"I'd been in town for eight years, and I had heard this once or twice," the singer laughs. "It wasn't that I didn't believe him, but you know, you get disenchanted. So I just said 'ok, yeah, I'll do that.' He asked if I'd be back the next night, and I said I guess I could be. Well, he brought up Blake Chancey the following night to hear me."
Chancey, whose success as co-producer of the Dixie Chicks has made him one of the hottest producers in town, was impressed enough to record her - that's when she brought him "If You Can" - and eventually to convince Sony Nashville to sign her to its Epic imprint.
With contract in hand, Cochran, Chancey and associate producer Anthony Martin turned to song selection; according to the singer, it wasn't an easy job. "They knew that there are things I won't sing about, and I'm a 30-year-old woman. I want to sing things that other 30-year-old women and men can relate to. And it was hard to find songs that are melodically cool and have lyrics with a lot of meat to them, so it took almost two years to find nine songs to go with 'If You Can,'" she says.
Among those making the final cut were what would become her second single, "So What" ("it never played it on the radio, but the video ran all the time; I think it was the cool car in it," Cochran chuckles), a Russell Smith-penned classic, "What I Learned From Loving You," previously recorded by Chely Wright and Lynn Anderson, among others - and one song co-written by Cochran in memory of her brothers Alan and Shawn, both of whom died of cystic fibrosis while she was growing up.
"I tried for a year and a half to write that song by myself, because I stupidly thought that if I wrote it all by myself it would mean more. But I couldn't do it. When I met Jim McBride and Stewart Harris, I wound up telling them the story, because even though they're power songwrtiters who have tons of hits under their belt, they're so down-to-earth and so kind that I instantly felt good with them. So I told them, 'this is what I've got, and I know it's going on the album because I'm making sure it gets on the album, what do you think?' And they loved the idea."
Still, Cochran wasn't sure that "Angels In Waiting" was right for her third single release. "When Epic came to me and said it was time to pick another single, they said 'we've got two choices.' They gave me the first and I said 'ok, what's the other one?' They said 'well, we're not sure if you're going to like the idea, it's kind of personal,' and I knew what it was. I told them, 'I have to ask my parents.'
"So I had lunch with my mom that day, and I remember sitting there and saying 'we think there's a new single, I think it's going to be "Angels, but I want to make sure it's ok. And my mom said, 'way to go.' She said, 'Alan and Shawn would love this, this would be a great tribute to them.' So that's what we did. It's really sad that so many people can relate to it, but every time I do this song live, people come up to me and say, 'where can I get that song?' Because everyone knows what it's like to lose someone you care for."
With its touching message and a video built around home movie footage of her and her brothers - "I knew Mom had it, but I'd never seen it before," says Cochran - "Angels In Waiting" may be the vehicle to give the singer's career a healthy boost, though as her recent Academy of Country Music nomination for Top New Female Vocalist suggests, she's making a growing number of fans.
In the meantime, she's started work on a second album - "we've already got three or four songs picked out," she says, "and one of them's mine" - and will be hitting the circuit this summer with a six-piece band.
Cochran's pretty happy with the way things are going - and when she isn't, all it takes is a reminder of what the alternative might be.
"One of my friends from Ohio called me a couple of months ago and said 'Tammy, I thought you were going to be a secretary,'" she says with one last hearty laugh. "But with the way computers have come along since I was in vocational school, I couldn't do that now even if I wanted to."