Red Clay Georgia Boy:
Wherever the Road Takes Him, Brent Cobb’s Heart is in His Home
Despite his successes, including two critically-lauded major-label albums and songs recorded by Miranda Lambert and Little Big Town, Brent Cobb gets overlooked in online and barroom discussions about the best musical acts from Georgia. His soulful Southern rock tales and conversational country songs reflect his South Georgia upbringing and are often every bit as good as fresh material by Drivin’ N Cryin’, Blackberry Smoke, and other statewide treasures.
Maybe he’s just too big of a deal in Nashville for folks in the Peach State to beam with pride. As a past tour mate for Chris Stapleton and a cousin of the Americana elite’s go-to producer Dave Cobb, his Georgia artist status might carry the same asterisk as Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and others dismissed as music industry creations, lacking the supposed authenticity of your favorites.
Instead, Cobb is a tried-and-true regional artist with songs that’d sound way different (if they’d been written at all) without his unwavering home state pride. Musically, he’s more rooted in the raw sounds of local honky tonks than the polished expectations of Music Row. As a songwriter, he bucked convention by plotting what amounts to a rock album at a time when a typical singer-songwriter-driven Americana sound would’ve made fiscal sense.
In fact, a recent chat with Cobb about his 2018 release Providence Canyon turned into a discussion about a career that’ll always be firmly planted in red clay.
This time around, you made a more rocking album. You’ve got a little Laurel Canyon, a little Jacksonville, a little Macon in there. Was that the stuff you grew up on, or what made you want to go in a more rocking direction?
Yeah, I definitely grew up around it. Of course, being from down here in Southwest Georgia, it was played regularly. My dad was also in a band, and he was more the rock side of the band. My uncle, his brother, was more the country side. I sort of grew up in a musical environment. Everyone loves the Southern roots of music around here.
It’s partly that, and it’s partly opening for Chris Stapleton all year the year before. Our band weren’t quite playing before 20,000 people, but maybe half of that, you know. We just kind of wanted to beef it up a little bit.
You would’ve come of age when people like Travis Tritt were doing their thing and mixing rock and country in their own way, too. I’d imagine some of that influence is sprinkled in there.
No doubt. It’s a little bit of all those things.
One theme I find on the album, at least with the song “Providence Canyon” and “Come Home Soon,” is there’s a lot about travel, being on the road, and being away from home. Does that come from hitting the grindstone and touring on the last album with folks like Chris Stapleton and Miranda Lambert?
A little bit of that, but also I left down here 12 or 13 years ago. I left my home in Georgia. The first place I lived was outside of Ellaville, Georgia until I was about 18 years old. I’ve been gone since then until recently. It’s partly due to touring so much that one year, but I’d been touring four years leading up to those last two. Most of my adult life has been spent on the road, so that sort of inspired it.
It’s writing what you know.
That’s it, and I’ve always gravitated toward those sorts of songs by other artists also. I like those traveling songs, you know?
You’ve got truck driving songs. You’ve got John Denver. You’ve got a lot of songs about travel and homesickness in country and folk music.
That’s the stuff I’m familiar with, as well. I just try to write it in my own way.
With the more rocking stuff, are you wearing a bandleader hat as a songwriter? What’s different about bringing this material to a band instead of the more “country” songs on the prior album?
I guess you could say that a little bit, but I’m not a crazy gearhead or anything. I’m also not a great orchestrator. I’ll come up with my own little riff. Most of my songs are written on acoustic guitar. I’ll come up with a riff I know can rock, more maybe than what I’m doing. I’ll take it in to the band, and we’ll just kind of figure it out.
It must be important to have the right players to bounce ideas off of and trust to fill in those blank spaces in the songs.
Maybe. I tend to write all of the riff. I’ll write the melody, and I’ll have the chord progression and the lyrics. We try not to overthink it. We get in, play it a few times, and let it happen naturally.
Aside from “Come Home Soon,” are there any characters or circumstances in the songs based on South Georgia? For example, are you singing about an actual dirt track from your neck of the woods?
Well, Providence Canyon is an actual canyon down here.
I see your number is out of Georgia. Where are you? Are you in Atlanta?
I’m from Rome in Northwest Georgia.
Have you ever heard of Providence Canyon?
I haven’t. I guess I should’ve looked up where you got that!
People refer to it as the Little Grand Canyon. You may know it from that name. It’s an actual canyon about an hour west of Lumpkin, Georgia. So that’s about an hour and twenty, an hour and a half from where I’m from, and it’s worth going down there.
Now that you call it the Little Grand Canyon, I think I’ve been there. My mom saw on GPTV this place where you could see where old cars were stuck in the side of it and everything. We went, walked around, and didn’t see any cars. It was pretty, though.
It’s beautiful. It looks like a super miniature version of the Grand Canyon. It’s really pretty, all the red clay. It was built out of erosion, bad farming practices over years and years and years. It turned into this canyon.
How much of South Georgia do you think ends up in your songs, even if you’re not trying to write about home?
I think it’s every line. Like you said, if I’m not necessarily referencing Georgia or anything, the language and delivery all comes from Georgia.
Going back to childhood, did you have to travel to Atlanta to see live music, or were there options where you lived, aside from the county fair?
There was a place called The Silver Moon that was in Buena Vista, Georgia. My dad and his band opened every big, major show that came down through here. I was born in ’86, so I came up running around this place as a kid in the early ’90s. He opened for George Jones. He opened for Chubby Checker. He opened for Marty Stuart, Doug Stone. I grew up seeing a lot of these people, and I met them. I can remember it.
So we didn’t have to go too far. Buena Vista is about 15 minutes down the road. That was a heck of an era to grow up in because those guys were still around.
You mentioned Doug Stone. Did you have a lot of Georgia artists come through, like Confederate Railroad? That was a good time in Georgia for country music, at least for the mainstream.
It was a really cool time, no doubt about it. It was a really good time, and I don’t think anyone realized how good we had it. It’s a great time in Georgia for music right now anyway. Georgia almost can’t be beat. We stay on top. Come on!
Was church or any other places locally influencing your musical growth?
I went to Antioch Baptist Church. Not like in the Charlie Daniels song. We didn’t have a Brother John Birch preaching to us. It was a little country church, and it was all Southern gospel songs.
When you tour Georgia, is there anything special about hitting up other towns like Athens?
I think mainly just because of the history of it all, I love going to Macon. Athens, obviously, is such a rich musical scene. In Macon, I swear you can still feel the spirit down there of the Capricorn days. Especially now, I can see Macon being a future Nashville, you know. They’re doing so much development up there now that Nashville is sort of losing its soul a little bit. When you go down to Macon, it’s still a regular ole town. There’s not a lot flashy going on. I’m not saying this will happen, but I can see how it can turn itself back into an epicenter of music.
Photo by Chris Phelps.