HE PLAYED THE VILLAIN IN 'TOTAL RECALL': Ronny Cox brings music to Callaway
When the guests arrived for Saturday's concert at the rural Callaway home of Eric and Terrin Riehle, they were each greeted warmly by a distinguished looking man wearing a simple blue shirt and denim jeans.
"Hello, I'm Ronny Cox," he said.
Though best known for his work as a veteran character actor, who has appeared in several Hollywood blockbusters including "Beverly Hills Cop," "Total Recall" and "Deliverance," Cox wasn't in Minnesota to shoot a movie.
Instead, he was here to exhibit his somewhat lesser known talent as a folk singer, songwriter and musician.
"The thing that gives me the most pleasure in the world is performing music," Cox said as he sat down for a cozy chat with the Riehles' guests prior to Saturday's house concert.
"I like acting, but I don't love it as much as I love music," he added, noting that he plays somewhere between 100-125 concert dates a year.
When Cox does get bitten by the acting bug, however, he admits to a preference for playing the villain rather than the hero.
"I much prefer playing the bad guys -- about 28 million times more," he said.
The reason? Bad guys have more fun.
"I liken it to painting," he said. "With the good guys, you get red, white and blue, but with the bad guys, you get the whole palette to work with."
His love of performing music doesn't mean Cox is ready to retire from acting anytime soon.
"I still get quite a few offers for acting jobs," he said.
What it does mean, Cox added, is that his music takes priority: Whenever he accepts an acting job, he makes sure his shooting schedule doesn't conflict with any concert dates that he has booked.
Yes, he's even turned down a major role or two because he has a concert tour scheduled for the same time that shooting is set to take place, Cox added.
In fact, there was one time when he had accepted a contract for a movie role that was set to start shooting after he finished up some music dates he had scheduled.
Suddenly, the producers told him that he would have to cancel the concerts because the shooting schedule had been moved up. Cox refused, noting that he had it written into his contract that he wasn't available for shooting on those dates.
The producers countered by doubling their original salary offer. Cox still refused -- so they tripled it.
The answer was still no, much to their disbelief.
"I learned that the most powerful negotiating tool in Hollywood is the word no," Cox said, smiling.
In the end, he turned down the role. "I made a life decision quite a few years ago," Cox said. "I won't let any movie or TV show interfere with a music gig."
He meant it -- despite the occasional loss of a lucrative acting contract.
"I went for the big bucks," Cox joked. "We all know there are dozens and dozens of dollars to be made in folk music."
Cox's love for music was evident throughout Saturday's two-hour concert, as he moved seamlessly between familiar favorites like "When You're Smiling" and original songs that he had written, such as "Hot Water Cornbread" and "Sanctuary."
Before each song, he would tell a little story about how it was written, or what inspired him to perform it.
He also talked about his life growing up in New Mexico, about his love for old movies, and most poignantly, about his late wife, Mary, who died 4½ years ago.
"We got married when she was 19," he said. "I never dated another girl in my life.
"She was my biggest fan," he added a little later that evening.
It went both ways: Cox talked about how smart his late wife was, "a true intellectual," and about how he discovered the secret to a long, successful marriage.
"I married up," he joked. When he told Mary about his discovery, however, she wasn't that impressed, noting, "All men do."
After Mary died, however, Cox discovered that his muse had died with her.
"For 4½ years I couldn't write a song," he said.
When he finally did start writing again, it was a song about saying goodbye to his wife -- and since then, Cox added, he has rediscovered his muse again.
Earlier in the evening, he had mentioned that one of the reasons why he enjoys performing now is that "it has allowed me to grieve publicly."
Accompanying Cox throughout the evening were Twin Cities-based performers David Stoddard and Karen Mal, who not only provided backing vocals, but displayed considerable talent as musicians too.
By the time they finished their final encore song, "Goodnight Irene," the crowd was on its feet and singing along.
Afterwards, all three performers mingled with the crowd of about four dozen people for more than an hour before heading off to their next gig in Avon, Minn.