Alison Krauss and the Return of the Cox Family

Alison Krauss has won 27 Grammys and collaborated with laundry list of heavyweights including Robert Plant, Sam Bush, and Crosby Stills & Nash. And let’s not forget that outfit known as Union Station. But, according to Krauss, one act rises above them all in terms of a connection, an unspoken link of comfort and natural kinship: the Cox Family, consisting of patriarch Willard Cox and his children Evelyn, Sidney, and Suzanne.

Vintage photo of the Cox family.

Krauss first discovered the band, which hails from Cotton Valley, Louisiana, at a Texas bluegrass festival in 1987. She then went on to produce three of the family’s albums, including I Know Who Holds Tomorrow, which won a Grammy in 1995. In 1998, again with Krauss at the helm, the Cox Family began working on a new album, but before it was finished their label dropped them. Incensed, Krauss wiped the vocals from the unmixed tapes and transferred them to her personal library of recordings.

When Willard and his wife, Marie, were involved in a horrific car accident in 2000, which left Willard a paraplegic, the family retreated from the public to care for their parents and raise their own families. But the unfinished album still lingered in their minds. “We never forgot about it,” says Suzanne Cox. “It would be such a special thing to finish it with the vocals from our dad.” And in 2014, that dream came to fruition. The unmixed tapes were unearthed in a Warner Music vault and Krauss scrambled to find the vocals she had stashed away. The resulting album, Gone Like the Cotton, is the Cox Family at their finest, with Willard’s 1998 vocals layered with fresh takes from the children.

“There’s been a few times in my life where I’ve heard music and I know I’ll never be same,” says Krauss, who talked to Garden & Gun about her love of the Cox Family, AC/DC, and her own upcoming solo album.

The way you describe your relationship with the Cox Family is so profound.

It is the most natural friendship. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything like that to compare it to. They have such a passion for music and a love for the past like I do. I’m so moved because I feel like I’ve run into part of my destiny. When I heard them, it’s like my jaw came unglued and my teeth fell out of my head.

What cemented your feelings?

They had a shindig at Evelyn’s house. It was like a New Year’s party. They roasted a pig in the ground and I’m from Illinois, so I never saw anybody roast a whole pig in the ground. I lived in a neighborhood, not the county. Evelyn said, “We got the whole pig, and the ears are so good.” I thought, “Wow, she wasn’t kidding.” They sang in their garage. I was standing right in the middle of them all… I’m telling you, it is nothing like you’ve ever heard.

Have your friends or fellow musicians had the same reaction?

I’ve never seen anybody not do the same thing that I do. Robert Plant came over one time and I said, “You’ve got to meet the Coxes.” He sat in the living room for a while, and he goes, “I don’t want to go, they’re so wonderful.” I haven’t met anybody who didn’t want to become a part of that family. They’re just precious people.

You just performed with them at the Grand Ole Opry, is there a chance of more shows?

I would love to do some shows with them. I think they’d be up for it. I know that family comes first. They want to make sure that all of the little ones are taken care of, but the little ones are getting older. They have a passion for music. It’s connected to them like their hands and their feet.

The Cox Family and Alison Krauss performing at the Grand Ole Opry. (Photo by Chris Hollo)

Is there a song on Gone Like the Cotton that you love the most?

Oh, gee. It’d have to be “Cash On The Barrellhead.” It’s so much fun.

Love that one, too. Also “Good Imitation Of the Blues.”

Yeah, that one’s a dandy, isn’t it? Isn’t that fun? Someone asked me, “How did you decide to do it like that?” I said, “Well, I wanted to imitate ‘Hells Bells.'” If you listen to the beginning of “Hells Bells,” that’s what we were doing with the guitar sound.

When you say “Hells Bells,” are you talking about the AC/DC song?

Oh yeah! My gosh, that’s a huge song. It’s a HUGE song. We cut the demo, and we ended up just using it for the album. I love that song because of what it was able to become. The song is so wide, and with that voice and with those parts it came together so fresh and exciting.

Now, what about yourself? Are you working on your own material?

I’ve got one song left. Every day I go in to sing it something weird happens. I just told our engineer: “I’m waiting for a piano to fall out of a two-story window onto me to keep me from finishing.” It’s like, “What’s going to happen next?”

Is it a Union Station record?

No, it’s just a me record. I’m two years late with it. It’s so funny because we’re 18 years late with the Cox Family!

Do you have a release date in mind?

Oh good gosh. I don’t know. Probably next year. As soon as I get it done, then we’ll know. If the piano doesn’t fall on me, then I’ll have a better idea.

Well, get out of the way if you can.

Yeah, I’m always looking up for the piano.

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