Unsung: Roger Cook
In the first of a new feature, we shine a light on a Bristolian who made Nashville his stomping ground
As the first and only British representative in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Roger Cook’s place in music history is assured. However, the Bristol-born Cook had already embarked on a hugely successful career in the country of his birth before taking Music City by storm. Born in 1940 during the Blitz, Cook was raised in a musical family. Early influences included both the church choir and the sounds of skiffle and it wasn’t long before he joined his first vocal group, The Sapphires. Having performed in several bands, and pursued a solo career, it was a working union with Roger Greenaway (a fellow Bristolian) which had the biggest impact on his songwriting.
Starting in 1965, the pair, with their own bands such as The Kestrels and David And Jonathan and as a writing team for other artists, had a Lennon and McCartney style connection which brought out the best in them both. Early successes included The Fortunes’ You’ve Got Your Troubles and their own Lovers Of The World Unite. This hot streak continued for almost a decade and led to the pair penning songs for everyone from Olivia Newton-John to Andy Williams, and pick up two Ivor Novello Awards for Songwriters Of The Year along the way (not to mention their Coca Cola jingle-turned-anthem I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing.
The ever-active Cook had also joined pop group Blue Mink in 1969, along with Madeline Bell, but when they folded in 1975 he packed up his bags and headed to the US, eventually settling in Nashville. It wasn’t long before his compositions started getting noticed and in 1977 he had his first country No 1 with the Crystal Gayle hit Talking In Your Sleep, co-penned with Bobby Wood. Success continued with numbers for the likes of Don Williams, George Strait and John Prine.
A songwriter with that ineffable knack of getting to the heart of the matter, Cook has been able to effortlessly cross genre divides and countries. Here are 10 of his essential tracks…
10. BLUE MINK
Having joined Blue Mink after Roger Greenaway recommended him, Cook was asked by the band’s manager to write a hit song for their upcoming debut album. Sitting down with vocalist Madeline Bell, they came up with this call for racial harmony. The song’s lyrics may not have dated as well as some other compositions, and in fact are often misconstrued as racist themselves, but the track achieved its objective and earned the band a No 3 in the UK.
9. JOHN PRINE
I HAVE MET MY LOVE TODAY
OH BOY (2018)
Though Cook’s mainstream success has tailed off since the 1980s, his contributions to country music have continued. This track, taken from Prine’s latest album The Tree Of Forgiveness, shows that he can still cut the mustard. A co-write with Prine, I Have Met My Love Today is a tender ballad from two maturing artists. It’s also proof that any musician looking for a writing partner could do a lot worse than turn to this outlying Brit.
8. GEORGE STRAIT
I JUST WANT TO DANCE WITH YOU
MCA NASHVILLE (1998)
Another co-write with John Prine, this slow burner was picked up by George Strait 14 years after the pair had written it. The first single from Strait’s One Step At A Time album gave the country star his 34th No 1 Hot Country smash. It was very much a case of ‘third time’s a charm’ for the song, which had already been recorded by Prine himself and Irish singer Daniel O’Donnell before Strait’s breezy version became the definitive offering of them all.
7. THE FORTUNES
YOU’VE GOT YOUR TROUBLES
This classic mid-60s ditty was the inaugural creation by Cook and Greenaway – written on ukuleles by the pair during a break in sets The Kestrels were playing as part of a pop package tour in Lincoln. Despite having never written together before the chemistry between them was instant, it only took an hour to come up with this track. It started their run of hits for The Fortunes, as well as their own writing relationship.
6. GENE PITNEY
SOMETHING’S GOTTEN HOLD OF MY HEART
Originally recorded by David And Jonathan, and taken to the top of the charts by Marc Almond (alongside Pitney) in 1989, Gene Pitney’s 1967 version of this iconic Greenaway/Cook composition remains the purest. Sung over the top of the original demo, which Pitney’s band couldn’t successfully replicate, it had to be pitched in a higher key in order to match Cook’s original range. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds have also covered it.