Don’t think you’re the only one who hears the name Ronny Cox and thinks of his movie roles.
Born in Cloudcroft and only a few days away from induction into the New Mexico Music Hall of Fame, this native New Mexican loves music more than acting.
And hence his induction into this little-known state hall of fame, a non-profit organization that tells the story of New Mexico’s global impact with special exhibits, educational programs, a library and archives. It was founded by Rio Rancho attorney Michael E. Sanchez.
Joining Cox, 81, for Saturday’s festivities at the historic KiMo Theatre will be Charlie Griego, who had a career in musical instrument sales; guitar-makers Lorenzo Pimentel and Sons; music-industry businesspeople Mark and Polly Padilla; and Lenny Pickett, musical director for NBC’s Saturday Night Live. Late musician Don Lesmen Chavez is being honored, too.
According to Cox’s IMDb page, which lists him with 145 credits as an actor, this year he had roles in two movies, “Demon Star” and “The Car: Road to Revenge.”
His first role, per the information page, was back in 1970, although many remember him as “Drew” in the 1972 movie “Deliverance,” participating in the memorable “dueling banjos” scene (although, truth be told, it was a guitar and a banjo).
His latest musical honor, he said in a telephone interview, “came as a real surprise to me. I love music and I’ve been involved in it heavily the last few years, but to have this honor is totally surprising.”
He said he plays 75-80 music shows a year.
Cox’s style of music, he says, is simpler and more direct, in that he loves the interaction with an audience.
“I don’t love (acting) quite as much as the music,” he explained. “In acting, there is and must be that imaginary fourth wall between you and the audience, and I’m a storyteller, as you can tell.
“At my show, there’s a possibility of a one-on-one sharing that can take place, and, boy, do I love that,” he said. “My show is more like a two-act play, with music. We leave the house lights up — I like to see the people I’m playing to, with 400-500 seats the most. This is something they don’t expect to happen — my show is different.”
Before this Ronny Cox “show” began, he grew Portales, after the family moved there from Cloudcroft when he was 13.
In high school, he recorded at the Norman Petty Studio in Clovis, and was around when Petty was recording Buddy Holly and Jimmy Gilmer from “The Fireballs.” Petty hired a band Cox was in to play backup.
“I was around when Buddy Holly was cutting ‘Peggy Sue,'” Cox recalled. “I wasn’t a big fan;’ I thought there were better guys. A few years later, I was saying, ‘This guy is really good.'”
On Cox’s web page (ronnyxcox.com), he tells how, “I was a theatre major at ENMU and in the summer of 1960, I landed my first professional job.” He didn’t write a song of his own until he turned 50, and had a record deal.
Time for questions for this New Mexico legend:
What do people consider your best role? “That’s like picking a favorite child. I’ve been in so many films; these days, it’s more likely to be ‘Robo Cop’ or ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ or ‘Total Recall.’ I took over as captain of the starship for two episodes in Star Trek (Next Generation) — everybody hated Capt. Jellico. And I was in another cult classic, ‘The Car,’ with James Brolin, about a devil car going around killing everybody.”
Your favorite all-time role? “They’re all so different; I’ll tell you the truth — and this is probably gonna shock you. The ones that are the most fun are the bad guys. The good guy? I liken it to painting. The good guy gets three colors: red, white and blue. The bad guy gets the whole palette.
“I played a serial killer in ‘Dexter,’ a character called the Tooth Fairy — this guy had no redeeming qualities — none. So it was fun to play him; a bad guy never thinks he’s bad. … And I played the moral guy in ‘Deliverance.'”
The role you wanted but didn’t get? “There was a time in the world when there was a film called ‘Coming Home.’ I had just done ‘Bound for Glory’ — now there’s a role I enjoyed playing. (Director) Hal Ashby wanted me to be in that movie; he was interested in me for the Bruce Dern role; Jack Nicholson was supposed to play the Jon Voight role. Jon Voight and I are pretty much the same dude, (but) I don’t know the reasons why it happened.”
When was your last visit to New Mexico? “I haven’t been there for a couple years; my sister lives in New Mexico; my parents and brother were married in Portales. I was married in Albuquerque; (my wife Mary’s) dad worked for the Albuquerque Journal and her brother was editor. I was friends of Tony Hillerman, my favorite author to read.”
What about this honor, recognition from your home state? “I’ve been lucky — I’ve had a great career. This is icing on the cake… and to come back and be with the iconic people I grew up with.”
Are you a singer who acts, or an actor who sings? “I’m both. I would never say I’m not an actor; my show encompasses both. I get to use all the arrows in my quiver — and without bragging too much, I’m good at both of them.”
What else should we know? “We’re there (in New Mexico) for 10 days — I’m doing the ‘Star of David Tour’ — Silver City, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Lubbock, Pampa, Portales, Amarillo, Farmington and Durango.”