SKOWHEGAN — Eugene Cole couldn’t have known what his words would mean a quarter-century after he wrote them down in songs.
But there they were: five songs written by Cole that are now — four months after his death — being produced in the renowned Hilltop Studios, Nashville’s longest-running professional recording studio.
“I can’t imagine life here without you, and darling, I don’t even want to try,” opens the song “Life Without You,” the title track of a five-song CD to be released soon by music producer Tony Mantor.
“No, I can’t imagine life here without you by my side. Please promise me you will never go.”
The words of the songs, sung by his brother Tom Cole, were written by Eugene Cole more than two decades ago for his wife, Sheryl Cole. She now lives without her husband in the home where they shared and raised a family in Norridgewock.
Eugene “Gene” Cole’s lyrics resonate with more meaning today. The Somerset County Sheriff’s Department corporal was shot and killed while on duty in his hometown of Norridgewock on April 25. A Madison man, John D. Williams, 29, is charged with his murder and has pleaded not guilty.
Cole, 61, was a 13-year veteran of the sheriff’s office and the first Maine police officer to die in a shooting in nearly 30 years. While Cole was well-known as a respected local police officer, he was also remembered by friends and family as a talented musician who performed in the band Borderline Express with his brother Tom.
“They still mean the same,” Sheryl Cole said this past week of the song lyrics, after she and family members returned from the recording sessions in Nashville, “except now I have to live my life here without him by (my) side. But the love we have, I’ll never let it go.”
Sheryl Cole, who is getting a new house thanks to area businesses donating their time and materials, said going to Nashville was exciting, but she was filled with appreciation and gratitude when she met the talent that showed up.
“To know that there are so many good people in this world is truly inspiring,” she said. “At times the recording sessions were a bit emotional, but I think that was in our favor. All of the tremendous musicians played our pain so beautifully.”
Sheryl even performs backup vocals on “Life Without You.”
The CD is still in the studio being mixed and mastered for release sometime in the coming weeks.
Tom Cole said the Nashville studio gig started when Plateau Music producer Tony Mantor, originally from Madison, who played in a band called Tony Mantor and Mainestream back when Tom and Gene played in the Borderline Express band, heard of Gene’s death.
Tom Cole, who last performed with his brother in Skowhegan in December, said the musicians and studio time were donated with Mantor’s help. The flight to Nashville, the meals and hotel rooms, all were paid with the support of the many fundraisers held in the central Maine community following Cole’s death, including a benefit at T&B’s Celebration Center in Skowhegan.
Tom Cole said they were in Nashville Aug. 5-12, spending a total of 24 hours in the studio. He said the musicians were some of the best studio musicians Nashville has to offer, including a piano player who performed with Elvis Presley.
“All the big greats recorded there — George Jones, Johnny Cash — a who’s who of country music,” Tom Cole said. “All these songs are written by Gene. It’s real country, traditional country. These guys that were playing the music, they went, ‘Man, this great country music. We cut our teeth on this stuff.’”
The title song will be released for radio play all across the nation, as a modern but classic country music song, he said.
“The studio was all free. The musicians were all free. They all volunteered their time,” he said. “There were six musicians.”
The five titles on the CD include “Room 13,” about Skowhegan’s Kennebec Valley Inn and a night reportedly spent alone by Gene Cole; “Words Can Hurt”; “On My Way To Nowhere”; and “Angel in My Bed.”
Mantor said via social media that when he heard the news of Gene’s death, he knew he had to help.
“Last year I got to see Tom and him play right before New Year’s, and it was really nice to reconnect,” Mantor said. “It felt like we picked up without any time in between and just talked about the past along with what was going on in our lives now.”
Mantor said, “(Gene) always wanted to have a Nashville recording of his songs, so I thought this was a great way to pay tribute to a really good guy and friend. We are doing a documentary on Tom’s journey with interviews from all involved in helping me bring this project to them. It’s going to be really good. I have also made a deal with my radio promoters, and they are going to promote it to radio for more exposure on the project. Trying to help Sheryl and the family as much as I can.”
Tom Cole said the family is holding onto its privacy as much as it can, while being thankful to the community for the outpouring of support. He said they all continue to mourn his brother’s passing, but the songs on the CD are somehow reassuring.
“What he’s saying is, ‘I can’t imagine life without you and darlin’, I don’t even want to know’ — it’s a love song to Sheryl,” he said. “They talk about how they had rough times, but they had good times. They worked through the bad times and the good times were really good.
“It was very emotional. It was amazing what they did down there. He’d obviously be very honored. He loved those songs. He poured his heart and soul into them.”
Tom Cole of Skowhegan, sitting beside a photograph of his brother, Somerset County Sheriff’s Department Cpl. Gene Cole, on Wednesday, speaks about the recent songs he recorded for a CD titled “Life Without You,” in memory of his brother who was killed last April while on duty. (David Leaming/Morning Sentinel)
Tom Cole of Skowhegan sings a song written by his brother, Somerset County Sheriff’s Department Cpl. Eugene Cole, who was killed while on duty last April.(David Leaming/Morning Sentinel)