Ronny Cox will be remembered as having a part of one of the greatest musical scenes in one of the greatest films ever made. The 1972 film “Deliverance,” featured Cox playing guitar with a young boy picking banjo on the tune, “Dueling Banjo’s.”
It was just the start of a lengthy film career for Cox, who went on to star in loads of films and television shows, including “Robocop,” “Total Recall,” “Dexter,” the “Beverly Hills Cop” series and scores more. However, music has been present in his life just as much, if not more than his time on the screen, and he proudly boasts that he’ll always favor music over acting.
The singer-songwriter will perform Sunday at the Henry Strater Theatre. Performing with Cox will be Radoslav Lorkovic on keyboards and Tom Ryan on bass.
“I’m a singer-songwriter. But I’m a storyteller, too. I love acting, don’t get me wrong,” said Cox. “But I don’t love it as much as I do this because with acting, whether movies, television, plays, you can’t step through the lens and contact the audience. Nothing cuts to the heart like music does.”
Cox’s music career started when he was a kid growing up in Portales, New Mexico. Portales lies south of Clovis, which in the late 1950s and ’60s was a hotbed for recording. Home to the Norman Petty Recording Studios, it is most notable for being the recording studios for a number of Buddy Holly hits, and it’s where Cox got his musical start playing in a band with his brothers. He was a theater major in college, but always kept music at the heart; it’s what helped him land the role in “Deliverance.”
“Early in my career, everyone knew I was this actor from New Mexico that also played music. But then I started getting to play all these men of authority, generally guys with suits and ties, bad guys or corporate guys, and I did that for about 20 years,” Cox said. “I hate to say it, but for about 20 years, it seems I was in every movie made out here. Now, when people see me with a guitar, it blows their minds. ‘Dick Jones from “Robocop” is playing the guitar?’”
It was a short-lived television show, one worthy of YouTube exploration, which inspired Cox to look at his dual career and put one form of entertainment in front of the other – the screen soon took a backseat.
“I did a television series that ended up being a flop, but everybody that worked on it loved it. It was as series called ‘Cop Rock.’ It was 20 years ahead of its time,” Cox said. “It was a forerunner to ‘Glee’ and all that, but no one was ready for a gritty cop drama that all of the sudden breaks into music. But while we were doing that show, I realized how much I missed music.”
Cox is a firm believer in the connection that is created when a musician is on stage in front of an attentive audience. Maybe it’s a song, or a pre-song story that hits home with someone in the crowd, and at that moment, both performer and patron are sharing a feeling because of the music. It’s a bond that can only be created at a show where the wall between stage and crowd is non-existent, and where the performer will mingle with the crowd before and after the performance.
“At my show, and it doesn’t always happen, but there’s the possibility of a profound one-on-one sharing that can take place, and that is an opiate that’s undeniable,” Cox said. “I want my show to be as much like it was when we were kids, sitting around in the living room or the front porch or the kitchen, sharing songs and stories with our friends and relatives. Because of that, my show starts as soon as they open the doors. Half the fun for me, I will have had a conversation with everybody in the audience before the show even starts.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at email@example.com.