Thad Cockrell and the story we need right now

I’ll start with the ending to this story first: Thad Cockrell got to play on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon last week. That’s the headline, the subject of a thousand news stories and posts flying around Facebook from friends and fans who have been rooting for him for years. But it wasn’t just any performance. It was about so much more. Because when he played, he played for a lot of us who, like Thad, hustle a living as creatives, unsure at times if there’s an audience out there for what we do. Last Tuesday Thad gave us all a little hope. Maybe it’ll give you some, too.

Back when Nashville was much smaller, and we were all a little younger, I’d run into Thad often. He’d hang out on our back porch playing his guitar. We’d go watch him perform at local venues. He even graciously allowed me use of one his songs for my first documentary. He was one of us. But as happens over time, friends move on, get married, and lose touch.

Then a few weeks ago, I saw this Facebook post from Thad.


January 26 LIVE on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon!!!
Well, If In Case You Were Wondering if amazing,…

Posted by Thad Cockrell on Tuesday, January 19, 2021


Turns out, Jimmy Fallon was in a hardware store when he heard Thad’s song “Swingin.” He pulled out his phone, Shazam’d it, and got his team to invite Thad on The Tonight Show. It’s a great story, but for a Nashville musician, it’s not all that unusual. Lots of people around here get to play on TV. The part of this story that hit me so hard was this…

Thad had already decided to hang it up

The day before The Tonight Show called, Thad told his manager he’d decided to look for a new career. After five albums and twenty years in the business, he figured it was time to quit. Funny, in retrospect, that the song he was being asked to perform is his own anthem for not giving up:

If I’m gonna go down
I wanna go down swinging
I wanna go down hard
With all of my heart

Several days later, to promote Thad’s upcoming appearance, Jimmy shared the whole story on his show. How he was at the hardware store. How the song had become his own personal anthem during the pandemic. And how he couldn’t believe Thad was about to walk away from music. It’s worth a watch:


What it’s meant to me

I loved watching Thad sing his own fighting words to a national audience last Tuesday. With The Roots backing him, no less. There are some people you just want to see win, and when they do, it’s like we get to share in their victory. The good guy doesn’t always win. The best musician doesn’t always hit it big. This is the world we live in. So when, by some miracle (it happened at a hardware store!), a deserving talent is plucked out of his desperation and beamed and streamed into millions of homes with a swiftness only possible in this digital age, well, you just have to hold onto it.

Here’s Thad’s performance last Tuesday. By the way, after the show aired, “Swingin‘” became the #1 song on iTunes.