The challenges of Covid are not the only thing BRENT COBB has had to contend with over the past two years.
In July 2020, the vehicle he was driving, with his one-year-old son inside, was T-boned at a rural crossroads. Thankfully, Brent’s son was uninjured and his own injuries could have been much worse.
The near-death experience also led Brent, widely acclaimed for his own songwriting on his four albums to date, to fulfil a long held ambition to record an album of the gospel songs he had grown up singing with his family – imbuing these gospel standards with elements of country, blues and southern rock, while paying homage to the community and values of his hometown of Ellaville, Georgia.
He talked to Six Shooter’s PAUL LEWIS about this new album, his songwriting, and the children’s book he wrote and published last year.
PL: Although we are talking to you in Nashville, you’ve moved back to Georgia now right?
BC: Yeah. I lived here for 10 years, until 2018. Then we moved back to Georgia when I started really heavily touring again, and my wife got pregnant with our second child. It helps to have family closer.
PL: How old are your children now?
BC: My daughter’s seven, and my son is two. It keeps me up at night sometimes – not in a bad way, just in a sense of how fleeting it feels.
PL: Tell us about how this new record came about. It’s clearly something very personal to you.
BC: I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church, a small country church. My aunt was in the corner on a piano, my grandpa led the singing, with the rest of us. And these were the traditional songs that we would do – they are a sort of traditional Southern Gospel Greatest Hits.
For my whole life, I’ve always known I would make a Southern Gospel album someday, like my heroes had done. And what sped up the process was my son and I getting into that wreck at a little country four-way intersection. It could have been a lot worse. Luckily I only broke my collarbone and messed something up in my hip, and my son, who was still in a rear facing car seat, was completely fine.
It was a sort of miracle, I guess, and it made me go “Well, I if I’m gonna do it, I need to just go ahead and do it”. That and the state of the world. These songs uplift my spirits, and the intention is, I hope, that they will uplift someone else’s too.
PL: Well, they definitely uplift my spirits… even though I don’t have that kind of background, there’s something about these songs and the performances…
BC: Well that is the goal. I don’t care what anybody believes – or if you believe in nothing – these songs, country music specifically, and blues and rock and roll, they all come from Southern gospel music. So it’s not just Southern gospel, it’s Southern soul, Southern rock and Southern country. If you listen to Otis Redding, those songs, that’s gospel music – and so the goal is that it’s the kind of album that, lyrical content aside, it’s just to enjoy, just like any other.
PL: How did you arrive at the 8 songs (plus one original)? It sounds like there must have been many more you could have chosen.
BC: Yeah, there are a lot of them – maybe I’ll do another 10, on another album sometime! Lynyrd Skynyrd were my inspiration for keeping it to 8 – they would always do, like, eight songs, and figure we don’t need any more than that. And with the amount of jams that we’re doing on some of these songs, it still makes for a pretty long listen.
PL: It seems like it’s very much a family affair as well?
BC Yeah, it’s definitely a family project. Dave obviously (Dave Cobb, Brent’s cousin and Nashville producer extraordinaire over recent years). Dave and I met at his grandmother’s funeral, my great aunt Christine – she would go to church and she would sing “We Shall Rise”, which is on the album – but she would do it acapella with her clogs, clogging. And so that was a personal connection song for us.
I had my dad come in with his gospel trio, and sing on a couple of tracks, and Caylee Hammack, a wonderful singer from my hometown, who I’ve known since she was 12-years-old. She might as well be family. And then I had my mom and sister sing on one of them with me – “Blessed Be The Ties That Bind”. That’s a song that we always close out our church services with. We all hold hands at the end of church service and do that one the way we do it on the album.
PL: So even the song choices were very much a family thing?
BC: Yeah, when my grandpa stopped leading the singing at church, my dad took it over. And on Sunday mornings, he’ll be going through his hymnal and pick out what songs he’s gonna do that morning. So I called him and asked what songs am I missing here? I got these songs, what else? And my sister as well.
PL: Listening to the album, I was reminded of the fantastic Aretha Franklin documentary “Amazing Grace” about her gospel concert in church.
BC: I’ve seen a few clips, although I haven’t watched the whole thing. Yeah, that’s what it feels like back home. when you go to those little country churches – they captured the spirit of it beautifully.
PL: Tell me about the one original song on the album “When It’s My Time”. Was it a very deliberate thing to include one you’d written.? And was it a song you already had or wrote specially for the album?
BC: There were a couple of different things behind it: one, the wreck that was in my back of my mind.
And we do a family gathering the day after Thanksgiving, every year since 1989. And my grandmother likes for people, family and friends that are coming from out of town to stay at her house, she wants to cook them biscuits and gravy and stuff in the mornings. In 2020, we were worried about grandma’s health and one evening, me and my wife were sitting out on the porch, thinking, “Well, we don’t want to risk grandma’s health with COVID going on”. And then we thought, well, grandma doesn’t really worry like that – she’s a good Christian southern lady, and she feels like when it’s her time to go, it ain’t up to her, when she goes.
With that said, nobody stayed at Grandma’s house – but we sat out there and, and I wanted to write that idea: that none of this is really up to us, we’re all just spinning around on this rock. We like to think we have control but we don’t. We have no more control than the trees or the grass or the animals and so I wanted to write that song. I’m okay with it – whenever my time comes, it will be my time, no matter what.
PL: It sits seamlessly in the middle of the old songs. I don’t think anyone would pick it out as not being as one with the others.
BC: It’s funny you say that, because I had not planned to put that on the album. I wanted to do one original (which is the opposite of my albums. Normally I’ll do mostly songs that I have written, and I might do one song that someone else wrote). But originally I was gonna do a new version of this old song called “Hold Me Closely” that I wrote when I was around 17 and The Oak Ridge Boys recorded in 2008.
But Dave and I were sitting in the studio one afternoon, and while the engineers were setting things up, I was reciting the lyrics to this song, because we had just written it. And he’s like, that’s a gospel song. You should put this on the album. And so that’s what we did.
PL: Well it certainly fits there. And it kind of connects everything together.
BC: I think so. Here are the songs that influenced me my whole life. And then here’s a song I wrote – a product of those influences.
PL: Going back a bit further, did you start out thinking of yourself as a songwriter, or a singer, or was it always both?
BC: Definitely a songwriter first. I always knew that I had a certain way that I could perform with my singing, that I could convey the message like I intended it. So maybe singing was sort of a necessity, to get the songs that I was writing heard. I really write out of phrasing & syllables – and a lot of the time, I can’t really articulate that phrasing to someone unless I just do it. So that’s why I do it, but I still don’t really consider myself a singer – I just have a style that is unique to me. But I’m, for sure, a songwriter.
PL; You write a lot of songs on your own, but then you have a lot of co-writes as well. Are they distinct things or will you start a song and then take it to someone else to work on?
BC: Usually, I start something and then bring it to a co-writer. That’s partly of necessity because the way my brain works, I can’t really wrap my head around someone else’s idea. In Nashville, as a “professional songwriter“, you typically co write with people who are writing for the commercial market. I can’t write that way, for whatever reason.
And so, a lot of time, I bring in maybe a half a verse and a half a chorus with a clear direction, and musical structure. Then I can convey that to my co-writer that day. And with a little luck, and with two different writers & publishing teams, you have better odds of getting that song recorded. It took me over decade to figure out that’s the way I need to approach it. Before that, when I was figuring it out, I would come in with nothing, and it would go nowhere.
PL: Is that how it worked with Luke Bryan? I read that you had gone back to him after about ten years and asked if he wanted to have another go? (Brent & Luke co-wrote “Tailgate Blues” for Luke’s 2011 album, and then “Good Times & Good Love” for Brent’s 2020 album Keep “Em On They Toes)
BC: That’s how it went, yeah, with both of those songs when I called Luke, I had a clear direction and I had a good verse.
PL: I have to ask you about writing “Shine On Rainy Day” with Andrew Combs, from your album of that name, which is one of my favourite songs. You’ve both done wonderful versions, as has Lee Ann Womack. Is that the only one you’ve written with Andrew?
BC: We’ve written quite a few others, which neither of us have recorded yet, but that was the first one. We wrote it the first time we ever met. What a talent he is – we just kind of hung out for hours that day. I had the whole first verse. Initially the song was sort of influenced by the song “Blues Man” by Hank Williams, Jr. I love how personal it is, but also universal.
We’d been there for three or four hours. I played Andrew that first verse and the chord progression and he jumped all over it. But we still did not have the hook line “Shine On Rainy Day”. We got to the very end of the chorus, and we said “thank god for rainy days”. And then later that night, Andrew reworded it and sent me sent me “Shine On Rainy Day”
PL: Before we finish, I also wanted to ask about your children’s book, Little Stuff, which was published last year.
BC: Ever since my daughter was born in 2014, each album has sort of been for her, and then of course, for my son too. And I thought how special it would be to someday write a children’s book, because, growing up, I loved Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” and Roger Miller with Robin Hood.
And as you grow up, it’s fascinating to discover their work outside the children’s book world. When you find out that Shel Silverstein is the same guy who wrote wrote “A Boy Named Sue”, it almost gives it more depth. So that’s what I also wanted to do – and then during the 2020 quarantine, I was home the whole year. I got to say prayers with my kids every night, and take them fishing every day. It was really a special time, is as uncertain as it all was.
And so the book is told through the perspective of my seven-year-old daughter and her little brother, just appreciating the trivial stuff in life.
PL: So you’re back on tour now?
BC: We have been. And then in two weeks we’ll kick off this gospel album tour, the “When It’s My Time” tour, and we’ll have Gabe Lee opening for us.
PL: I’ve seen Gabe on a couple of live streams, he’s fantastic.
BC: Unbelievable. He’s amazing, yeah.
PL: Any idea when you might be over this way? I guess it’s hard to say right now.
BC: Man. I don’t know. We were supposed to be there with Cadillac Three this past December. I wish I could say when… but as soon as I can.
PL: Well, we hope to see you over this way before too long. In the meantime, all the best with the album.
Brent Cobb’s latest album “And Now Let’s Turn To Page…” is out now.
1. Just A Closer Walk With Thee
2. When It’s My Time
3. In The Garden
4. Are You Washed in the Blood?
5. Softly and Tenderly
6. Old Rugged Cross
7. We Shall Rise
8. Old Country Church
9. Blessed Be The Tie That Binds
Keep in touch with Brent Cobb through his social media feeds: