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Some folks go to New Orleans and come home with a T-shirt imprinted with the French saying Le Bon Temps Roule- "Let the Good Times Roll." Legendary songwriter Hank Cochran went there and came home with a bigger-than-usual souvenir: an 86-foot-long luxury yacht named Le Bon Temps Roule. "I've always seemed to write good songs on boats," declares Hank aboard his 1930s yacht, lavishly appointed in mahogany and teak, docked near downtown Nashville. "There's nothing that relaxes you like the motion of a boat," he adds, glancing at ripples fanning out across the Cumberland River. "So I guess it also relaxes the songwriting part of the brain." Hank definitely knows about songwriting. He's written more than 1,000 songs! And the good thing about him writing George Strait's "The Chair," Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces," Eddy Arnold's "Make the World Go Away"- and hits for Willie Nelson, Reba McEntire, Johnny Cash, LeAnn Rimes, Elvis Presley, Lee Ann Womack, Merle Haggard, Jimmy Buffett, Loretta Lynn, Tracy Byrd and others-is that he can afford to make the world go away on his own floating family and songwriter retreat. "I called Dean Dillon-we've written a lot of hit songs for George Strait and others- and told him he had to come down and see our new writin' hotel. So he and I, and a lot of other folks, will be writin' here a lot." And will Willie come to float and write? "Could be," notes Hank, 69. "We still get together often." Willie and Hank have known each other for 45 years. Both of them had Nashville record deals in the 1960s (Hank first hit the charts in 1962 with "Sally Was a Good Old Girl"), and both Willie and Hank were writers for Music City's Pamper Music, co-owned by Ray Price, now their longtime pal and a Country Music Hall of Famer. In fact, it was Hank who recruited Willie to write for Pamper. When Hank was told he couldn't get a $50-a-week raise if Willie was hired, he gave his raise to Willie. "Me and Willie were with Ray not too long ago," recalls Hank. "Willie was about to go for his daily run-he runs 'bout five miles a day- when Ray said, 'Hey, Willie, would you bring me back half a chicken?' Willie looked at me and said, 'He thinks we still work for him!' " Since Willie, Ray and scores of other songwriters will probably end up on the Le Bon Temps Roule, Hank will be ready to write some hits. "I've written a slew of songs on my boats, including 'Ain't Life Hell,' which Willie and I recorded, and Dean Dillon and I wrote 'The Chair,' recorded by George Strait, and 'Miami, My Amy,' cut by Keith Whitley." So did Hank write the George Strait's "Ocean Front Property" while bobbing on a boat in the Caribbean? "Go figure," he laughs. "I wrote it while sittin' on dry land. Dean and I were in the studio demoing some songs we'd written on the boat, when the Man Upstairs handed me a verse and the chorus for 'Ocean Front Property.' I told the guitar player to come with me into an adjacent room. I sang what had popped into my head and he started playing it-when all of a sudden Dean kicked the door open and said, 'I knew y'all were in here writin'!' I told him to sit down 'cause we needed another verse. So he and I whipped out the second verse, and we had the song! "I liked 'Ocean Front Property,' but I didn't do anything with it right away. My wife, Suzi, kept on me continuously about it being a hit, and she said she was going to keep after me until I sent it to George Strait. So I finally sent it George, and he cut it. It was the title track for his 1987 album and it was its debut single. And Ocean Front Property became the first album to enter Billboard's Country Music chart at No. 1." Not only does Suzi do her part in keeping Hank's career in gear, so does his daughter, Booth, who handles his finances and helps in watching over his vast song catalog. Today, Hank is hotter than ever. In the last few months he's had 19 of his songs recorded on 9 albums-from big stars to newcomers. There are Hank cuts on George Strait's 50 Number Ones, George Jones' 50 Years of Hits, Reba McEntire's Room to Breathe, Brad Paisley's Mud on the Tires, Mark Chesnutt's Savin' the Honky Tonk, Con Hunley's Sweet Memories, Rick Salsly's Patsy Proof, Ricky Dean Morgan's Country Country and John Cody Carter's Don't You Think It's Time. Climbing the ladder to the yacht's top-deck cabin, Hank stands by the steering wheel. "This boat handles very well for a big one-and it feels great to steer it," he notes. "It's quite exhilarating to take the wheel." Hank's owned three boats-Legend I, Legend II and Legend III-before buying his yacht. He kept one of the Legends in the Bahamas. And he keeps the yacht in a 100- foot slip in Green Turtle Bay Marina in western Kentucky. "I had to find a place with a slip big enough for it," explains Hank. "This place had one, and it's a first-class marina." As Hank readies his Le Bon Temps Roule for its journey up the Cumberland to Green Turtle Bay, he eyes the setting sun. "I absolutely love my job," he declares. "The creative process of writing a song is wonderful, inspiring." And the fact his job has allowed him "to let the good times roll" with his family and friends throughout his life is, as the French Cajuns in New Orleans say, just lagniappe-an unexpected gift or benefit. Hank smiles. "God has blessed me all along the way."
- Larry Holden