When you mention Paul Cockrum’s name around Franklin County, people’s lips begin to curl into a smile, most likely at the nostalgia that his name brings back.
Paul, 65, Villa Ridge, has a long history of rock — and more recently blues — in the county.
He’s performed with his various bands at the Franklin County Fair, Downtown Washington Barbecue and Blues Festival, the Franklin County Relay for Life this past June, and countless bars, from Marquart’s Landing, Otis Campbells and Driftwood Distillery in Washington to Blondies in St. Clair, White Mule in Owensville, JP’s Sports Bar in Eureka, and many, many other venues.
In fact, Paul claims the title of performing the first rock concert in Union in 1969, with his band Parchment Farm at the city auditorium. He still has the poster for the concert, in which admission was $1.25.
It was with Parchment Farm that Paul performed at the K-SHE Kite Flying Contest, where he met Steve Shankmann, a booking agent with Continental Entertainment.
Shankmann worked to help the band perform at K-SHE’s fourth birthday party in the early ’70s, along with ZZ Top, who was just getting its start.
Stole Brother’s Guitar
Originally from San Bernardino, Calif., there isn’t a time when Paul hasn’t been musically inclined.
Paul said he’s never had formal lessons, but learned to play through watching others. His grandmother, brothers and uncle all played guitar.
“It all started by stealing my brother’s guitar,” he said.
At 13, he risked stealing his brother’s coveted guitar, which he took to the junior high school talent show, performed, and took home top honors at the show.
His brother wasn’t happy, “but I won the talent show,” Paul said with a smile, adding that there were 3,000 people at the school to watch the performance.
He was hooked.
By age 15, he was performing concerts. His band won the opportunity to play the warm-up decks by winning a battle of the bands.
He played on stage with Jim Morrison and The Doors and with David Crosby and The Birds the following week.
“Well, guess what I wanted to do the rest of my life?” he said.
Moved to Beaufort
At age 17, Paul’s family moved to Beaufort for his father’s job.
And while the transition wasn’t easy, it was his junior year of high school in Union where he met his wife, Dianna — his high school sweetheart whom he has been with for 47 years.
Paul eventually met Tom Pehle and Rich Bay, who would become his business partners for a Union-based lighting business.
“I was hitch-hiking home, and they picked me up,” he explained. Pehle is now the head electrician stagehand at The Fox Theatre, St. Louis. The two became his “roadie and manager” for his band, Parchment Farm.
The three of them started a lighting company, where Paul used skills he learned from setting up lights at his own concerts.
The business first started using the lights from Parchment Farm for another band, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, or BTO.-
As the rock band began touring, Paul, Tom and Rich began touring with them to set up lights on the stage.
From there, Paul went on the road with Kansas, and Tom Pehle continued with BTO.
“Long story short, that company had major tours all the time,” he said.
It was through the lighting company that Paul got to work for bands such as Heart, Styx, Oakridge Boys, Charlie Daniels, Waylon Jennings, Ricky Skaggs, Ronnie Millsap and others.
He worked for Kansas for about four years as their electrician before going to work for Ronnie Millsap.
“What a wonderful, wonderful experience,” he said.
Between Kansas and Ronnie Millsap, Paul joined the Macks Creek Band. The band did an album in the ’80s for which he wrote all the songs. That band toured all over the United States.
Band members continue to perform about three times each year, including at Union Founders Day last year.
Following three years with Millsap, Paul worked as an electrician with Ricky Skaggs, a bluegrass band.
“And it just kept going,” he said, adding that after Skaggs he worked for Heart, a rock band started by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson.
He ended his touring career in 1987 with the rock band U2.
Throughout his career, Paul’s been to every state except Hawaii.
He is now employed by Bo-Co, Union.
Loose Change, Paul Cockrum Trio
Once Paul stopped touring with other bands, he joined Loose Change, a dance band he has been with for more than 20 years. Loose Change continues to play at area bars.
“I love it. I can’t go anywhere without being talked to,” he said. “I’m a pretty private guy.” But when he’s playing, “I’m out of body,” he said. “It’s not really me.”
He thanked Harold Leiber, of Pacific, “Mr. Loose Change,” who hired him in the band, as well as “the loneliest singer,” Dennis Eskridge, lead singer, for his part in the band.
While he loves rock and roll, Paul said his favorite music to perform is blues.
About a decade ago, Cockrum started a new band, the Paul Cockrum Trio.
The band consists of Cockrum, who plays guitar and sings; Bob Klaeger, drums; Steve Hughes, bass guitar; and Terry Midkiff, lead guitar.
In late 2016, a group of local musicians established a new blues society, the WashMo Blues Society.
Paul quickly got involved and now serves on the board.
“As I get older, I want to play blues. I want to keep playing music. It comes from the heart,” Paul said.
The group is dedicated to the preservation and education of blues music.
The musicians take part in jam sessions, held at area bars and restaurants.
The nonprofit group’s mission is that all lovers of blues in the area will enjoy the culture of blues music through their participation in educational programs, public performances and jam sessions, and community volunteerism.
Paul said the group also wants to help younger musicians by providing scholarships. The first one was presented to a St. Francis Borgia Regional High School student in June.
The WashMo Blues Society holds open jam sessions at Otis Campbell’s on West Front Street in Washington every Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m., and the first Saturday of every month from 2-6 p.m.
For more information, upcoming meetings and events, visit facebook.com/washmoblues.
Paul performs at Otis Campbells the first Saturday of each month, from 2 to 6 p.m.