Celebrated country artist and real-life American hero Stephen Cochran is a defiantly life-sized superstar next door; a combat veteran with a penchant for delivering when the curtain goes up. His songs mellow familiar country genres into appealing current blends.
Born in eastern Kentucky and raised in the heart of the country music industry in Nashville with Opry legends such as Bobby Bare and Del Reeves among his family’s friends, Cochran had a development deal with Epic as a student at Western Kentucky University.
Then 9/11 happened. The son of a proud military family, Stephen knew exactly what he had to do. “After I watched my country be attacked, there was no second guessing. My country needed me.” says Cochran.
He joined the United States Marine Corps, always known as the toughest service of all and always, even in the days of the draft, an all-volunteer unit. Sgt. Cochran served as a combat Marine with the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
Semper Fi, the Marine motto which means “always faithful,” will forever have a special meaning to Stephen Cochran.
He fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan. During a combat patrol in the Afghan city of Kandahar that was supposed to be the final one of his tour of duty, Stephen was severely wounded.
He left the Corps as a paraplegic, without the use of his legs, and missing a finger tip from the hand that he had used to make chords on his guitar.
“I play guitar with three fingers. I will find a way to adapt and overcome,” Cochran says.
Told he would never walk again, Stephen spent his first nine months back in the States in a wheelchair. He was paralyzed from the waist down. But neither Cochran nor his doctors at the VA Hospital in Nashville – a few blocks from the city’s famed Music Row – ever gave up trying or gave up believing that he would recover.
The doctors finally tried an experimental surgical procedure called Kyphoplasty, which the U.S. government’s NIH says is “used to treat painful compression fractures in the spine. In a compression fracture, all or part of a spine bone collapses.”
The surgery was a success. After a brutally difficult period of physical therapy, Stephen Cochran regained the use of his legs. He was now able to refocus on his music career, all the while musically and spiritually remembering his friends and colleagues in the Corps, many of whom died in the service of their country.
“I’ve grown a lot as a writer compared to my early projects,” Cochran says now. “I was, and will always be, a Marine. I was a Marine singing country music and now I’m a singer/songwriter who was in the Marine Corps.”
Cochran made his first waves in the country music industry in 2007 when indie label Aria Records released his first single, “Friday Night Fireside”. Great American Country (GAC) viewers quickly fell in love with the song and video, and it was nominated as a GAC Top 50 Videos of the Year. More radio success followed with singles such as “Thinkin’ I’m Drinkin'”, and “Walmart Flowers”. During radio promotion for “Thinkin’ I’m Drinkin'”, an online video game/website of the same name was released which went on to win an Addy award.
Through the ups and downs of the fickle music industry whims, Cochran has continued to build a fervently loyal fanbase, even despite parting ways with his label in 2010. Touring military bases, clubs, fairs and festivals throughout the country, the Stephen Cochran Project continues to win over passionate new converts to the cause.
Many national figures have already noticed Stephen’s music. Larry King interviewed Cochran, and wrote back to say, “Stephen, you’re a force. Anything you need, I’m there.” John Rich, of Big & Rich, and Aaron Tippin have been among Stephen’s greatest supporters and mentors. Cochran was also thrilled when he heard through publicist, Elaine Schock, of Shock Ink in Hollywood, that longtime Shock Ink superstar client Willie Nelson would listen to Stephen’s new cut “Whiskey Lies,” a song Cochran says was “written about a Willie situation in Willie chords.”
Rich Redmond, Tully Kennedy, Kurt Allison, and David Fanning of New Voice Entertainment, whose A-list Music Row clients include Jason Aldean, Thompson Square, Parmalee, and Kristy Lee Cook, have helped produce the new album, Stephen Cochran Project. Cochran wrote or co-wrote all but three songs on the new album, and even those he didn’t write he delivers with absolute conviction.
“I will never sing a song that I haven’t lived,” he says. “I’ve been bashed by management teams and record labels in the past who told me, `you’ve got to cut this song.’ But I’m not going to sacrifice my integrity in music. It’s always been a fight.”
America’s fighting men and women in the military have long had a warm spot in their hearts for his music. Few writers in any genre write so convincingly.
In “Pieces,” which Stephen started in Afghanistan and finished in a VA Hospital without the use of his legs, his lyrics talk about the agony a wounded and wheelchair-bound warrior feels after returning to the States: “Here I sit not knowing where I stand/two years of therapy and still just half a man/Well, this town moved on without me/now where do I fit in? . . . But how do you paint a picture back in focus . . . If no one understands and you scream for Jesus/and all you’ve got left is these pieces?” Faith plays a huge part in Stephen’s life and his music. As he says: “Many of my songs have Jesus or God in them.”
Cochran’s songs are just as much rock as they are country, along the lines of what the Zac Brown Band and Jason Aldean have been taking to the top of the radio charts in recent years. That’s the high-energy music of the Stephen Cochran Project, whether on up-tempo tunes such as “Gasoline On A Goodbye” or ballads like “She’ll Thank Me Later.”
So in many ways, this album is bringing Stephen Cochran back to his musical and spiritual roots. It’s been a long time coming, with a lot of terrifying and gratifying stops along the way, but country fans and country radio will be delighted to hear this music by the Stephen Cochran Project.