WhatsUp Interview: Legendary Actor/Musician Ronny Cox

Coming to Harmony Lodge in Smithfield Thursday

You realize it’s no ordinary day when the caller on the other end of the line tells you he was in the studio the day Buddy Holly recorded “Peggy Sue.” That caller was Ronny Cox, acclaimed actor and musician who first rose to fame starring in the 1973 film classic Deliverance.  

I spoke to Cox in advance of his show this Thursday April 11th at the Harmony Lodge in Smithfield, part of the Route 44 Music Series. He’s best known for his acting roles, including Deliverance, as well as Beverly Hills Cop, Total Recall, and St. Elsewhere, among others.

But he’s always been equally dedicated to making music. Cox explained…

“Most people don’t realize this, but where I grew up in New Mexico in the late 50’s and early 60’s, just north of me was a hotbed of recording. I was actually at the recording session when Buddy Holly cut ‘Betty Sue.’ I was making records when I was in high school. Norman Petty Studios was there and a number of artists were cutting records in Clovis, New Mexico. I had a rock and roll band back in those days – Ron’s Rock Outs.

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“I was a theatre major in college and then I fell in love with folk music during the early 60’s. So in all those years I was struggling as an actor, I was also playing music, and I got my first film, Deliverance, because I could play. My second big film was Bound for Glory, the Woody Guthrie story. Early in my career everybody knew that I was this actor from New Mexico that also played music. I’ve has such success playing either bad guys or men of authority.

Deliverance

Deliverance is widely regarded as one of the great films of all time. Cox explained how he was cast in the film, his first Hollywood motion picture.

“The truth is, every actor in the world wanted those four roles. (Director) John Boorman wanted to go with more unknown actors, he didn’t want any character type to be played. For example, if you saw Robert Redford in a leading role back in those day, you wouldn’t think he was going to get killed. (Cox’s character dies in the film.)

They came to New York looking for good unknown actors and God knows I was unknown. I was the first actor they found and a couple weeks later they found Ned Beatty. We were cast totally independent of each other, and they didn’t even know we knew each other. We’d been best friends and had done like 25 plays together.”

The story of a canoe trip down a doomed river was filmed in the rough. “There were no stunt doubles, we did all of the canoeing ourselves, no film was ever made like that before or since.”

Folk Musician

Cox explained how he got into music going back to the 1950’s.

“That was right when rock and roll was starting, so Elvis, Roy Orbison, Gene Vincent and all those guys were big. I fell in love with all that. I grew up listening to Western Swing, then I fell in love with Folk music. One of the reasons my show is so eclectic is because I’ll do any genre where I think I can bring something.

“Half the fun for me is telling the stories. There are two schools of thought about that – one school says just sing the song and shut up. That’s a perfectly valid point, it just doesn’t work for me. Coming from an acting background, the stories are equally important to me as the rest of the show. There’s generally some kind of story that goes along with any song.

“My show is absolutely apolitical. I found out a long time ago, if you do political stuff, you’re doing one of two things. You’re either preaching to the choir or you’re alienating half the audience. I would rather find things that we all have in common. I’m very left wing, but I’ve played for the NRA three times.”

In the tradition of Pete Seeger, Cox believes “folk music is music that’s intended to be shared. That’s the most important thing – I want my show to feel like a shared evening. Like sitting around with family and friends, telling stories and singing music. I meet everybody as they come in to the show. That’s the important thing to me – having that connection with the people is important.”

“As much as I love acting, I love the music just a little bit more. In acting, there is and must be that imaginary 4th wall between you and the audience. In music, there’s the possibility of a profound one on one pairing that can take place. Nothing cuts through to the heart quite like music does. That’s an opiate that is undeniable.”

Cox will be joined Thursday by noted musician Radoslav Lorkovic, “one of the great Hammond piano and accordion players in the world. We will get a plethora of sounds – people are in for a huge treat just hearing him play,” explained Cox.

Singer-Songwriter Lainey Dionne will also apear Thursday. Click here complete for details.