R.I.P 1956 - 2016
Interview with Jonathan St. Rose
BLUES ARTIST BRIAN COBER HAS A SOLID GROOVE, GREAT LYRICS AND A UNIQUE SET OF LICKS TO BACK THEM UP. He is also the best friend that the slide guitar ever had. Cober is to slide what the revered Jaco Pastorius was to the bass. He has given the slide guitar a voice and range of capabilities that have never been released before and harnessed them to drive his own brand of streetwise hard-drinking blues. He played and played, ending up founding The Nationals in 1986 along with Paul McNamara on bass and vocals. Their first album, "Blue Howl", appeared in 1990, followed by "Piece of Wood" in 1994, and in 1998 "Double-Slide". Hard musician times, including the illness and passing of McNamara, held back more recordings until 2009 when Brian began recording "Real Far Gone", with Alec Frasor producing, due in Dec. '09. Influenced by the great blues heros such as Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Robert Johnson, Cober's down-to-earth stylings are flawlessly backed up by seasoned pros and punctuated with classic searing riffs and solos alternating with whimsical lyrics and melodies.
He has captured the soul that makes one actually enjoy in a sympathetic way his confessions of heartbreaks and excesses.
Says Cober about the invention of his unprecedented slide technique, "I realized that there were so many things I wanted to do with the slide that I just could not seem to do." This led to the conception of the "double slide", which Cober describes as "essentially the use of a main slide held by the fingers and a shorter slide on the free thumb"; something no one had done before. His preferred guitar is a Fender Telecaster with the strings raised, a modification that he adds to the guitar himself. (His custom-made stainless steel slides are crafted by an artisan in Missouri.)
"We backed up Bo Diddley on a tour around Ontario," Cober laughs. "He had never seen anything like it." Cober has been touted by Toronto Tonite magazine for his "unique talents and great songwriting" and by the Kitchener Waterloo Record as "Canada's best slide guitarist." The Toronto Blues Society's Greg Tate declared that "Cober's slide tones are sacred." Along with The Nationals and Bo Diddley, Brian has played with King Biscuit Boy, Eugene Smith, Eddie Bo, Long John Baldry, R. L. Burnside, and many others.
In essence Cober has elevated the slide from its usual role as a backing instrument into the traditional role of the guitar, complete with a totally new range of sounds, chords, and unprecedented guitar hero pyrotechnics. After a couple of songs, Cober ingenues will find themselves waiting eagerly for the next solo and will soon relax into comforting melodies that mellow us into the role of listeners to his doleful croonings and gentle jabs at life in general as well as himself.
Wisely, Cober steers clear of categorizing his style. "I've been called everything," he says, "all the usual stuff; I just call it the blues with some rock and roll." Close enough, if you're not so hung up as to need a definition to enjoy the music.
Some of Cober's lyrics are downright poetical, as in the Dylanesque "Lay It On", and 'She said loving someone else is easy, loving yourself is hard' from "I Had A Dream", or 'Some get theirs for free, Others sweat and even bleed' from "Don't Tell Me About the Blues"
At the age of 51 Cober is lean and well conditioned. Originally raised on a farm in rural Ontario, he still has a countryboy smile and a lazy voice. No hyperactivity here I thought while sharing a beer in his Kensington Market digs above a store right in the heart of Toronto's cultural smorgasbord. This entirely belies the energy manifest on stage.
He may not be packing them into stadiums, but Cober never lacks an audience. A fixture in Toronto's eclectic Kensington Market, he gigs perennially in club after club, often hosting events. A particular feather in the cap of any Toronto bluesman (or woman) is his current tenure as house band at the venerable celebrated home of the blues, Grossman's Tavern (which has hosted every known and unknown R and B artist able to stir up a smoky room) for its celebrated Sunday nite jam. A particular treat has been Brian's appearances at the Kensington Summer Festival, when appropriately the blues march hand-in-hand with reggae and oom-pa-pa bands as equal crowd pleasers.
Cober tours Canada-wide, as well as through the States. He spent three weeks living out of his van in New Orleans' French Quarter, playing with Eddie Bo, Possum, and others. He has performed two tours in Finland. This summer will see him playing in the Missouri Ozarks, and throughout southern Ontario. In '07 Brian played the Montreal Jazz Festival, and the Noranda Blues Fest with Quebec blues artist Steve Rowe. This year they are playing the LaChute Fest.
Whenever, and for however many, Brian Cober is a unique and uplifting musical experience.