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Elizabeth Cook lands on this side of the moon

By Rick Bell, June 2005

Eizabeth Cook might be the textbook example of that young girl who dreams of a big-time career as a country music singer and songwriter. Except Cook's story is less fairy tale ending and more hardscrabble reality.

Nashville's no doubt seen plenty of such women, waiting tables by day to make rent and singing in the clubs and bars at night, hoping for that big break. Few, however, have likely turned their back on what was a promising career climbing the corporate ladder with a major accounting firm to follow that dream.

But Cook, born in Wildwood, Fla., the youngest of 11 children, found the allure of guitars and cheatin' songs much more to her liking than SEC filings and adhering to the corporate accounting guidelines set down by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

And, unlike many of her peers, within a relatively short period of time, Cook found a measure of commercial success in Nashville.

Her dream eventually turned into a nightmare, as Cook's relationship with her label, Warner, disintegrated into an acrimonious split.

The story has a much happier beginning, however. After her arrival in Music City to begin a job with the accounting firm PriceWaterhouse, Cook landed a songwriting deal, released a critically acclaimed independent record and was constantly appearing on the Grand Ole Opry.

It only got better - for a while.

Cook landed a recording contract with Atlantic Records and began recording her debut record in the spring of 2001. Then things beyond Cook's control took over.

AOL-Time Warner, which owned Atlantic, began consolidating its music industry operations. That included closing Atlantic's Nashville office.

Cook, along with high-profile label mates John Michael Montgomery and Tracy Lawrence, found themselves bounced to Atlantic's parent, Warner. Her album "Hey Y'all," eventually made its debut in August 2002, but it was too little, too late.

The album foundered and her debut single, "Stupid Things," received little label support that fall. Consequently, radio ignored it, and not surprisingly, Cook and Warner parted ways the next year.

That could've been the end of the story.

Cook, the bright, talented accountant with a passion for country twang and bending notes, could have returned to the corporate treadmill, knowing she'd given it her best. She could have traded in her Wranglers and boots for pressed Vera Wang suits. With her long, flowing blonde hair and sweet Southern drawl, Cook would have held many a pencil pusher in rapt attention during those dreaded boardroom PowerPoint presentations.

Cook, however, wasn't about to turn tail and think of what could have been. Much of the anguish of her divorce from Music Row was turned into song for her new album on Hog Country Records, "This Side of the Moon," released nationally in May after having a soft release last August. Cook also met and ultimately married punker-cum-country singer and songwriter Tim Carroll.

Consider too, Cook's life has been wrapped up in music since she was a little kid. At the age of four, Cook was performing in the family band. Her mom, Joyce, picked mandolin and guitar and her father, Thomas - who, as the story's told, honed his skills in a prison band while doing time for running moonshine - played bass. By the time she was nine, little Elizabeth had her own band and released her first single to a fair amount of regional success as a teen. But it wasn't all music for her.

School was a priority. After all, she was a good student.

"My parents didn't encourage me to go to school," says Cook in a phone interview from her home in Nashville shortly before hitting the road for Michigan, where she was opening a series of shows for '80s country singer Ronnie McDowell. "They had no money. I was hard-headed, and that was the direc tion I seemed to go."

Cook attended Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, earning a double major in accounting and computer information systems. That's some pretty highbrow stuff for a singer and songwriter.

"Part of me likes tedious tasks," said Cook, noting a particular affinity for calculus. "But sometimes I don't like a lot of structure."

Cook noted it wasn't all work and no play at Georgia Southern. She also took in many of her school's social aspects.

"I had a good time in school," says Cook, who earned her degrees in 1996. "I finished with a 3.5 GPA. I did what I had to do, but I had a lot of fun too."

Cook says she fell back on music to help stay afloat. - and to maintain her sanity.

"Music was more of a side thing," she said. "When I graduated high school, I didn't know what to do next. I'd been to Nashville, but I decided to go to school."

"I would find these roughneck backwoods bands, a slice and dice thing. I wasn't so much into the hippie jam thing."

As graduation neared, she received an offer from Big 4 accounting firm Ernst & Young. She also sent resumes to firms in nearby Atlanta and Nashville - "I was hoping for Nashville" - and got an offer from PriceWaterhouse's Nashville office.

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