If he had his druthers, Brent Cobb probably would stay home in Nashville and write songs. But he admits that opening for Chris Stapleton and Margo Price on extensive arena tours in 2018 was the best year of his life.
Cobb’s songs have been recorded by some of the biggest names in country music: Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Kenny Chesney, Little Big Town, Kellie Pickler and Frankie Ballard. He has released three studio albums, including 2016’s Grammy Nominated “Shine On Rainy Day.”
“I have to make albums for people to continue to record the songs that I write – they work hand in hand,” Cobb said. “When an album comes out, you have to tour, which is a really cool thing. But sometimes I wish I could just write songs. It sounds like I’m bitching, but I’m not. … It’s just funny the way that it’s worked out.”
Cobb, 33, played a half-hour set when he opened for Stapleton last year at Harvey’s Outdoor Arena at Lake Tahoe’s South Shore. On Sunday, he will play a full set in a rare ticketed Red Room show in the Crystal Bay Casino. Hailey Whitters will open.
Since August, Crystal Bay Casino has provided a treasure trove of country music. Some of the artists are well known, others still under the radar.
Legendary Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell each packed the Crown Room for seated shows. Will Hoge played In the Red Room. Like Cobb, Hoge is mostly known for his songwriting. Nikki Lane drew a small yet enthusiastic crowd to the larger Crown Room. (“Nikki Lane, I think, is the greatest of our time. She’s the best,” Cobb said.)
A native of the rural Georgia town Americus, Cobb is part of a musical family. His father’s first band was called The Country Blues. When Brent Cobb and his cousins started a band, they gave it the same name. They appreciate both genres of music. Or is it one?
“I don’t think there is a difference,” he said. “Other than the listener, I don’t know who creates the divide. But there’s obviously an invisible divider and I don’t think it should be there. For me, there’s no difference between the two.
“I grew up around music and I’ve always been a fan of the songwriters. My dad was always big on making sure that I listened to who wrote the songs, their versions.”
Cobb caught a couple of good breaks on his way to becoming a success. The first came after the funeral of his great aunt. That’s when he met his older cousin Dave who lived in Los Angeles.
“Word got around that Dave was a record producer,” Cobb said. “We were all the skeptical Southerners that we are, and we are all musical in my family.
“So when we hear about this — this sounds terrible — but we were all standing around after the funeral and I say, ‘Man we hear you are record producer but we’ve never heard of you. What have you produced?’ He goes, ‘Shooter Jennings “Put the O Back in Country,” ’ which was my favorite album at that time.
Then it was time for Dave Cobb to be skeptical.
Brent gave his cousin a demo CD of acoustic songs he’d written. Dave didn’t want to listen to it but his wife convinced him to play it as the couple drove to Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport.
Dave Cobb liked it so much he invited Brent to California. “Dave opened a lot of doors our there for me,” said Cobb, who worked a year and a half in LA where he recorded his first album in 2006, “No Place Left to Leave.”
After moving back to Georgia, Brent Cobb caught his second break after he opened some shows for Luke Bryan, who encouraged him to move to Nashville.
“Luke introduced me to a lot of people and I signed with Carnival Music Publishing in 2009 and I’ve been there ever since.”
Cobb’s move to Nashville was fortuitous for Bryan, as well. Cobb penned “Tailgate Blues,” which was on Bryan’s record “Tailgates & Tanlines,” the American Music Awards 2011 Album of the Year.
“It’s been a wild, wonderful ride the last 10 years,” Cobb said. “And it’s super exciting right now riding though the Arizona desert.”
Cobb was speaking on his cellphone to a reporter while traveling in a Mercedes Sprinter Cargo Van westbound toward the California border. He was riding with his bandmates and a bug that buzzed about. Being a fly on the wall during the interview could be insightful as to a songwriter’s observational mind-set.
The reception was spotty and the phone disconnected. Cobb called back and explained that while being on the road is hard, it kindles inspiration for songs.
“Look at that,” Cobb said to the passengers. “That’s a real, live oasis.”
He was asked about his song “Solving Problems of the World” from the “Shine On Rainy Day” record. It turns out the tune was recorded at home when he was sitting around with his roommate, Joshua Nathan “Scotch” Taylor.
“I didn’t have anything else to write about,” Cobb said. “I thought, ‘How cool is it that we’re sitting on Music Row, writing songs and it’s Sunday. It’s a pretty cool moment. Maybe we should just try to capture this very moment in the song.’
“That song just kind of came out naturally that way. I try to approach all songs that way. Sometimes I don’t have any control over them. Sometimes they just fall out of the sky. Other times you’ve got to dig a little bit.”
A sudden gust distracts Cobb, who is laughing.
“I am sorry man, this wind. We are riding out in the middle of the desert in this Sprinter van and it’s all over the road. It’s not funny for the driver.”
Cobb is asked if he shares musical DNA with his cousin, Dave.
“Definitely. The way I write is simple. Whatever is in the room. I write quick, and Dave is the same way. He doesn’t do any preproduction. You just have to trust him. We are very similar in that regard.
“Whoa! There’s a fly buzzing around. Let me try to get him out the window. See ya, little buddy,” Cobb said.
The van arrives at the state border stop and the interview concludes.
“The last few years have been a whirlwind. We’ve been all over the place.”
On Sunday, the place was Crystal Bay Casino on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore. The venue was the Red Room, which fills at about 150 and is tucked in the corner of a historic casino, next door to the one Frank Sinatra owned in the 1960s and where the Rat Pack played.
Finger picking solo acoustic guitar, Cobb opened with a life-advice ballad, “Keep ‘Em On Their Toes.” After that beauty, the crowd was playing with house money.
“This seems like a listening crowd,” Cobb smiled. “The kind that likes to drink and likes to listen to NPR. I’m bringing my whole family here next time. This place is cool as shit. I’m gonna set up shop in Tahoe.”
Then came Them, the band of guitarist Oran Thornton, drummer Jerry Pentecost and bassist Josh Williams.
Between songs Cobb displayed his Southern comfortness, cracking jokes and telling stories about coming from rural Western Georgia. He explained the making of “Solving Problems” with Scratch Taylor. The concluding verse describes taking a drag from a cigarette — “it’s a song about nothing.” (It worked for “Seinfeld,” too.)
The highlight was the gospel “Black Creek,” which starts with Cobb’s acoustic guitar before Thornton’s Telecaster thunders from the heavens.
The rocker “Richland” from Cobb’s first record closed out the show.
Time now for another drag of tobacco in the parking lot. That show was something, actually.
— Tim Parsons