"I can't stand it if I can't play," Anita states. "I'm a musician. I love to perform. So even when I took time off, I still played dates. A lot of people think if you don't have a record out or aren't on the radio with a single, then you're not working. I did take time to get my life back together and to re-focus on my music. But going out and opening for people like Merle Haggard and The Marshall Tucker Band during that same time period took me back to when I was 15 and made me a music fan all over again."
On her latest album, Anita Cochran is reclaiming her country-music heritage. It's lead-off single, "(I Wanna Hear) A Cheatin' Song" is a declaration of purpose that serves as the collection's call to arms.
"I said to myself, 'Remember why you are here. You love music. You have to make a record that you love, that you believe in, that you can go out and perform every night of your life knowing that you're happy with every song that you sing.' You have to know who you really are. And I am a country artist."
As the only woman in country music who not only sings, but plays lead instruments, writes the songs and produces her records, Anita Cochran generally takes longer than most artists to complete an album.
This time, in addition to wearing four professional hats in its creation, Anita was faced by life-changing circumstances. Professionally, she rebuilt her team from the ground up - new management, new booking agency, reorganized fan club, etc. She moved into her own home, the first she's ever owned. Her parents -- the musicians who trained her, --moved from her native Michigan to Nashville. Most importantly, Anita Cochran took some badly needed personal time to reflect and look inward.
"This album took a little longer, because I had some personal healing to go through. Some really, really close people in my family passed away. When you go through something like that, it makes you step back and kind of put things in perspective.
"Why do I not have a personal life? Why is my family here and I'm not really spending any time with them? Since I've been five years old, every weekend of my life I have been playing music. I have to take some time for myself.
"All my life, I've had a desperate passion to sing country music and do this for a living. I definitely think you have to have a passion to do it, but there's a difference between being desperate for it, forgetting about everything else in your life, and having a healthy balance.
"At one point, I couldn't even write a song. I'd start one and break down crying. I've always believed that music is a healer. So when I would cry, I needed to cry. Once I got through the healing process and started focusing, it was, 'OK. I'm feeling better. I've found that balance. I know what I want to do personally. I know who I am.' And this record is what came out of all that."
When she says she's been doing this all her life, she's not kidding. Her parents, Matthew and Sarah, were native Kentuckians who moved to Michigan to work in the auto industry. Both were also country musicians. They named her for country star Anita Carter of the legendary Carter Family. The baby of the family was playing alongside her parents by age 5. Pilgrimages to Nashville on vacations were annual events.
"Every vacation we ever went on, our guitars went in the trunk of the car before the suitcases did. Before I knew anything about making records or getting on the radio, my goal in life as a kid was to play the Grand Ole Opry."
Anita Cochran plays mandolin, banjo, dobro, guitar, fiddle, steel guitar, drums and keyboards. She has had her own mini recording studio since she was 10. She opened for Loretta Lynn at age 13. During high school, she was writing songs and recording them. A self-described "tech head," she took classes in recording engineering at a community college, then landed a job as the manager of Pearl Sound Studio in Canton, MI.
Warner Bros. Records chief Jim Ed Norman heard an Anita Cochran tape in 1995. He recalls being impressed with her singing, charmed by her songs and then being thunderstruck when he realized that she was also playing all the instruments. Although they'd barely met, he offered her a contract.
Their co-produced 1997 debut CD Back to You stunned the industry. "What If I Said," its duet single with Steve Wariner, shot to No. 1 and earned the TNN/Music City News award as Vocal Collaboration of the Year. It was also nominated for CMA and ACM honors.
Anita became an instant Opry favorite. She was invited to be on the show even before she had a hit record. When her namesake Anita Carter died in 1999, the program's manager invited her to perform in tribute.
"I was already booked to play on it. Pete Fisher came up to me that night and said, 'I know you were named after Anita Carter. Would you do a tribute song?' I said, 'I would be honored.' A few minutes later, he came up to me and said, 'Your mom and dad are with you, aren't they? I know they always come to the Opry when you play. Would they want to come up and sing with you?'
"Oh my gosh: My father's life dream was to play the Opry. And my mom's. We got out there to sing 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken,' just me, my mom and dad and my guitar. We sang the first verse and chorus and then the whole cast joined us. It was all I could do to get through the song without breaking down and bawling. I'm looking at my mom and dad and thinking about Anita and what her family was going through.
"After we were finished, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash called and thanked us. It was probably the highlight of my life, to get to be on the Opry with my parents."
More highlights were to come. "Good Times," a single from her second CD Anita, became the theme song for a national Goodwrench ad campaign. It also led to her being cast in the Dukes of Hazzard reunion movie. The album also featured contributions from Ricky Skaggs, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Sons of the Desert and Holly Dunn, plus a vocal collaboration with Wynonna on "God Created Woman."
"You can tell if someone is really feeling the song when they're singing or recording it," she believes. "You're listening to it, and it makes you want to pull over and cry. That's what I want to do. I want to make a record with passion. Whenever there's a song that rips my heart out, it's a country song. I want to make a country record that affects people the way one affected me when I was just a kid. I want to make a record of who I am and what my heart feels.
"People ask me all the time, 'What do you like to do best, being a singer, musician, songwriter or producer?' Well, I've done it all for so long that I don't know one without the other. I don't know how to separate myself from either of the jobs."
After co-producer Jim Ed Norman urged, "Anita, you're a country artist. Make a country record," she went home and wrote "Cheatin' Song." Again inspired by Norman, she painstakingly created a vocal cameo by the late Conway Twitty on the track. So "Cheatin' Song" is more than a stone-country masterpiece -- it's also the first recording in history that features the voice of an artist who has passed away singing a song he never recorded. Anita Cochran spent nearly two years on this one song, alone. "Most people can put out a record every year. They just go in and sing, leave the studio and then their producer makes the record. When I go out on tour, there's nobody back in Nashville making my record while I'm on the road. So it does take longer.? "And if there's a movement back toward real country music, I definitely want to be a part of it.'