Anita Cochran is a dreamer and a fighter. Born into a musical family, Cochran began playing and singing in her family’s band when she was five. She knew being a musician was all she ever wanted to do. As an adult, Cochran is a successful solo country music artist and was deemed the first female country music artist to write, produce, and play multiple instruments on her 1997 debut record Back To You.
Her dream? To play the Grand Ole Opry, which she accomplished making her debut in 1997. Her fight? In 2017, Cochran was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now, with her new single, “Fight Like a Girl,” she’s adding philanthropy to her dream. Through her music, she’s hoping to empower, inspire, and help others as she fights her own battle.
Among the award-winning musician’s hit songs is “What If I Said,” which reached #1 on Billboard and across all radio charts in the U.S. and Canada. Cochran was the winner of the Gibson Guitar Award for “Best Country Guitar Player.” Adding to her many career accomplishments, Cochran also added actress to her resumé with her appearance on The Dukes of Hazzard as the character Anita Blackwell.
Cochran spoke with Guitar Girl Magazine about her background in music, dreams, guitars, and the fight of her life.
“Fight Like a Girl” is receiving a lot of praise and is an inspiration for many.
What was your writing process for this deeply personal song?
As a songwriter, naturally, you write about things that go on in your life. After I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I debated whether to talk publicly about it. I finally decided that I needed to speak publicly about this to bring awareness to people and to encourage women to get more educated about breast cancer.
The whole month after being diagnosed was an awful nightmare for me. When you’ve been told you have cancer, you have to do all the research to find out what you’re going to do, pick out your doctors, decide on your treatment. It was just a crash course for me because I knew nothing about breast cancer. It really didn’t hit me hard until after my fourth chemo treatment when I got really, really sick. I wanted to call my doctors and tell them I just can’t do this. Then the next day came, and I was feeling a little bit better. I decided I’ve got to fight through this no matter what, no matter how sick I get. I need to share this. That inspired me to write the song.
It’s a beautiful song, and the accompanying video is powerful. It won Best Music Video at the Creation International Film Festival, correct?
Yes, it did, and that was a nice surprise. The more exposure it gets, the more awareness is out there, and the more it can help people. My goal is to help people get through their battles. I’ve always had songs to get me through tough periods of my life. I hope this song can inspire people to keep up their fight no matter what it is.
I wanted this song to be a theme song for people as they fight through whatever battle they are going through in life. It doesn’t have to be breast cancer, it can be another type of cancer or another kind of illness or any sort of battle that they’re going through. I’ve gotten some really great responses from people, and it’s been really uplifting to me because when I see other people inspired by it, it inspires me more to keep fighting, to keep sharing my story, and to try and help more.
There’s been an outpouring of community support. Your friends started a Go Fund Me page for you, and they also held a benefit concert.
It’s been amazing. My friends have really stepped up to the plate and been there for me. It’s scary when the doctor tells you “you have cancer.” It’s a life-changing event. How am I supposed to make money? How am I supposed to work? How am I supposed to make a living and make money to pay my bills?
I’ve been blessed to have friends around me throughout this whole thing. I don’t know if I could have done it without them. So, I encourage people, if you know somebody who has cancer, be there for them. Be a chemo buddy. Sit with them while they’re getting chemo. Just sit with them. Bring them lunch when they’re going through chemo. Cook for them. Bring them food to their house. Play games with them. Do something!
Let’s switch gears. Tell me about your background in music. Everyone in my family, including all of my aunts and uncles, play guitar and sing.
They all started a band with a couple of their cousins and made a record in 1968. I joined when I was five years old after my mom and dad taught me how to play guitar, and my dad taught me how to play banjo and mandolin. I became their rhythm guitar player, and I would sing. They always wanted to perform country music for their livelihood. We traveled all over Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky. It was pretty amazing to share that with my family.
My parents brought me to Nashville since I was a little kid every year. We were tourists. We would come down and go to Grand Ole Opry and go to Opryland and all that stuff. They always wanted to perform country music for their livelihood. My dad was a great musician, great guitar player. I was named after Anita Carter from the Carter family, and my oldest brother Faron was named after the country music singer Faron Young; so that goes to show you how much my family loved country music.
So there never was anything else for you. It was always going to be country music, it was in your blood.
Definitely. My whole life growing up, all I ever had in my head was playing at the Grand Ole Opry and hearing myself on the radio, that’s it. So, it came true, my dream came true. My dad was a great musician, a great guitar player. He was really the main one who taught me how to play guitar. He played a lot of Chet Atkins-style guitar. He taught me the chords, and I used to play and practice with him every day. I was also a huge fan of Vince Gill, Steve Warner, and Ricky Skaggs. They were the three that really made me want to learn how to play electric guitar – lead guitar. I just was like, “I want to play like them.” So, I literally would sit for hours and hours and hours rewinding cassettes trying to learn their solos. I played by ear, never had any musical lessons. Everything was by ear.
Quite different than today, right?
Right. I didn’t have YouTube, I couldn’t watch what they were doing. I just had to hear what they were doing and try to figure out their solos. I keep telling Steve Warner and Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs that I owe them a lot of money for the free lessons they gave me over the years growing up.
I tell everybody to try teaching your kids at a really young age because when you’re that young, the only problem we have is a short attention span. At a young age, you don’t know to be afraid or to be nervous or to be scared. It just never dawned on me to ever be afraid to play in front of people or anything like that. It’s so much easier to teach young people to play than it is older people. They learn so much quicker.
When I was first learning guitar, my first real guitar was a Gibson B-15. It was a little smaller Gibson guitar, but it was still a big guitar for my size – four years old at that time. When I turned five, my dad had a Martin D-35. He gave my Gibson to my uncle and gave me his Martin D-35. My dad bought the Martin D-45 with all the pearl inlay and all that pretty stuff. I hated it. When he gave me that guitar, I hated it because it was so big. It was all I could do to get my hands around it to play it. I was so mad at him for getting rid of my Gibson, because it was a little smaller. But back then, they didn’t have a lot of small guitars for kids to play. Now they got baby Taylors and all kinds of little guitars that are great for kids to start playing on. Even little electric guitars. I didn’t get my first electric guitar until I was 18. It was the first thing I put on my Visa card when I got my very first Visa card.
Do you think it’s better for a young person to start off on acoustic or electric?
I think playing electric guitar for people who are just learning is easier because the strings aren’t as thick, and the neck isn’t as thick. But playing acoustic guitar teaches you the technique in your touch. A lot of people don’t realize that part of being a really good guitar player is not about just knowing notes and being able to play fast, it’s about the touch that you have when you play. A lot of people who think they play guitar, they play it so hard they don’t let the wood speak.
Some guitars are so expensive because of the design and the wood. If you’re just hitting it as hard as you can, you might as well go buy the cheaper guitar down the street and play it because you’re going to get the same results. You’re not allowing the voice of the wood to speak. It’s got to work with your fingers. The sound has got to come out naturally from the wood, along with what you’re doing. It’s a blend between your fingertips and what the wood is made from. They’ve got to speak to each other.
Besides your parents, what other artists inspired you?
I’m a huge Chet Atkins fan, thanks to my dad, but Vince Gill, Steve Warner, and Ricky Skaggs were the three who really made me want to learn how to play electric guitar. Then, when the Judds came out, I was a huge fan. Don Potter played all the acoustic guitars on the Judds’ music. His guitar playing spoke to me as much as the Judds’ vocals did.
I had just gotten my electric guitar, and I didn’t want to have an acoustic guitar in my hands anymore. But then all of a sudden, I heard Potter play the acoustic, and he made me fall completely back in love with the acoustic guitar. Then my goal was, “I wanna play acoustic guitar like Don Potter.”
Tell us about your instruments. What’s your line up?
I’m mainly a Tele player, and that’s what I’m known for playing. I love a Tele when it comes to electric, but really it depends on the song I’m playing. I’ve got some great Gibsons that I’ll go to when it’s a blues or a ballad/folk kind of song. I’ve got some great Gibson guitars that I love, my Gibson 335 is one. I was with Fender and Gibson for a long time, and they both endorse me. I’ve got some really great instruments.
What would be your advice for a young girl wanting to become a musician?
The first thing I ask is, “Is there anything else in life you want to do other than be a musician? If there is, go do that first.” To be a full-time, professional musician you have to love it, eat it, breathe it. It’s got to be everything about you, and it’s got to be to the point where you just can’t imagine doing anything else because it can be such a tough business to be in. You have to have that passion and that want and that desire to be able to power through it.
People make a mistake. Parents will go out and buy their child a guitar and then wonder, “Well, why don’t they want to play it? I bought them this nice-looking guitar, and they don’t want to play it.” What people need to understand is you need to buy a guitar specific to that person. You can’t buy a cheap guitar and say, “Here, learn how to play.” If the strings are too far off the neck if it’s a cheaper guitar, take it somewhere and have the strings lowered, so the action is lower. It makes it so much easier for someone who’s trying to learn how to play. A lot of people don’t realize that. They think they buy a guitar off the shelf and it’s perfect, and it’s not.
The biggest thing is if you really want to learn to play and it be your career, you really have to love it so much that there’s nothing else in life you want to do. I wanted to play the Grand Ole Opry, and I was going to hear myself on the radio. That was all I was going to do. And it came true, my dream came true.