralph Murphy, who he had originally met in London, and convinced him to join Cook in setting up an independent publishing company, called ‘Picalic’, in Nashville. The company prospered, fired by the hits for Crystal Gayle and Don Williams and Cook’s early years in Nashville were incredibly successful but the constant networking and Nashville parties, notorious in the late 70s and into the 80s, would cost Cook two marriages and the problems of keeping cash flowing through a small publishing business, in the face of pressure from their larger competitors, would eventually lead to the collapse of his company. At this point, Cook had married again and, with new wife Kitty, decided to return to the UK and it was during this period that he attempted to resurrect his performing career. In 1992, he formed CCW, with ex Stranglers, Hugh Cornwall, and another guitarist, Andrew West, but Cook found that he no longer felt at home in the UK, heading back to Nashville in 1995.
During his earlier stint in Nashville, Cook had co-written songs with John Prine, one of which, ‘I Just Want to Dance With You’, had appeared on Prine’s “German Afternoons” album, and would now go on to give George Strait a number 1 country hit in 1998. Strait would also score a number 1 with Cook’s song ‘One Night at a Time’, which was named Country Song of the Year by ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. 1998 was the year Cook was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Cook is 84 now and says that he still writes a couple of songs a week and he even gets out and performs on increasingly rare occasions. It has now been 25 years since Roger Cook was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame; in all that time no other British songwriter has earned the same accolade. How long before someone eventually joins him, and who will it be?
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