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winter 2018
Peter Cooper '93 playing guitar and the cover of his book

The Stuff of Legend

Cooper publishes book, releases new album during 2017

When your job allows you to meet Charley Pride, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Taylor Swift, George Jones, Merle Haggard and other country music legends, you’re bound to have stories to tell.

Peter Cooper ’93, senior director, producer and writer at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tenn., has met his share of legends and told his share of stories but usually in coffee shops, around the dinner table or backstage.

In 2017 Cooper, also a senior lecturer in music at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music, made those stories available for the world when he published “Johnny’s Cash & Charlie’s Pride: Lasting Legends and Untold Adventures in Country Music.”

“People are curious about the master musicians I’ve been privileged to know, and I’m eager to talk about them,” says Cooper. “And while there are plenty of histories written about country music, there was nothing out there similar to this book.”

With Cooper, Taylor Swift talked about baking cookies and fear. Kris Kristofferson found the courage to joke about his battle with dementia. Loretta Lynn showed Cooper the sparkly performance dresses she had hanging in the shower of her tour bus while talking about cooking eggs and tellin’ it like it is. Nancy Jones, George Jones’ fourth wife, asked Cooper to write the epitaph for George Jones’ gravestone, and he did. All of those stories are in the book, plus many more. “Johnny’s Cash & Charley’s Pride” is rich and nostalgic, sometimes funny, and always thought-provoking, but in a way that sneaks up on you. The book is a quick read, and I was sorry for that when I turned the last page.

But don’t just take my recommendation. Don Gonyea of NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition and Here and Now programs listed “Johnny’s Cash & Charley’s Pride” among his favorite reading of 2017. American Songwriter’s Paul Zollo gave it four out of five stars and called the book “a window into the real Nashville. It’s both objective and subjective.” No Depression, The Journal of Roots Music, writes of the book, “If you want the Grand Tour, there’s no better guide than Peter Cooper, and the winsome tales in this book serve as his map for you.”
As a bonus for Wofford folks, Matthew Teague ’94 and Spring House Press published the book. Teague is a founder and editorial director for Spring House, but before that was literary editor at the Oxford American, managing editor of Fine Woodworking and editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine. He’s a third-generation woodworker, an editor with dozens of books under his belt and a journalist with bylines in Outside, Field and Stream, The Inspired House and Fine Homebuilding. Although Cooper and Teague didn’t know each other at Wofford, they’ve since discovered much in common. “Matthew is nothing short of brilliant, which is not why I like him. He’s a nice person, and a great dad, which is why I like him,” says Cooper. 

As if publishing a critically acclaimed book during 2017 was not enough, Cooper also recorded an album, “Profiles in Courage, Frailty, & Discomfort,” with the distinctive blend of what he calls “three unique yet connected sensibilities. Eric Brace is a powerful singer and a sensitive soul. Thomm Jutz is among the world’s greatest acoustic guitar players, and he’s the world’s most successful ex-German bluegrass songwriter. I write stories that rhyme and rely on these fellows to make them stand out.”

Produced by Red Beet Records in East Nashville, “the album is three voices and three guitars, with no additions or subtractions,” says Cooper. 

Although Cooper jokes that he’s probably not going to be asked to play next year’s Super Bowl halftime show, recording the album and publishing the book sure made 2017 a fun year.

by Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89