Former elite horse trainer Ricky Cook talks to C&I about his debut album, Thanks a Lot, Loretta, out April 2.
Born and raised in, Oakdale, Tennessee, rising artist Ricky Cook has always integrated life and traditional country music. Now the inspiring outlaw — whose influences include legendary acts like George Strait, Dolly Parton, and Loretta Lynn — is on the cusp of releasing his debut album, Thanks a Lot, Loretta, available April 2.
Cook found a passion for country music at the age of 8 and developed a skill with rhyming from his songwriting grandmother. After working at a local car dealership and his father’s rock quarry, Cook left Oakdale to follow his passion for music.
In between leaving his hometown and recording his debut album, Cook discovered another passion: To pay the bills, the cowboy became a very successful horse trainer and had his first American Saddlebred World Champion Horse that first year; a host of blue ribbons followed.
Recently, the former elite horse trainer talked with C&I about his transition from horse training to music making, his debut album, and working with Loretta Lynn’s sister Peggy Sue.
Cowboys & Indians: Your upcoming debut album, Thanks a Lot, Loretta is being released on April 2. What do you hope your fans will get out of it?
Ricky Cook: I truly hope that when folks are listening that they can relax, sit back, and enjoy! The album has many songs with many meanings, from sad to happy, and sometimes standing up for yourself when you have to. I hope people can relate to all the happy fun songs on the album and be proud they’re not living the sad ones, because I certainly don’t wish anybody to be sad or hurt. However, I appreciate my happy times in life much more after going through some of the sad ones. Again, I guess that’s just life, ain’t it?
C&I: What was the writing and producing process like?
Cook: Writing all of the songs was great. You go through so many different emotions from song to song, as they all have different meanings. When I write I have to really have a strong emotional connection to the lyrics, or it doesn’t come out right. I can’t just sit down and write something off the wall often! So as I look back and listen to the album, it takes me back to that spot I was in the day that we wrote the song. So as you listen there’s lots of good times, sad times, fun, happy, and sad! The production as far as producing it, I feel like I have the best producer/co-writer in the business. J.P. Pennington is a class act and so talented, it’s unbelievable. He is great at getting the best out of me, himself, and the entire team! And let’s face it — Nashville has the best musicians that money can’t buy! It’s an amazing experience to walk in a studio and hand those guys a song. I think they could play barbwire and make it sound good!
C&I: Is there a song on the album that you’re most proud of?
Cook: Yes, absolutely! Actually, I’m really proud of all of them. But to pick one, I’ll go with “Chewin’ Beechnut.” It’s a song about my dad and every line is a solid factual truth! What a man he is. He’s a man’s man. You see my dad didn’t get much education, 8th grade was about it. He was one of 11 kids, and they didn’t have anything! Being the second oldest, he had to quit school and go to work. In those days a lot of people had to do that to meet basic family needs. Being poor would have been an upgrade. [Laughs.] Because of that fact, you know there is always somebody out there to make fun of you or put you down in some way. And, believe it or not, that happens whether you are from a little small country town like myself or big ol’ city. It doesn’t matter — people are people.
So when I wrote the song, I told his side of the story, about the hard times and being tough enough not to give up and I told “my side,” which was my daddy might not be your doctor or lawyer, but he is my daddy and I am proud of my daddy’s name just the way he is. He is probably the closest to a living John Wayne that I know! Hence the chorus: “I’m proud of my daddy’s name / There ain’t one thing I’d change / Driving around in a beat up truck / Working for a living and chewin’ Beechnut.”
C&I: Your upcoming music video for the recently released single “Thanks a Lot, Loretta” features Loretta’s sister Peggy Sue. What was that experience like?
Cook: Oh my! Peggy Sue. Where to start! First, I’ve got to say I love her. She’s real. She has been on every stage in the country, has performed for who knows how many, even presidents, alongside her sisters, Loretta Lynn and Crystal Gayle. But here’s what I gotta say because it’s how I feel: She’s still that little gal from Butcher Holler. Loves everybody, talks to everybody, full of energy, sings like a bird, and funny as a circus. Who couldn’t love that?
C&I: Are there songs that didn’t make the album that we can expect sometime in the near future?
Cook: Lord, yes. Too many maybe. You try to cut the ones that you think are the best, but then you go back and look and ask yourself if you were right or wrong. We’ve already cut the next album and hopefully will finish it in the next few months. I’d say a lot. We write some good ones, bad ones, happy ones, sad ones, and probably some half-assed ones. Maybe we’ll put a few of those on there!
C&I: As a former elite horse trainer, how did you get into the music industry?
Cook: Well I’m not sure how elite I was! However, I did have my share of success. I love horses — horses and music have always been part of me, every heartbeat. I don’t ever remember not loving both. However, success with horses came a lot earlier in my life than music! And actually, I’ll tell ya: I was at the Kentucky State Fair World Championship Horse Show one year, and the fair sponsors free concerts. I was back at the barn listening to the music, and it started to bother me. Something inside kept saying, Why have you put your music down? You are supposed to be out there writing and sharing your life. You know that little voice inside? We all have it, but it’s hard to listen to sometimes, at least it is for me, anyway.
I will never forget there was a gal who had horses in the barn with me and we became friends. As it turned out, she played the fiddle and that got us to talking music. I then shared some songs I had written with her, and she loved them.” … She said, “Hey, you need to record these, and I’ve got a friend that can help us.” So I said, “Let’s do it!” She went to talk to him and he said, “This is not my kind of project, but I’ve got a friend that would love this.” That friend was J.P. Pennington, from the hit-making group Exile. Well, we got together, we hit it off, and here we are.
C&I: How do those experiences play into your music?
Cook: Horses and music! Well, here’s how I see it: The horse has to fit the rider, and the rider has to fit the horse. In other words, you’ve got to be a pair. You got to love each other, respect each other, and have a mutual goal and passion to win. In music, I think it’s the same way. You’ve gotta love the songs you’re singing, and the song has to love you back. When that happens, I think it’s magic. And people around you will see it and feel it, too. That equals success.
C&I: As the title suggests, Loretta Lynn must have a huge effect on your love of music. Who else has influenced you?
Cook: I do talk a lot about Loretta. I have to though. She has had a great deal to do with my life, just by living and sharing hers. But yes, there are others. Dolly Parton — I love her just as much ... shoot, next I will probably write “If it wasn’t for Dolly what would I do / Walk around town with only a frown feeling blue.” But then there’s Conway. You will hear that song soon. George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Alan Jackson, just to name a few. Heck, I love all of them that play country music. Like anybody, I like some better than others, but if you sing country music — my kind of country music — I am a fan and would probably buy your record!
C&I: What can we expect in terms of touring?
Cook: Yes, let’s get to it! I can’t wait. We are busting it out on the road trying to talk all of these guys and gals into spinning a hick. But I would like to tell you that we will be at the Grand Ole Opry house, but the closest I have gotten is the outhouse. But really, I am happy to play anywhere there’s someone who wants to hear my music and all my crazy stories about life.
For more information on Ricky Cook and his upcoming tour dates, visit his website.