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ALEX COHEN, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY, and the musical legend Dewey Cox.

(Soundbite of movie, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story")

Mr. JOHN C. REILLY (Actor): (As Dewey Cox) I want to take you back to Springberry, Alabama.

(Soundbite of crowd screaming)

Mr. REILLY: (As Dewey Cox) Yeah, a lot of folks from Springberry up here, huh?

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: Actor and singer John C. Reilly performing as fictional musician Dewey Cox from the fictional town of Springberry, Alabama.

(Soundbite of movie, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story")

Mr. REILLY: (As Dewey Cox) This took them by storm at the Springberry talent show when I was in high school.

(Soundbite of crowd screaming)

Mr. REILLY: (As Dewey Cox) It caused a riot. It's called "Take My Hand."

(Soundbite of song, "Take My Hand")

Mr. REILLY: (As Dewey Cox) (Singing) Take...

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Take, take...

Mr. REILLY: (As Dewey Cox) (Singing) ...take my hand...

Unidentified Group: (Singing) ...take my hand...

COHEN: This week, Reilly's been on a seven-city tour playing songs from the soundtrack of his new movie, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." The soundtrack plays a key role in "Walk Hard." Each song highlights a chapter in the utterly ridiculous life story of Dewey Cox; a story which begins when a young Dewey accidentally slices his brother in half.

(Soundbite of movie, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story")

Mr. REILLY: (As Dewey Cox) Did you ever have something that you really loved that you accidentally killed or hurt in some way with a machete?

Unidentified Woman #1: (As Character) No.

Mr. REILLY: (As Dewey Cox) No. Me neither.

COHEN: The machete incident spurs Dewey to sing the blues. At 14, he records a chart-topping pop single. What follows is a lifetime filled with fame, fortune, adultery, drug addiction, rehab, more drugs, and eventually a lifetime achievement award.

Backstage at Dewey Cox's L.A. show, director Jake Kasdan told me the idea for "Walk Hard" came to him after watching a slew of movies about musicians - movies like "Ray" and "Walk the Line."

Mr. JAKE KASDAN (Director): No matter whose extraordinary life you took and no matter the differences in their actual biography, if you condensed their life into a 90 to 120 minute three-act structure of a Hollywood movie, people whose lives are nothing like each other seem to have very similar lives when you watch the movies about them.

COHEN: And so, Jake thought, why not poke fun at the musician biopic genre by doing a film about a fake musician? He approached screenwriter Judd Apatow.

Mr. JUDD APATOW (Screenwriter): We thought the way to do it that no one's ever done it to just make a big gorgeous-looking biopic that looks like it thinks it deserves an Oscar. And the hardest part was we had to create an entire 50 year career's worth of music, which is kind of impossible to do.

COHEN: Usually a soundtrack is created after the movie's been shot, but both Kasdan and Apatow knew in this case the music had to come first. And they knew just the man for the job.

(Soundbite of song, "Walk Hard")

Mr. MIKE ANDREWS (Music Producer): (Singing) Scorned and slaughtered and ridiculed too. You know I struggled every day my whole life through...

COHEN: Music producer Mike Andrews, with his acoustic version of the film's title track.

(Soundbite of song, "Walk Hard")

Mr. ANDREWS: (Singing) Seen my share of the (unintelligible) that the world can give, but I still got a dream and a burning rage to live.

You know what I mean? It's like they just get you psyched, you know?

COHEN: Andrews said when word first got out about the film they were flooded with song submissions.

Mr. ANDREWS: And we got so many, like maybe 40, 50 Walk Hards. I don't know.

COHEN: These are Walk Hards from different musicians. They're...

Mr. ANDREWS: Walk Hards from like guys from Nashville. These are Walk Hards from like Joe down the street...

COHEN: In the end, they decided to use a version written by Marshall Crenshaw.

(Soundbite of song, "Walk Hard")

Mr. REILLY: (As Dewey Cox) (Singing) Walk hard, hard down the lights. Rock and roll, walk bold...

COHEN: Sound a bit like Johnny Cash? That's no coincidence. Part of the film's shtick is that Dewey Cox's entire career is built on songs that sound just like other famous musicians.

(Soundbite of movie, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story")

Unidentified Man: (As character) People are saying that your new music sounds a lot like Bob Dylan.

Mr. REILLY: (As Dewey Cox) Well, maybe Bob Dylan sounds a lot like me. You know, how come nobody ever asked Bob Dylan, why you sound so much like Dewey Cox?

(Singing) The mailboxes dripped like lamp posts in the twisted birth canal of the Coliseum...

COHEN: Even though the "Walk Hard" movie is a comedy, they took the soundtrack very seriously. Mike Andrews says they scoured decades' worth of Billboard's country and pop charts to make sure every musical detail was accurate. For example, they wanted the title track to sound like it was recorded in 1954.

(Soundbite of movie, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story")

Mr. REILLY: (As Dewey Cox) (Singing) (Unintelligible) walk, boys...

Mr. ANDREWS: And there was a question like, oh, well, is there electric bass in '54? They invented it in '52, but they didn't really - no one had them until like '58 and there was all this crazy stuff like that.

COHEN: How important was it to you to actually get the historical...

Mr. ANDREWS: It was very important. My feeling is like, okay, someone will go see it and they'll be like, oh wow, that was a funny movie. But for every person that there's for every, like, whatever, five people that say that was a funny movie, hopefully there's one guy going, that's totally right. That's exactly right; that amp, they totally would have been using that amp.

(Soundbite of movie, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story")

Mr. REILLY: (As Dewey Cox) (Singing) The cops are saying I belong behind bars, and I'm guilty...

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Guilty.

Mr. REILLY: (As Dewey Cox) (Singing) I'm guilty as charged.

Well, we ended up recording 40 original songs, I think, and a bunch of covers and - I don't know, that's more songs than most musicians do in their entire career.

COHEN: Actor John C. Reilly says recording all those tunes really helped him get into character.

Mr. REILLY: Normally on a movie you get maybe a week rehearsal, if the director's into it, if the other actors want to do it. But on this one we had essentially six months of rehearsal. Because every time we made a decision about what the character would be singing, we are making a decision about what his frame of mind was at the time.

(Soundbite of song, "Let's Duet")

Mr. REILLY: (As Dewey Cox) (Singing) In my dreams you're blowing me some kisses.

Unidentified Woman #2: (As Character) (Singing) That's one of my favorite things to do...

COHEN: Lyrics to many of the songs are bawdy, but Reilly says they were careful to walk the line when it came to humor.

Mr. REILLY: We never wanted to lose the listenability, if you will, of the songs, because that was the most important thing, with almost every song. I mean the movie is a comedy and it had to be funny. And lyrically, we could do that, but we quickly realized, like, it's not worth making a song sound bad musically even if it's funnier.

(Soundbite of song, "Let's Duet")

Mr. REILLY: (Singing) Let's duet in ways that make us feel good. Let's duet and make that sacred sound...

COHEN: Tonight, John C. Reilly and the Cox Across America tour goes to Austin, Texas. The movie "Walk Hard" comes out just before Christmas.

(Soundbite of song, "Let's Duet")

Mr. REILLY: (Singing) ...that perfect harmony we've found. We know it's only natural. Of course it's only natural. God knows it's only natural. Let's duet.

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