By GARY DEMUTH Salina Journal | Friday, February 14, 2014 2:00 AM
Although Ronny Cox has made a name for himself as an actor in major motion pictures such as "Deliverance," "Beverly Hills Cop," "Total Recall" and "Robocop," it was one of the most critically reviled shows in the history of television that brought him back to his first love — music.
Cox was part of the cast of "Cop Rock," a 1990 show that infused a police drama with "Glee"-like musical song and dances. The magazine TV Guide called it "the single most bizarre TV musical of all time" and ranked it number eight on their list of "The 50 Worst Shows of All Time." It was canceled by ABC after only 11 episodes.
Nonetheless, Cox has affection for the show, calling it "20 years ahead of its time." More importantly, it made him pick up his guitar again and concentrate on music.
"I turned down all acting work for a year and went to Nashville, where I managed to get a (record) deal," he said.
For the past 20 years, Cox has combined his music and acting careers, with a definite emphasis on music. His songs, both originals and cover tunes, reflect his passion for folk and storytelling traditions.
"I love finding good songs I can do something with, that tells a story you can weave around," he said. "The more informal my show is, the better I like it. I like to put the audience onstage with me so we can have a shared evening, like sitting around the living room, kitchen or front porch with the family."
Cox will be in concert Sunday at the Stiefel Theatre for the Performing Arts, 151 S. Santa Fe.
He will be joined onstage by musicians Louis Meyers on banjo and Doug Cox on guitar. Meyers is the chief executive officer of Folk Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing public awareness of the artistic and cultural importance of folk music and dance. Doug Cox is director of the Vancouver Folk Festival.
Recording in high school
Ronny Cox grew up in New Mexico listening to Texas swing music, then played in a rock ‘n’ roll band throughout high school and college.
"The band was called ‘Ron’s Rockouts,’ "Cox said with a laugh. "We were cutting records when we were in high school. It put me through college."
Cox graduated from Eastern New Mexico University in 1963 with a double major in theater and speech correction. Despite his love of music, Cox said, he wanted to be an actor and started his career performing Shakespeare and other classics at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and at the Public Theatre, in New York City.
Making a ‘classic’ movie
His very first film was the classic adventure "Deliverance," also starring Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty. Cox said he was hired for the movie less for his acting ability than the fact he could play the guitar.
Cox plays guitar during the movie’s classic song "Dueling Banjos." In 2012, he wrote and published a book about his experiences making the film.
"Every actor wanted to do those roles — we all knew it would be a classic," Cox said. "We shot the whole movie in sequence and did all our own canoeing and stunts. It was kind of sensational when it came out, but a lot of people missed its artistic depth and excellence."
‘Robocop,’ ‘Total Recall’
After the success of "Deliverance," Cox was in high demand as a character actor in movies and on television. Many of his most famous roles were as villains in such classics as "Total Recall" and "Robocop," or as a ruthless politician in the TV series "Stargate." He also had major roles in "Bound for Glory," "Beverly Hills Cop," "The Onion Field" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
Back in recording studio
After his stint on "Cop Rock," Cox went to Nashville, where he recorded a self-titled country album in 1993. Country really wasn’t his style of music, however, so he asked his youngest son, John, to produce his next album, 2000’s "Acoustic Eclectricity," which was more folk-music-oriented. Four more albums were to follow, including two live albums.
In 2009, he released "Ronny Cox — Songs With Repercussions," a personal album recorded after the death of his wife, Mary.
"Songs can be frivolous or sad, but they can trigger an almost overwhelming emotion immediately," Cox said. "What I have found is that if I open up to my audience, they not only accept that, they also help me get through it."
That’s why Cox likes to perform in an intimate environment with the house lights up and the audience as close to him as possible.
Laughing and weeping
"My show starts as soon as they start letting people in the door," he said. "I want people to laugh until they’re weeping and then weep on the next song and have a lot of fun in-between."
Although Cox still acts, he said he turns down 80 to 90 percent of acting jobs to play music gigs. This year alone, he said, he’ll do about 125 shows.
"I will not let any movie or TV show interfere with a music gig I’ve already booked," he said. "This gives me too much pleasure."
— Reporter Gary Demuth can be reached at 822-1405 or by email at gdemuth@ salina.com.