INTERVIEW: Jeff Cook "Ashes Won't Burn"

Jeff Cook has been involved in the music industry since he was 13 years old and making his dreams come true, he has not stopped dreaming throughout his career and now is realizing the dream of his own recording studio and solo venture come to fruition as well.

Cook has released a new CD titled “Ashes Won’t Burn” which he refers to as “funtry”. I was able to slow him down long enough to get him to explain why and visit with him about chasing his dreams and the rewards he has gotten in the pursuit.

Bev: Jeff thank you for taking some time out of your busy schedule for me today. Congratulations on your new project. I know you have been very busy promoting it and watching this path of your journey unfold and take on a life all its own, how have the fans embraced it?

Jeff: I have not had any negative responses at all. Everyone has been telling me how refreshing it is and impressive the CD is. So I guess I am doing something right.

Bev: Your dream of the entertainment industry began at an early age, and quickly started to come true for you, tell me how the dream itself has changed over the years.

Jeff: When you have worked in the industry as long as I have; you figure out the dreams and the reality of the business are not what you initially thought. There are many misconceptions, but the desire to do what you love keeps you dreaming up ways to change the business side.

Bev: Let’s go back to your early years and talk about when you were thirteen and already had your sights set on some pretty big goals. You had your own local radio show and owned a tv station. How has all of this impacted your musical career?

Jeff: I worked at a very small market station when I started out and there was a small box with 45’s and there were six slots marked A through F, the first four or five would be for the pop songs, and then the sixth box would be country, so I had exposure to a lot of other genres and some country which gave me a great understanding and perspective of the different cultures and I started to blend them as I began my own career. I believe this had a big impact on my musical career.

Bev: When ALABAMA decided to stop touring and recording as a group it was a major decision and I am sure very emotional. Can you tell me the emotions you feel now as you are starting fresh with this new direction you are headed?

Jeff: After the last show ALABAMA did in North Dakota, I felt a feeling of relief. I could exhale. That night as I spoke wit Larry Hansen, who now plays with me in the AGB, we were making plans then to keep on pursuing the music. As some were saying goodbyes, we were in a different frame of mind and it was more of a “see you next week” feeling. It was exciting to know we could continue doing what we loved. I never felt like I was starting over.

Bev: You and the AGB (Allstar Goodtime Band) continue to the play some of the hit songs of your outstanding past along with the new recordings. Do fans encourage you to keep both in the play lists?

Jeff: I have had a lot of requests for both; I think it is an even mix. I enjoy doing both. The whole band enjoys doing both and there is so much talent there. It is not just about me, it is about the band as a whole. We all take our turns in the spotlight.

Bev: Speaking of the AGB, how did the name come about?

Jeff: I came up with it I guess. Some of the members were from the “Chosen Few”, a name of a group I played with in high school although none of the members are the same. I had played with them even while I was a part of the group ALABAMA. Later we added the rest and came up with the name.

Bev: There are nine members in the band, hand chosen by you. How did you arrive at that number and the kinds of instruments?

Jeff: I set out for eight, but the last one was the percussion player who kept coming to play and would do it for free just to play with us, so I said well if you are here anyway I may as well pay you.

Bev: I have read that you always dreamed of having a state of the art recording studio of your own, and now you do atop Lookout Mountain in Ft. Payne Alabama. Tell me a little about the studio and some of the changes you have had to make as technology and the industry has changed over the years.

Jeff: I think I have everything current with Pro Tools and all the touch screen technology. I have revamped everything a few times to keep it up to date. I love the producing end just as much as I enjoy doing the vocals and performing, so it is a good balance for me to have the studio.

Bev: I would love to visit with you about the new CD. How have you decided to make it available to the fans?

Jeff: The CD is available on most anywhere you can download in digital format; iTunes, CD baby, Amazon, and you can order from my website of course ( I think we may ahead of our time, but I think the future of a physical CD is on the downside and eventually everything will be digital only.

Bev: You have self described the current CD as “funtry”, a blend of country and rock with some soul sounds mixed in. How did this nickname come about?

Jeff: “Funtry” is good music. It does not matter if it is country or pop, it is fun music to play and fun to listen too. I just coined the term one day and it stuck.

Bev: You have often times been referred to as “Mr. Musician” because of all the different instruments you have acquired the talent and ability to play. What was the first instrument you learned to play?

Jeff: I learned guitar and piano at the same time. My dad played guitar and I surpassed his abilities by the time I was thirteen. My parents encouraged me to play and when I found I had the desire and talent it just took off.

Bev: Which was the hardest instrument to learn?

Jeff: Fiddle was very hard for me. I do not see myself as a fiddle player.

Bev: Do you have a favorite out off all them?

Jeff: I love the bass, but guitar is right up there, and fiddle and mandolin … (ha ha ha he chuckles) I guess I really enjoy playing them all. I am actually learning to play the saxophone right now. I love learning to play.

Bev: You named the CD “Ashes Won’t Burn”, was the any significance to the name?

Jeff: The song “Ashes Won’t Burn” has always been a strong song that I have carried with me for many years and always wanted to do. It is reminiscent to Muscle Shoals style of music.

Bev: In today’s economy and ever changing music industry, we are seeing more and more artist that are not signing with the major labels and instead marketing their product themselves. How has this self release pushed you to reach out and venture into areas you may not have had to do with past projects?

Jeff: Major labels had their chance. I have more control now and of course one less entity to split profits with. The major downfall is there is not the budget available for promotions you would have if a major label was behind you, so you have to utilize your creative side to come up with ways to promote and market your product. I think we have tried to take advantage of all the media types and opportunities to get this CD in front of everyone and we have been pretty successful so far.

Bev: Are you a hands on person when it comes to the online social media sites that are so popular in promoting the artists and other products or do you prefer to let others do that part?

Jeff: I am on the computer a lot, but personally I do not do the Facebook or Twitter. My website of course has web chats and I am very involved in that aspect of the internet team.

Bev: CMA Fest is just around the corner, are you participating in the event this year?

Jeff: I am doing the Porter Wagner Bass Tournament, the Somett Pavilion and a few other things. I will definitely be participating.

Bev: The initial release of “Ashes Won’t Burn” was on iTunes in March of this year. What has been the most common reaction you get from the fans?

Jeff: The fans love the variety of the songs and the variety of vocals. I am not always the lead and I think this is one thing that makes this so special.

Bev: With you being in the music industry for so much of your life, what are your peers saying about this project?

Jeff: Everyone has been supportive and encouraging. I have my own approach to recording and entertaining, and as long as I continue having success I will keep doing it my own way.

Bev: Did you produce all of this yourself?

Jeff: I did, everything was produced at my studio in Fort Payne.

Bev: On a very personal level, you have emerged with this new project with a new look and dramatic weight loss. Can you share your experience and elaborate what motivated you to get where you are right now?

Jeff: In August 2005 I had a gastric bypass surgery. It was a textbook procedure with no complications. I lost weight and my blood pressure dropped. It saved my life. I had been carrying a lot of weight and had not been taking care of myself, now I am much healthier and I would recommend it to others.

Bev: Is this something you would consider being a spokesperson for?

Jeff: I have not officially been approached, but I do encourage others when I am given an opportunity.

Bev: Jeff is there anything else you wished I would have asked you that I did not or that you want to get out to the listeners and fans?

Jeff: Yes, I need to sell millions of these, so please tell everyone you know to buy a copy. There are originals, covers and a good variety of music on this project and everyone will like it. The difference in technology comes out in this project and I honestly want people to give it a listen and not base it on recognizing song titles.

Bev: What is next on the horizon for you and the band?

Jeff: I have a Christmas CD in the works and also a gospel project I want to do so I plan on keeping very busy.

Bev: In closing I want to talk about one other special song project you are involved with called Tribute To A Soldier. Can you tell me more about this?

Jeff: This makes reference to the time people lose while they are serving our country while in the military. It is based around a poem Ken Randolph heard and he recruited me to help along with Charlie Daniels. This is also available on iTunes and is a very touching song. Everyone knows someone who is in the military or was, it is very inspirational and therapeutic.

Bev: Thank you so much Jeff, I always enjoy spending time with you. Best of luck with everything and see you again soon.

Jeff: My pleasure and I appreciate you taking the time to take interest in my work and that of the band.

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