Originally Published: January 19, 2012 5:48 p.m.
Put a guitar in front of Ronny Cox, and people display symptoms of transient global amnesia.
"You ask people who Ronny Cox is," Cox challenged via phone Wednesday. "Once they see me or hear my voice, they might know me, but most of the time they really don't."
You've probably seen him before in one of the many roles he's played on big and small screens during the last four decades. Highlights include roles in "Deliverance," "Beverly Hills Cop," "Total Recall," "Stargate SG-1" and, most recently, "Dexter." But Cox is also a storied storyteller, folk musician and singer-songwriter.
To date, he's released a smattering of studio albums, live albums and a DVD, and performed on "The Tonight Show" and National Public Radio. In 2011 he performed roughly 125 shows, and entered the studio again on Thursday to begin a new album.
And, soon, he's coming to Prescott.
At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, Cox and fellow musicians Karen Mal and Radaslov Lorkovic perform at the Prescott Center for the Arts, 208 N. Marina St. Tickets cost $17, or, for $30, you can meet Cox and crew at a 6:30 p.m. reception in the PCA gallery.
Cox has played a lot of suit-and-tie clad villains (Machiavellian 1 percenters, if that's how you roll), which may be why people seem to recognize him, but blank on his 40-year curriculum vitae.
"I've had that conversation a thousand times," Cox said. "If they're from Montana, I'm from Montana, and I'm somebody's uncle."
These acts of historical fiction, some of which are on par with the works of Steven Barnes, are ubiquitous, but all part of the gig. Cox welcomes conversation, in part, he said, because it makes for a better concert.
"The show starts as soon as the door opens, as far as I'm concerned," said Cox, who still answers the umpteenth media question in a crisp, casual voice. "This is folk music; it should be of the folk. ... I like to visit and connect with people before the concert, so we feel like we're all in there together."
Crossroads and cross-training
Cox never felt like he had to make a choice between music and acting, although there seems to be a tipping point around 1993.
He'd tried wearing the producer, screenwriter and actor's hat in the small 1984 film "Courage," decided to stick with acting, but also jumpstarted his music career by moving to Nashville in the early 1990s. He signed with Mercury and released his self-titled debut in 1993 - wrong place, wrong time.
"This is the early '90s, right, when country music was becoming rock 'n' roll - the year people like Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton lost their deals," Cox said. "I didn't know where folk music was at the time, and I was never really considered country. If I was going to make it, I'd have had to get together an eight- or 10-piece band and go play huge fairs."
He wouldn't record another album until 2000, and, in the interim, returned to movies and TV. He kept playing, though, and claims to be one of the few actors who has a contract clause that puts preference on established music dates over last-minute shooting requests.
"I'm pretty selective about acting these days," he said. "They have to beg me really hard and pay me lots of money if they want me to act, but I'll play music at the drop of a hat."
Even in the year he's publishing a book about the myths and legends surrounding his breakout performance as banjo-playing businessman Drew in "Deliverance" and doing interviews for its 40th anniversary re-release - he'd still rather be playing live music.
Cox said that although he loves acting, music shatters the proverbial fourth wall that separates actors from the audience.
"I love to tell stories that either set up the songs or somehow embellish the music," Cox said, adding he's made handsome sums from acting compared to the "dozens of dollars" to be made on the folk music circuit.
Still, he said, he'd never give up music for any stage.
In his own words, "Music feeds me in a way nothing else does."