Like many of the best bands the Motor City has produced, the Detroit Cobras
understand the power of the groove.
The female-fronted garage-rock quintet
mixes equal parts "Nuggets"-style three-chord grunge and timeless Motown
funk for one of the sexiest and most energizing sounds the current garage
revival has produced.
For their third album "Baby," which digs deep to rewrite soulful
chestnuts by the likes of Isaac Hayes, Bobby Womack and Hank Ballard, the
group has signed to Chicago's Bloodshot Records and delivered a raucous and
raunchy classic. And the group is even better onstage, as self-professed bad
girls Rachel Nagy and Mary Ramirez tear it up on vocals and guitar with the
able assistance of bassist Steve Nawra, drummer Kenny Tudrick and lead
guitarist Greg Cartwright (who, like every other man in proximity to the
band's dynamic duo, are firmly held in their sultry sway).
I spoke with Nagy as the group made its way across the U.S. on a tour
that brings it to Chicago tomorrow night.
COBRAS; REIGNING SOUND; VEE DEE
9 p.m. Saturday
1572 N. Milwaukee
Q. The new disc offers a lot of bang for the buck: In addition
to 13 new recordings, you've tacked on the "Seven Easy Pieces" EP and a
video for "Cha Cha Twist." Tell me about recording the new tunes with Greg
Cartwright of the Reigning Sound.
A. Well, not too much really stands out, other than it being a
whirlwind. We were coming back from playing a bunch of shows, and we did a
chunk of it, then came back and did the other chunk of it, and then we had
to mix it. We were on the road and we were mixing it over the phone and
sequencing everything. It was a little chaotic.
I don't think we were trying to be dirty or anything; I think we were
trying to be efficient. We didn't have the luxury of time, but we actually
got a lot done in a short period. We had been on the road, so we had our
chops going. If we had a little bit more time, it would have ended up being
a different record: I think we might have screwed some s--- up! Too many
cooks spoil the pot, and if you sit there and taste the stew too long,
you're going to end up over-salting it.
Q. Take me through the history of the group.
A. Mary [Ramirez, nee Restrepo] and [former members] Steve Shaw
and Jeff Meier were friends, and they had just started hanging out doing
this band, but they weren't having an easy time finding a singer. They were
having people come in, and it wasn't working out for them. They started
bugging me because I was just always around and Mary said that she used to
step over to me to get a beer anyway. [Laughs]
Q. What made them think you could sing?
A. I don't know; I was just there! I protested, "No! Hell no! I
can't sing! Are you f---ing stupid?" But I think they finally got enough
beers in me that I did it and it was kind of fun. I also think that I had
enough beers in me to think that I was doing a halfway decent job. [Laughs]
I just got caught up in it and never got out. They got me juiced up and made
me sign a contract in blood, and that was that.
Q. Who are some of the vocalists you're emulating?
A. Oh my God: Irma Thomas is the number one. She's my figurehead;
she's my god! First time I saw her, I understood the whole Beatlemania,
mass-hysteria thing, because for the first time in my life my knees actually
buckled and I fell down sobbing. She still gives me chills; I would wash her
feet with my hair if I had the opportunity. Other than that, Mavis Staples,
and the young Tina Tuner. The woman just bled for you.
Q. It's a hoary question, but how do you see the group fitting
into the current garage revival?
A. It's kind of weird, because we often get the term "garage
band," and that is the closest that you can peg us, but I think in the other
"garage" bands or "Detroit garage scene" there's way more rock 'n' roll,
while we're more of the rock and soul thing. We're really doing our
damnedest to be more of a soul and R&B band with rock 'n' roll.
Q. Is the appreciation of soul and groove inescapable when
you're growing up in Detroit?
A. Absolutely! It's amazing, because people will come to Detroit
and say it's one of the most racially divided cities they've ever seen,
except for the music. That's where it comes together, and it always has. At
the same time, I grew up in a predominantly black church, and all of my
neighbors are black. That sounds like a racist comment -- "Some of my best
friends are black!" -- but it's true! It's very strange: It's a divided
city, unless you live here, and then you're just part of it and the music is
part of that fabric. You grow up with it and then when you grow up you
realize what's around you and the richness of it all around you. Then you
make your adult choice to love it with an adult love.
Reasons for Living
Call it the season of anniversaries in the Chicago music scene. Hot on
the heels of Flowerbooking's celebration of its 15th year comes "For a
Decade of Sin: 11 Years of Bloodshot Records," a weeklong party in honor of
one of Chicago's best independent labels (even if it is responsible for
launching Ryan Adams' solo career).
In addition to a double-disc compilation (below) featuring songs by My
Morning Jacket, Mary Lou Lord, the Bottle Rockets, Bobby Bare, Jr. and many
others, and the Detroit Cobras' show at Double Door tomorrow night, the
festivities include a gig by Jim and Jennie and the Pinetops at the Hideout,
1354 W. Wabansia, at 7 p.m. tomorrow night. (The cover is $10, but if you
get there early and bring a canned good for the Chicago Food Depository you
get a $2 discount and you can take part in a chili cookoff.)
On Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, Bloodshot staffers will be spinning at
everyone's favorite rock 'n' roll bar, Delilah's, at 2771 N. Lincoln. Other
anniversary gigs include the Asylum Street Spankers at the Beat Kitchen,
2100 W Belmont, at 8 p.m. Nov. 25 ($15 cover); the Bottle Rockets exploding
at the same venue on Nov. 26 ($15 cover), and Bobby Bare, Jr. playing the
Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, that same night, topping a bill that also
includes the Deadstring Brothers and Dollar Store (tickets are $10).