For the past five years Music Monday of the Ozarks has presented talks by local musicians, and those involved in the production and promotion of local music, the first Monday of the month at University Plaza Hotel and Convention Center in the John Q. Hammons Room. Previously a lunch-hour event, starting with the June event Music Monday will move will move to 6:00pm. The guest for June 3rd is author, musician, local entrepreneur, broadcaster, and, he says, “retired wildman”, Michael Cochran. We had a lengthy live on-air talk with Cochran and with Chris Albert, Vice President and Communications Director for Music Monday of the Ozarks, on KSMU’s “Arts News” last week.
Music Monday began at the downtown venue The Dugout, and was founded by Jim Wonderle, Brian Fogel, and Robin Luke. They originally “got together,” says Chris Albert, “to discuss (record) albums, their album collections and the music and all that stuff. And then they invited Robin Luke to talk about his career.” Dr. Luke, who broke in as a pop singer in the late 1950s with the hit song, "Susie Darlin’”, later became head of the Business Administration and Marketing Department here at Missouri State University (hence the “Dr.” above). Lloyd Hicks was also heavily involved in the Music Monday project in the beginning, says Albert—again because of his large record collection. “Next thing I know, they call me and said, ‘Hey, we want to hear about the Finley River (Memorial) Rock Festival,’” which took place in 1970 and was the Ozarks’ answer to Woodstock. “So that’s how it really started. And next thing you know, people started coming and listening to the stories.”
The noon hour being relatively difficult for people to find 60 to 90 minutes to come to University Plaza for a program, Music Monday organizers hope the new evening time of 6:00pm will be more congenial to more people.
Michael Cochran has given at least one previous talk to the Music Monday group. Michael is a “Zizzer,” a West Plains native, a Howell County boy—“and proud of it!” he says.
Many of you may know Cochran from his many years at KGBX radio starting in 1981, when he was an on-air personality, Music Director and, eventually, Program Director at the station—years before it was sold to the iHeart Radio folks. In fact, Michael was the DJ who signed off the “old” KGBX for the last time in 1993—a “terrible day,” he calls it. (Around that time Ozarks Public Television produced a documentary detailing the history of Springfield radio, which featured footage of Michael pushing the button to turn the KGBX transmitter off for the last time.)
You've definitely heard Michael Cochran on numerous radio and TV commercials over the years in his job as head writer and broadcast media producer for Wannenmacher Advertising, where he worked for over 20 years following his KGBX days. You may also know him from his longtime ownership of Nellie Dunn's Antiques and Vintage Clothing on Commercial Street.
But Michael is also an accomplished fingerstyle guitarist. While attending University of Missouri-Columbia, Cochran says he was “a pretty well-known musical persona up in Central Missouri.” He “banged around” various parts of the country, ending up back in Columbia doing the morning-drive shift at KFRU. “But when I came to Springfield to work at KGBX, I decided to kinda keep my musical proclivities off to the side. For one thing, I knew that if the station owners knew what I did, they’d be trottin’ me out there all the time. And I didn’t want to be a geek. I don’t know if that was a good or bad move. But yeah, I’m a guitar player, songwriter, and a longtime performer.”
Chris Albert adds that he met Michael “when we were doing (music) jams out at Lake Springfield in 1967-68. And a friend came up and said, ‘Hey, these guys are traveling through. Would you mind if they came out and played?’ He played in a band called the Sound Farm. ‘Sure, bring ‘em on out.’” Michael jumps in with a slight correction on the date. “That was April of 1969, actually.”
Cochran started playing the ukulele when he was about 12 years old. In 1956, says Cochran, “we had one radio station in West Plains—KWPM. One day I was sitting in the Model Drug Store, minding my own business. And behind the soda fountain was an old Bakelite radio, and it was tuned to KWPM. And I heard a sound come out of that radio that I’d never heard before—and it was Chet Atkins. But it galvanized me, changed my life. I got a guitar, starting learning to try to play like Chet Atkins—which of course I was never able to fully do. We got a couple of his albums. And my two brothers jumped in their with me, and we all three became guitar nuts.
In December 1960, 16-year-old Michael Cochran’s older brothers came home on winter break from college. “And we talked our parents into letting take the family car and drive to Nashville. They were determined to meet their idol, Chet Atkins, who in addition to his own performing career, was head of RCA Victor’s Nashville studios and offices. The Cochran boys had written Atkins a letter, which the busy performer/producer/executive personally answered, and said, “Why, sure! Come on down, boys, I’ll be glad to meet you.” The fact that they were from West Plains may have helped: one of RCA’s leading country music stars at the time was Porter Wagoner, himself a West Plains native—Chet Atkins was his recording producer. They didn’t exactly set a specific appointment date or time, and when they arrived in Nashville Atkins was up in Minnesota on a concert tour. But they did finally meet at the Nashville airport, and this sparked a 40-year friendship between Michael and Chet, culminating in "Chet Atkins: Me and My Guitars," Michael's biography of Atkins published in 2001. Cochran followed that book with another biography of a legendary guitarist: "Les Paul In His Own Words," published in 2005. He produced a bio of singer-songwriter Don McLean in 2012.
Michael still performs, appearing regularly in his old stomping grounds in the Columbia, MO area as well as in the Springfield region. He and D Clinton Thompson have performed for the past 3 years as "D Clinton Cochran," a guitar-based duo blending acoustic and electric guitar styles. Michael Cochran will be guest speaker for Music Monday of the Ozarks's first evening event, Monday June 3rd at 6pm at University Plaza. Refreshments will be provided, and it's free and open to the public. For information visit http://www.musicmondayoftheozarks.com or their Facebook page.