Bluegrass Today contributor Lisa Jacobi recently spoke with acclaimed singer-songwriter Larry Cordle whose song he wrote with Jenee Fleenor – Big Blue Raindrops – is sitting at #4 on Bluegrass Today’s Monthly Airplay chart.
Lisa caught up with Larry at the world famous Station Inn in Nashville, Tennessee, where most Monday nights he brings together musical friends such as Carl Jackson and Val Storey, along with others of note, to perform a couple sets of original and classic songs. Larry got his break in professional songwriting by way of his childhood friend Ricky Skaggs and has carved out a many decades long career by, as he describes, “hard work and showing up daily.” Before diving in to the column below, first watch the Backstage Pass video shot discreetly by Lisa as Larry, Val & Carl were warming up in the green room:
Cordell, Kentucky, in the county of Lawrence, is not a place you’d know, lest you came from there, of course. The nearest town with a couple hundred souls is Blaine on Hwy 32. And, about three mountain valleys over, and perhaps more recognizable by the family from there, is Skaggs, Kentucky.
Folks from these parts know it takes hard work, long hours, and showing up to the job every day to keep a family going for generations. Sometimes, that job takes you far away. And when it comes to friendships, those are as tightly bound as kin – just like the strings around the parcels and letters being delivered day-in and day-out to every family along a rural postal route.
It’s a lesson learned well by one successful journeyman songwriter in Nashville, Tennessee who, because of a childhood friendship with a Kentucky boy from three valleys over, finds himself in Nashville now, hammering out melodies and lyrics day-in and day-out. In that music town, he is lovingly known as “Cord,” but back home in Kentucky, he is Larry – because that’s what his momma named him.
“My name is Larry Edwin Cordle.”
So is it Larry and not Lawrence?
“It’s Larry, it really is. Mom said they didn’t know anybody named like that. So, that’s what she named me. And she’s the one who named me. I think my dad just said ‘oh, okay.’
Momma passed away in 2006. I miss her all the time. I know I’ll get to see her again.”
Do you ever dream of her?
“I had one dream of her after she passed away. It was 2-3 years after the time that she left us. And I got a song out of it me and Ronnie Bowman called Gone On Before. I never knew anybody who just didn’t love her.
She was talkative. She was a mail carrier. She carried the mail up this old road. She was a rural route mail carrier that’s been in my family for years and years. My great-grandfather in the 1960s… was still carrying the mail on a horse. The roads were so bad. The post office, about 2 miles from where I lived, still had a hitching rail out in front of it.
I went to school in a one room school house. It had eight grades and one teacher. It’s hard for people to imagine that it was still going on. Ricky Skaggs’ sister, she’s now passed away, she went there. Ricky was a little bit too young.”
I’d say you inherited a good work ethic.
“It enabled me to be in this business and put up with the disappointments and stuff. And I think that it did give me a backbone. I wouldn’t give anything for my Appalachian upbringing.”
Songwriting – does it feel like it comes out of somewhere unusual?
“Felt exactly like that. Let me get something to write this down on, before it won’t come out of me anymore.
The early songs were all that way. And then I found out when I really try, I could write songs. Geez, I don’t even know how I arrive at that sometimes.
Ricky (Skaggs) enabled me to be able to come here and work around people that were so much better than me and really knew what they were talking about. They really had a plan.
Like Highway 40 Blues, for whatever reason, was totally inspired, not one bit of crafting. I had the melody in my head for a week and it kept running around in there. I was coming home one night, my headlight shined on that state route 40, and all that first part of that song fell out.
I scrambled around in the car to try and find something write it down on. I never tried to write any more on it. The next day, when I got up, I left it on the coffee table, and I wrote the rest of it. I never picked the guitar up to try to play it. I just had all that in my head.”