�I�ve always loved the twang of hurt� � Thad Cockrell
North Carolina singer-songwriter Thad Cockrell hails from the old school of country music, the days before Nashville went pop. �There�s no �alt� in my country,� says Cockrell, who possesses the kind of high-lonesome, wistful tenor that�ll make you long for a cabin in the pines, or set you to yearning for a long-lost love. But as a youngster growing up in Tampa, Fla., Cockrell didn�t have rock �n� roll or country records around the house. His father was, and still is, a Baptist preacher (as are his two brothers). His first exposure to the pure country sound came from listening to folks like Merle Haggard and George Jones on commercial radio. At home, there was always plenty of Southern gospel music.
Cockrell�s Baptist upbringing still colors his work�just check out the gospel-flavored �He Set Me Free��although he was no poster boy for the church: �Most people wanted to leave church with a blessing; I wanted to leave without getting a whipping,� he admits, chuckling.
He next attended Liberty University (�yeah, I was one of �Jerry�s Kids,�� he cracks), hardly a musical hotbed. But it was there that he got the bug to write his own tunes, and by the time he moved to Wake Forest, N.C. to attend the Southeast Baptist Theological Seminary, Thad was spending his nights playing for tips at a small coffeehouse near campus. It wasn�t exactly the big time, but he got to try his music out in front of a live audience and hell, once in a while the patrons even paid attention.
Breaking into the Raleigh music scene, Cockrell enlisted a cast of local luminaries he dubbed the Starlite Country Band and country fans stood up and took notice. Originally intended as a demo, his first release, Stack of Dreams, released through Miles of Music Recordings, was recorded at breakneck pace with veteran musician/producer Chris Stamey; Thad and the band spent just one day cutting tracks and laying down the vocals. The session featured the tearjerker �Pretending,� which snagged Cockrell second place in the Chris Austen Songwriting Contest at Merlefest 2000. In the great tradition of male-female country duets, former Whiskeytowner Caitlin Cary joins Thad for a gorgeous rendition of the Buck Owens� classic, �Together Again,� and local gal Tift Merritt lends backing vocals on �Why.�
Proving how just tightly knit the N.C. country scene is these days, Cockrell has enlisted two of Merritt�s bandmates, The Carbines� Zeke Hutchins (drums) and Greg Readling (pedal steel), to record his upcoming Yep Roc album, Warmth and Beauty. The album also features Aaron Oliva on upright bass, multi-instrumentalist John Teer on guitar, fiddle and mandolin, with former Jayhawks member-turned Caitlin Cary sidewoman Jen Gunderman on keys. Reunited with producer Chris Stamey, Warmth and Beauty is a showcase for Cockrell�s songwriting and mountain spring-clear tenor; it�s a collection of songs that resonate with a kind of passion you just don�t find much anymore.
Warmth and Beauty, due out May 6, 2003, delivers a big ol� slab of heartache from a man whose motto is �puttin� the hurt back in country.�