Monday night (Feb. 15) will be a huge one in the career of producer Dave Cobb.
The 58th Annual Grammy Awards will be held, and as producer of Chris Stapleton’s heralded Traveller album and Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free, it could be a big night for the Georgia native. Throw in a nod in the overall producer of the year category, and Cobb says it’s a very surreal feeling to know his name is in the running — and the news couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I had the worst day ever the day before,” he confessed to Billboard. “I went home to Savannah to bury my grandmother. It was a really dark day. The next morning, I wake up to the call from Morgane and Chris. It was a heavy couple of days — from low to high. I’m happy for them, as well as Isbell. These guys aren’t clients. They’re my friends. I’m their champion no matter what.”
Cobb has championed many an artist since teaming up with Shooter Jennings in 2005 for the masterpiece Put the “O” Back in Country. In fact, he gives Jennings credit for even being in the game.
“I wouldn’t be here in Nashville were it not for Shooter Jennings,” he admits. “I wouldn’t have met Jamey Johnson without him, and certainly wouldn’t have been in the position to have worked with the other artists I have were it not for him. We were both rock and roll guys, and a friend introduced us. When we got into the studio, it became dangerous. We didn’t have any rules or limits. We weren’t even watching the clock. I think you hear us having a good time. We weren’t smart enough with technology to fix anything, so it was very raw. I’m very proud of the record, and the opportunity I had to work with him.”
The exposure with Jennings led to collaborations in the studio with acts such as Johnson, Lindi Ortega, Sturgill Simpson, and even Country Music Hall of Famers The Oak Ridge Boys. Cobb sat behind the glass on their 2009 release, The Boys Are Back, which brought him full circle.
“That was some stuff that I grew up on,” Cobb recalled. “My dad’s favorites were the Oaks and Elvis. It was so great to work with them. I remember being in Los Angeles, and we were doing one of Shooter’s songs, and I told him it would be cool to have The Oak Ridge Boys sing on this. The next thing you know, we were flying to Nashville to record them on the song, ‘Slow Train.’ It was a magical experience, and then they called me to do their record. It was one of those things that just really felt like a part of the fabric of your life growing up. It was such an honor.”
Regardless of whether it’s a legendary act — or one of Americana’s hottest, such as Isbell, the Grammy nominee says he takes pride that in the fact that there is no “Dave Cobb Sound,” preferring to keep the focus on the artist.
“To me, it’s about the artist, and whatever their sound needs to be. It’s about the voice to me, and everything else is secondary. I think that’s my job. I try to make sure the artist’s vocals are the centerpiece. I don’t think that Sturgill’s record sounds like Chris’… or that his record sounds like Jamey’s. The only common factor is the raw talent that is already there, and trying to represent that the best I possibly can.”
What is it that sets Cobb apart in the studio? Michael Hobby, lead vocalist for A Thousand Horses — another of his success stories says he has a creative spark like no other.
“He’s very spontaneous and in the moment. He comes up with things and ideas boom-boom-boom. You kind of hop into the tornado with him through the recording process, and all of a sudden a song spits out. He’s very motivating.”
The band topped the Billboard Country Airplay chart with “Smoke” last June.
Cobb said he’s flattered about the attention with the nominations, but also somewhat shell-shocked. “All of this is a bit surreal. I’ve always kept my head down and made records in the back of the house. It’s a little overwhelming. I don’t think we’re going to win, but it’s exciting to be hanging out with our friends. I try not to read into it too deep.”
Currently working in the studio with Lori McKenna, it was recently announced that he would helm Things That We Are Made Of, the new album from Mary Chapin Carpenter, due May 6 on Lambent Records via Thirty Tigers. He’s also gearing up for the release of Southern Family in March — a collection of performances from acts such as Stapleton, Isbell, Simpson and Miranda Lambert, who shines on “Sweet By and By.” Again, Cobb was careful to let the spotlight be on the songs themselves.
“I think we just tried to represent what the song should be. This record is brutally honest. These people are pouring their hearts out with their stories. Everything is predominantly stripped back. Everything is out of the way of the song, and that’s the goal.”
At the end of the day — Grammy wins or not — Cobb is just happy to do what he loves doing, he says. “I love being able to work with talented people and to get dangerous in the studio. I just like having fun, like I always have.”