"She's a socialite, a decent housewife and she makes a mean lasagna/ so when the mechanic, said 'Lady don¹t panic, but this one's gonna cost ya'/ she said 'I know I don¹t need my engine rebuilt, now just check the oil and change the belt/ honey, I know you thought you saw me coming'/ sometimes it takes balls to be a woman."
Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be A Woman - Elizabeth Cook-Melinda Schneider.

Florida born singer-songwriter Elizabeth Cook has this luxury of riches - her family history is the stuff Hollywood movies cry out for.

And the Cook story looms more as a box office smash than three movies that already feature her music.

Cook is the youngest daughter of an Octogenarian moonshiner who spent 11 years in prison in the sixties.

Her dad Tom learned to play double bass in gaol and was heading straight to hillbilly hell until he met singing spouse Joyce when the prison doors slammed behind him on his final release.

Joyce was a country girl from Charleston, West Virginia, who played mandolin and guitar and performed on radio and local television in her younger years as the Melody Duo.

She sang for her supper until she met Tom - fresh from doing time for operating a vast moonshine racket up and down the eastern seaboard from Jacksonville, Florida.

The couple had 10 children - five each from previous relationships - when they met.

Tom and Joyce, both in their forties when they wed, soaked their genes to begat 11th child Elizabeth - first and only child of their union.

Cook was born at Wildwood in Florida and joined her parents on stage at the age of four.

Aged nine, she fronted her own band Southern Breeze and released her first double-sided record - both songs penned by mum Joyce.


Ironically, the sentiments of the B Side, Does Daddy Love The Bottle More Than He Loves Me, rescued her dad, who learned to play guitar on a Georgia cotton plantation, from alcoholism.

"My daddy was a roaring alcoholic and he quit drinking when she wrote that song,"

Cook told Nu Country TV in a call from North Carolina where she was touring with Texan troubadour Guy Clark.

Tom is now 84.

And until Joyce died at 77 earlier this year, they performed as The Medicare Duo in Nashville - opening shows for their daughter at the Station Inn and other venues.

The A side was Homework Blues - somewhat sardonic for the singer who retired from music at 12 to become a cheerleader, beauty queen and straight A student.

Cook used her Georgia dual university degrees in 1996 to launch an accounting career at Price Waterhouse before boomeranging to singing and songwriting.

Elizabeth, now a prolific writer and singing spouse of fellow roots country singer Tim Carroll, is one of the most acclaimed artists of the new millennia.

Expatriate Australasian promoter and publisher Barry Coburn signed Cook to her first major record deal with Atlantic Records in 2001.

After that deal headed south she became a finalist in the prestigious Americana Music Awards in Nashville in 2007 with one of several songs that she wrote with Australian country music queen Melinda Schneider.

Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be A Woman is the title track of Cook's fourth disc and one of their three collaborations on Schneider's previous album Stronger - also her fourth album.

Schneider and Cook both recorded Rest Your Weary Mind on their albums - Cook added Bobby Bare Jr as her duet partner.

Now Schneider, Cook and husband Tim Carroll are planning an Australian tour with another down under cameo.

Midnight Oil bassist Bones Hillman, now living in Nashville, is the latest addition to Cook's touring band.


"Look at Dolly and Loretta, they still live it to the letter/ Oh, sometimes it takes balls to be a woman." - Balls - Elizabeth Cook-Melinda Schneider.

Cook, raised on the pure country vocals of Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and the late Tammy Wynette, also borrowed marketing strategy from the Kentucky coalminer's daughter when she debuted on vinyl.

Well, her folks did with their radio blitz for Homework Blues/ Does Daddy Love The Bottle More Than He Loves Me?

"We went to a little studio in Ocarville, Florida, called Great Southern Sounds and they recorded it and printed it up," Cook, now 36, revealed.

"We did all the groundwork - we watched the movie Coalminer's Daughter and saw how Loretta did it. We filled up the car and drove to radio stations and walked in with the record and got local airplay. They started playing it a lot around central Florida. We did that for a couple of years. I then retired at 12 to be a cheerleader - I didn't start writing until I got into college. I ended up in a Miss Georgia pageant in 1990."

Cook graduated from the Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, in 1996 with dual degrees in Accounting and Computer Information Systems.


"Sometimes into Ashville, sometimes Memphis town/ the revenoors chased him but they couldn't run him down/ each time they thought they had him, his engine would explode/ he'd go by like they were standin' still on Thunder Road." - Thunder Road - Robert Mitchum.

Before tracking Elizabeth's flight path let's backslide to Tom's illustrious career as a moonshiner.

"He got sentenced to 11 years and initially served eight years," Cook confirmed.

"Three different times he got caught. He was sentenced to two three-year sentences and a five-year sentence. So he served 11 years in total."

That might sound harsh but it was the sixties and the government needed the revenue as it did in the Prohibition era.

And Tom Cook, latter day musical icon, was no mule.

"Dad was part of a crime ring that ran up and down the eastern seaboard," the singer explained.

"He had various assignments and functions within that ring. It was organised crime.

He had a car that he drove that they called the white ghost because it didn't have a back seat in. Instead it had these big jugs as cargo. He would pull into a barn, close the door and unload the whiskey and fill the jogs and would drive back out. He also oversaw the still and they ran it like a serious business. They would look at the run off and how efficient the stills were. They were dead serious about it. It wasn't hillbillies with overalls and a donkey. It was the serious business of crime. He had various roles taking the liquor from Miami north. One time when he was arrested he was awaiting sentencing. The time kept piling on - there were dozens of people arrested within an hour."


"Let me tell the story, I can tell it all/ about the mountain boy who ran illegal alcohol/
his daddy made the whiskey, son, he drove the load/ when his engine roared, they called the highway Thunder Road." - Thunder Road - Robert Mitchum.

Cook has written several songs about her mother but are there any about her father?

Robert Mitchum created the template with the title track of his 1958 movie Thunder Road - his saga of moonshining in Kentucky and Tennessee.

And seven times wed Texan born recidivist Aussie tourist Steve Earle updated it with his herb superb - moonshine successor - for historic 1988 hit Copperhead Road.

But Elizabeth, maybe with restrained optimism for a belated movie or at least a docco about family, has not written anything specific about her sire.

"There will be songs, especially when he is such a colourful a character that he is, that will be starting to come out," Cook confessed.

"I have a couple of ideas that will be on the next album pertaining directly to him. I don't directly write to the topic - it's more the stream of thoughts coming from his experiences."

So how important was time behind bars in the musical growth of the Cook dynasty?

"Dad learned bass in prison," Cook revealed.

"He played a little bit of guitar before he went into gaol. I guess there was someone in there who knew how to play and taught him. They had prison band The Melody Boys. On my Myspace page there are a couple of great shots of him with prison band. Mum was earlier in a band called The Melody Duo."


"All my feelings, all my fears/ were confirmed by Britney Spears." - Times Are Tough In Rock N Roll - Elizabeth Cook.

Elizabeth graduated from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro in 1996 with dual degrees in Accounting and Computer Information Systems.

Cook utilised her degrees to kick-start a career with multi-national Price Waterhouse in Nashville.

"I worked there in accounting and computer information systems after I left university until I had a publishing company offer me a contract for my songs," Cook recalled.

"It was a way to make a living in the music business if I signed the contract. That was a cushion a lot of people who make the decision to pursue their dreams don't have. I was fortunate to have that but of course it was for a lot less money than what I was pulling at Price Waterhouse. I was not happy at Price Waterhouse. I worked all the time and it was not a good experience. I didn't enjoy the environment. I didn't see the future for myself in that scenario. It was an easy out when the songwriting publishing deal came along."

Cook signed with the publishing company Sis 'N Bro Music and recorded debut indie disc The Blue Album in 2000.


"My heartache went from bad to worse/ called the doctor and got his nurse/ here's to you for messing up my everything." - Here's To You - Elizabeth Cook.

She made a huge impression on expatriate Australasian manager and publisher Barry Coburn - he immediately signed her to Atlantic Records in Nashville.

Coburn is the original manager of Georgian superstar Alan Jackson, and latter day handler of artists diverse as BR5-49, Lacy J Dalton, Mark Germino, Holly Dunn, Suzy Bogguss, Marty Stuart and Diamond Rio.

The former Victorian Spurs Bar promoter ascended from his publishing company Ten Ten - whose clients included Keith Urban - to become CEO of the Nashville branch of Atlantic.

But just as Cook was recording her album Hey Y'all for Atlantic it closed its Nashville label and she was handballed to parent company Warner with high-profile label mates John Michael Montgomery and Tracy Lawrence.

With Coburn, the maverick publisher in Australia for artists diverse as former Seeker Bruce Woodley, the late A P Johnson and this writer, I had one question for Cook.

Was it Barry Coburn who signed you to Atlantic?

"It sure was," Cook recalled.

"I was kept on and my contract was transferred over to Warner Brothers. That proved not to be a good relationship for me. After they released Hey Y'all album on Warner Brothers I asked to be relieved of my contract and they were gracious to let me go. It was painful and I have this feeling Barry fought very hard for me when it came down.

It pained him greatly when it went down the way it did for him when it did."

Cook released another indie disc This Side Of The Moon for Hog County in 2004.

Her 13 songs included vitriolic Hard-Hearted and Here's to You about an acrimonious split with Warner.

"It's about my divorce with Music Row," Cook confessed.

"I write to heal myself. When an artist writes, they usually write from personal experience. I think many mainstream artists are disconnected from what they perform."

So, if the lyric quoted from Here's To You doesn't make it clear try this from Hard Hearted.

"You're so hard hearted, dearly departed/ cannot connect to you/ you're so hard hearted/ but I keep on trying to get through/ cos I'm sentimental, should be gentle/ but it's all lost on you."

That disc received rave reviews from New York Times and No Depression and sowed the seeds for Balls that bounced from the gate in Nashville more than a year ahead of its 2008 Australian release.


Sometimes it takes balls to be a woman/ standing up to a test, while wearing a party dress/ sometimes looks can be deceiving when you¹re quietly over-achieving/ yeah sometimes it takes balls to be a woman." - Balls - Elizabeth Cook-Melinda Schneider.

Cook and Schneider wrote a batch of songs together after Melinda saw Elizabeth on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

The duo wrote Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be A Woman, Rest Your Weary Mind and I Like Men In Trucks and several other tunes in successive sessions.

"She visited the Opry and saw me perform," Cook recalled.

"She mentioned it in a meeting with a guy and he said he knew me and organised a meeting and introduced us. She sought em out on the streets of Nashville. I'm really glad she did."

Those sessions were fruitful - especially the end product.

"Balls took only 15 minutes to write," Cook confessed.

Melinda Schneider >

Every once in a while I get an email saying bar bands are singing It Takes Balls To Be A Woman," Cook confessed.

"I think there are also a lot of transvestites singing it."

So does Cook have many songs covered by mainstream artists?

"I'm still relatively young as a songwriter and have hopes of that," Cook replied.

What about Texan singer Lee Ann Womack - one of the last traditional mainstream female singers on a major label?

"I would love to have her cut one of my songs," Cook confided.

"But that would be her call. Are my songs suitable for her? I would think so."


"Life can be a hard gravel road/when the weight of the world is one heavy load/ when you need a place just to lay low/ and hear somebody say/ rest your weary mind." - Rest Your Weary Mind - Melinda Schneider-Elizabeth Cook.

Cook revamped Rest Your Weary Mind, originally recorded by Schneider, as a duet with Bobby Bare Jr on Balls.

Bare's father Bobby broke in Australia as Bill Parson with All American Boy in 1958 before a spate of pop hits and country comedy classics from the salacious songbook of late Playboy cartoonist Shel Silverstein and stone country tunes by Bob McDill.

"Melinda came in with the genesis of the song," Cook recalled.

"We wrote that on the same day that we wrote Balls and another song we haven't recorded to date. She came in with thought and line and she sat down on the couch and she was in the song already. I jumped in with her and slapped the verses on it. It was fairly fast to write but not quick as Balls."

The Cook-Schneider sessions also produced I Like Men In Trucks - a song the writers were not sure about until they sought a third opinion from Carroll.

"Melinda was reticent about recording it but Tim thought it was a great song. I did too. You write a lot of songs but can't record everything. You look at the landscape of what you've got and try to make a well-rounded album. That hasn't surfaced to for me yet but it did for her. It was what she was looking for - for her project. I'm sure we have songs left over from those writing sessions - ideas we haven't finished."


"I keep on walkin' my country mile/I got my heart up all the while/Some would like to cramp my style/I keep on walkin' my country mile." - Times Are Tough In Rock' n Roll - Elizabeth Cook

Cook hired legendary Texan troubadour and producer Rodney Crowell - ex-husband of Rosanne Cash and latter day singing spouse of Claudia Church - for the album for 31 Tigers Records.

"We almost worked together on first record in 1999 but when that deal fell through he was releasing The Houston Kid, and our paths drifted apart," Cook recalled.

"I was looking for an overseer of this album and tried him again. It was good timing. He was looking for something to do. It was a healthy distraction for him. He came in and produced."
Crowell joined fellow guitarists Richard Bennett, Kenny Vaughan and Carroll on the disc that features bassists Michael Rhodes and Alison Prestwood and the famed Dead Reckoners drummer Harry Stinson.

The cream was Matt Combs - fiddle and mandolin, Greg Davis - banjo and Tim Lauer on piano.

Crowell and fellow Texan born singer Nanci Griffith added their vocals to Down Girl and Marcia Ramirez added harmonies to other songs.

"We tracked all 11 cuts in two days," Cook says.

"The record was finished in two weeks."

The album begins with the sardonic social comment of Times Are Tough In Rock 'N Roll.

"Times Are Tough isn't about being female to me," Cook says.

"It's just about being at a certain point in your life where what you're doing ought to be real cool but you see the struggle ahead and you see right through all the mirages around you and you decide to keep going anyway.

Cook has filmed video clips for Balls and Sunday Morning - the first song on 1967's The Velvet Underground & Nico.

The Lou Reed-John Cale tune is the only cover on the album.


"I'm not a has-been/ I'm still a gonna be/ you just wait and see/ you just won't believe/ keep looking out for me." - Gonna Be - Elizabeth Cook-Tim Carroll.

Cook extended her musical dynasty when she wed Carroll, now 47, on May 13, 2004.

Ironically, the couple live at Cooksville near Lebanon in Tennessee.

Carroll, born at West Terre Haute, Indiana in rural Vigo County, graduated from college at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, where he joined punk rock band The Gizmos and moved to New York City in 1980.

He formed a bar band called The Blue Chieftains who had 2 singles issued on the Diesel Only label in 1990.

Since 1993, he has lived in Nashville, Tennessee, writing songs and playing gigs.

The prolific writer's tune If I Could, I Would has been covered by Sunny Sweeney, John Prine and Asleep at the Wheel.

Two Carroll original tunes appeared on soundtracks of major movies Election that stars Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick and Drop Dead Gorgeous with Kirsten Dunst.

So how did the couple meet?

"I needed a guitar player a couple years ago, and Tim had been out on the road with Sonny Burgess," Cook recalled.

"He came and did the tour with me. He's on the road with me now. Our shows are just me and him. We're a country duet."

And how are the harmonies?

"Our voices sing together," she said.

"We'll do Jackson or some other country duet. I think we sound good."

"There is one co-write with him on the album but I don't write with him a lot," Cook added.

"He writes a lot on his own. We write and bounce things off each other. He is the first person to hear what I write and I'm the first to hear what he has written. We're a sounding board for each other. When we wrote Gonna Be that was really fast. We started it back stage before we were going on to do a show. We finished it in the living room maybe a few days later."

Carroll's optimistic tune Always Tomorrow closes this album - "If you don't like the way things are/ you can wish upon a star/ there's always tomorrow."

Cook is proud of her salient song sequencing.

"Hope. That's sort of the key word I think," Cook says.

"It's like people at the end of the day want a little bit of hope. It just seemed like the right thing to end the record. To start with Times Are Tough in Rock 'n' Roll and end in Always Tomorrow, it's like a little goodnight."


"I'm not in the hall of fame/ I'm not on the wall of shame/ I guess you'll find me in between somewhere/ things go right and things go wrong/ sometimes you hear me sing this song/ you'll always find me in my mama's prayers." - Mama's Prayers - Elizabeth Cook.

Cook, who wrote songs about her late mother on previous albums, included another - Mama's Prayers on Balls.

The song depicts a lonely young woman kept together by the thought of her mother.

"Yes, it became more relevant when she died this year," Cook confessed.

"It came straight from my heart. I like to think most songs do. One of the reasons I don't co-write a lot is there is only a small handful of people that I'm willing to make that time commitment with or that it seems to happen naturally with because if I'm really just shooting from the hip and being straight about what I'm writing it seems to come out as an honest lyric."

Cook also utilised maternal inspiration for Mama You Wanted To Be A Singer, Too from Hey Y'all.

In a 2007 interview to promote Balls U.S. release Cook praised her mother's spirit and talent.

"My mama is 75 years old and she still writes the occasional song just 'cause she's got something to say and that's how she wants to say it," Cook said.

"It's just what we do."

And Cook is equally proud of her parents' roots.

"I was very fortunate to have two very good, solid, hard working, honest, loving - if poor, white trash country music people - for parents," Cook revealed.

"It's everything that I am."


Cook, like husband Carroll, has landed her songs in movies.

"I have had some success," Cook revealed.

"I had a song in a movie called Animal Factory. I had another song in a movie called American Reunion. It was an independent. The song was Demon Don't Get Into Bed With Me."

The 2000 crime movie Animal Factory, directed by Steve Buscemi, starred Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, Danny Trejo, Seymour Cassel, comedian Tom Arnold, Jake La Boetz and Mickey Rourke.

American Reunion, featuring Billy Wirth, Jennier Rubin and Corey Glover, debuted in 2004.

"Blue Shades is in another movie called Killshot if and when it comes out. I met the lead actress Dianne Lane in a bar in Key West, Florida and said I had a song in her movie. I said I hadn't seen the movie - she said she hadn't seen it either. I have done a deal with a publisher who pitches for that sort of things."

Killshot, based on the 1989 Elmore Leonard crime novel, began shooting in 2005 and has been revamped for release in 2009.

The cast includes Dianne Lane, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson, Thomas Jane, Lois Smith and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Johnny Knoxville played body snatcher Phil Kaufman in Grand Theft Parsons - the story of Gram Parsons posthumous kidnapping and cut rate cremation at Joshua Tree in California - and also appears in Killshot, directed by John Madden.


Cook and Carroll are keen to tour Australia to promote their music.

The singer has a possible touring partner in songwriting collaborator Schneider - and a well-known expatriate Australian bassist.

"Bones Hillman moved to town recently, he was the bass player for Midnight Oil." Cook added.
"He's new to Nashville and wants to play upright bass. I had another bass player but he plays with other people. So I had to substitute my bass player and Bones has been with me since."

Although Cook has appeared on the Grand Ole Opry more than 100 times - twice that of many mainstream peers - she hasn't been honoured in wax like co-writer Schneider who will be unveiled in Tamworth's museum in January.

"Good for her," Cook joked.

CLICK HERE for Melinda Schneider feature from Diary on August 9, 2006 when she recalled the night her mother sang backstage at the Opry with Tom and Joyce Cook.

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