Detroit Cobras come out of the garage


November 18, 2005


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.



  • 9 p.m. Saturday
  • Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee
  • Tickets, $12
  • (773) 489-3160
  • 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).