This past Saturday night, one of my favorite country music underdogs Brent Cobb, along with the legendary Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives opened for breakout mainstream sensation Chris Stapleton at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena in Florida. The last time that we saw Stapleton live in concert, it was during a co-headlining tour with the iconic Hank Williams Jr. – at an outdoor amphitheater. Now, he is the headliner of his own arena tour. Ah, the double edged sword of success. While you want to see him succeed at all cost, you still wish to maintain the small venue settings we once observed him in while with the SteelDrivers, and the Jompson Brothers years ago. However, once you breakthrough to the other side of the mainstream spectrum, there is no stopping that train.
One of my favorite things about Chris Stapleton is the fact that he is the epitome of what I want to see in an underground artist ‘making it’ big. He brings all of these other road warriors and underdogs along with him, while also refusing to forget where he came from as he lavishes his fellow tour mates with buses, and whatever other accommodations an artist may need on the road. It’s simply impossible not to root for the guy. But this article isn’t about swooning over Chris, though. In fact, this piece is about taking a closer look at the good ole boy from southwest Georgia. The guy who has had his instant classics cut by everyone from the legendary Oak Ridge Boys and Miranda Lambert, to southern rock’s Whiskey Myers and others. I had the honor of sitting down with Brent before his set, and asked him a few questions, so that’s what we’ll be focusing on today.
Caitlyn– You’ve seen a lot of success in recent years from artists like Miranda Lambert covering your songs, to making your television debut on Conan. What’s it like to have your music respected on such a high level?
Brent– “It’s the exact thing you would think it would be. You know, all my heroes sort of went the same route too. Having people more popular than they were, recording songs that they wrote. Rodger Miller, Willie Nelson, Chris (Stapleton). It feels like if I had to write my story out, it feels like that’s the way I’d want it to be wrote. It’s like writing the story that I’d want to read. It gives you validation to know, alright I ain’t the only one, my momma ain’t the only one that likes this song. It feels great, I hope it keeps happening. I wish somebody would put something on the radio though. I can get a bunch of cuts, but nobody will single them or anything. Like Old Shit, I wrote that about my grandpa. The only cuss word he would say was ‘shit,’ and he had to have been mad. If he busted his knuckle or something working on a motor, and he’d go ‘shit, shit,’ so that’s why it’s called ‘Old Shit.’ All I would’ve had to have done was go ‘ Old Stuff.’”
C– Do have have any kind of preshow ritual? What gets you pumped for a show?
B– “You are in the middle of preshow ritual. I normally don’t start drinking until an hour before set time. But I do enjoy sippin’ on bourbon – for my voice ya know. I don’t know, we listen to music. We all sing a’capella “Diggin’ Holes.” So do that, and you know what’s crazy, I messed up, and got in the shower late, and I was like damn man, this is cuttin’ into my drinkin’ time. And then I thought to myself like ‘cuttin’ into my drinkin’ time!?’ And so that night, just to be an asshole to the drink, I was like fuck this, I’m not gonna drink, I’ll just go out there and play, and I did, and you would’ve thought I was drunk!”
C– I’ve seen you release a few singles recently, are you going to be releasing a new album soon?
B– “Yeah, the record’s done. Well, most of it. It hasn’t been mixed, and we’ve got to put some other stuff on it, but all the songs are recorded, yeah, sometime in 2018.”
C– Did your cousin (Dave Cobb) produce that?
C– Awesome, I love his work. I don’t think he’s done anything wrong, ever.
B– “He hasn’t! Yeah, he’s badass!”
C– What was the first life lesson you learned out on tour?
B– “Man, I don’t know. I gotta dig way back for that. We’ve been touring a long time. If you’re in a van, rotate drivers, because nobody will offer. It’s like awe, sorry buddy, you can’t drink, you gotta drive tonight. If you’re on a bus, which we just recently had the privilege of experiencing, don’t poop on the bus.”
C– So right now, a lot of people, myself included, compare what’s going on in country music to the outlaw revolution of the 1970’s with Willie and Waylon, and the boys. How do you feel about being a part of that?
B– “Thankful. It feels like what I was saying earlier about the story thing. If you’re going to be written into any story, man this is the one to be written into. You can feel it, it’s a different thing. It’s like when Stapleton and J.T. (Justin Timberlake) did the award show a couple years back, we all, and everyone in the audience, was like yeah, that’s how youre supposed to feel when you watch something amazing happen. Not bullshit, not like someone that’s like here’s my next trick. Like, music ya know. I’m just grateful. I’ve been kickin’ around for a long time, and if I had to say, in our time, I think I’d say Shooter started that shit back in ’05 with ‘Put The O Back In Country.’ Which is, how cool is that? It’s like full circle. I know there was a lot of cool shit happening, like Whiskeytown, and Hank 3 was rockin and rollin’ during that time, but in my humble opinion, as far as appealing to the masses, I think it was Shooter and Dave. I mean, that’s what hooked me.”
C– This last question, which I feel obliged to ask – How do you feel about the state of mainstream country music?
B– “I think a lot of things, and I don’t intend to be diplomatic necessarily, but I also have friends on both sides, and a lot of people that have been crucial to me, being in anything. So, I’ll say it this way – For one, without as bad as it has gotten, it may not be as good as it is now, and accepted by such a mass, it’s kind of growing pretty big right now. It’s unfortunate. I take it pretty personal, because I’m from the same area that a lot of these guys come from. I mean like, within 30 minutes. I know their hometowns, I drive through them, and I know how they are. I just hate that they sell themselves, and where we’re all from short. I wrote with one of those big writers, and I won’t say his name, but he’s written a lot of their songs. I had this idea for a song, and he said to me ‘you think it’s gonna pass the bubba test?’ I had never heard of this, and he’s like ‘ as in bubba back home, do you think he’ll get it?’ I was like, internally and externally kind of like ‘ mother fucker, I have an Uncle Bubba, and hell yeah, he’ll get it. You know those dudes too. They’ll get it man, you don’t have to sell them short, or just try to make a dollar off of ‘em. What’s wrong with saying some real shit, and it being fun? That’s the way I feel about that whole shit. It’s so apparent to people like you and I, how it’s just a sell. But to the people that are buying it, they don’t see that. If they knew they were thinking about those people that way when they’re writing that song, those bubbas back home would beat their ass!”
The conversation was ended with a cheers of beers, and chatting among Brent’s band, cleverly named “And Them.” – all of which are extraordinary musicians and showmen, as well as extremely kind hearted folks. They went on to take the stage, and I squeezed through to the front of the pit to watch an absolutely killer show. Despite the occasional beer shower from fellow drunken concertgoers high on the electricity in the air, it was a flawless evening of traditional country music by these modern outlaws of the industry.