April 29--FREMONT -- Ronny Cox is a successful Hollywood character actor who co-starred in hit movies such as "Deliverance" and "RoboCop" in a career spanning more than 40 years.
But he has been a musician for even longer, going back to the late 1940s, when he performed at square dances in his hometown of Portales, N.M. Playing guitar and singing live is truly his first love, Cox said. And his musical chops will be on full display Saturday evening, when his folk trio is scheduled to perform at Mission Coffee Roasting Co. in Fremont.
"In music, you have an opportunity for a one-on-one between you and the audience," he said. "I find that to be an opiate that is undeniable."
At 74, Cox is still feeding his performance addiction, crisscrossing the country to play nearly 100 gigs per year. The band -- which includes Chojo Jacques on fiddle and mandolin, and Radoslav Lorkovic on keyboards and accordion -- plays folk and country tunes, with Cox's folksy vocals leading the way.
Cox said he leans on both his musical and acting experience during concerts, noting that his blog is called Songs, Stories and Out-and-Out Lies. "I like to tell the stories; it allows me use all the arrows in my quiver," he said. "I wear my heart on my sleeve, and my goal is to make you giggle out loud on one song and weep out loud on the next."
When reached by phone last week, Cox said he was driving to a gig not far from Clayton, Ga., where he filmed "Deliverance,"
his first movie.
The critically acclaimed 1972 film jump-started his acting career, and Cox said his musical ability got him the part. He played guitar in the film's "Dueling Banjos" scene, in which he was opposed by Billy Redden, then a Georgia teenager playing the role of a young banjo musician.
The four-minute "duel" between Cox's guitar and the teen's banjo -- as they play a 1955 song called "Dueling Banjos" -- has become a part of pop culture. Cox said he planned to stop in Clayton to say hello to Redden, who is now in his 50s.
Did Cox know that his first movie role was going to become a classic, joining "The Godfather" and "Chinatown" on a short list of the best films of the 1970s?
"Actually, we did," Cox said, chuckling. "Every actor in Hollywood wanted to be in the movie, and the director, John Boorman, had to hide out from people."
In subsequent years, Cox co-starred in other hits such as "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Total Recall." But he keeps returning to singing, songwriting and playing guitar. He has recorded seven albums since 1993, including one that pays tribute to one of his musical heroes, country music artist Mickey Newbury. When he's not in the studio, Cox hits the road with his band.
"I never feel more vibrant or more alive than when I'm doing the shows," he said.
Cox said while in the Bay Area, he plans to visit his son Brian, a UC Santa Cruz graduate who now works at Netflix in Los Gatos. Cox has other Bay Area ties, having recorded a 2006 live album, "At the Sebastiani Theatre," in the venerable Sonoma venue.
In Fremont, the audience can expect an old-fashioned type of concert, Cox said.
"I like to leave the house lights up and have the crowd move as close to the band as possible," he said. "It's a throwback kind of show that is family-friendly, like when you played music in your living room or on your porch."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.
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