The Detroit Cobras
One of the earliest groups to emerge from the Detroit garage rock scene, the Detroit Cobras developed a reputation as the Midwest’s finest (and most distinctive) cover band — while the bandmembers devoted themselves to performing other people’s material rather than recycling established hits, the Detroit Cobras dug deep into the well of vintage R&B and primitive rock & roll sides, building an individual identity out of lost classics from the past which they modified to fit their swaggering aural personality. The Detroit Cobras were formed in 1995 by Steve Shaw, who developed a taste for classic R&B from spending time with Alex Chilton, whom he met through his friends in Detroit primitives The Gories. The first edition of the Detroit Cobras featured former exotic dancer Rachel Nagy on vocals, Shaw and Maribel Restrepo/Mary Ramirez (ex-Vertical Pillows) on guitars, Jeff Meier (from Rocket 455) on bass, and Vic Hill on drums, and they released their first 7″ in 1996.
In what would prove to be the first in a long line of personal changes, Hill was replaced by Chris Fachini by the time the Cobras released their third single (which also hit the stores in 1996), and their debut LP, Mink Rat or Rabbit, featured a third timekeeper, Damian Lang (who’d worked with Snake Out and Elvis Hitler). During the three years that passed before the Detroit Cobras appeared on the Jack White-produced compilation Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit, founder Shaw left the band, with Dante Aliano stepping in on guitar and Rob Smith taking over on bass. Rachel Nagy’s tough but soulful vocals and Maribel Restrepo’s lean, muscular guitar lines would be the group’s only constants from this point on, though they would be enough to earn the group a potent following on the American garage scene and a major buzz in the United Kingdom, where they scored a deal with the fabled indie label Rough Trade, which released 2001’s Life, Love and Leaving in Great Britain (it appeared on Sympathy for the Record Industry in the United States). (That LP also featured new guy Eddie Hawrsh on bass.)
While veteran tunesmiths Ellie Greenwich and Jackie DeShannon expressed interest in writing material with the group, the fourth Cobras album, 2004’s Baby, once again featured them rocking out on a stack of R&B dusties, though Greg Cartwright, who helped produce the album, did co-write an original with Nagy and Restrepo, “Hot Dog (Watch Me Eat).” The album also documented another Cobras lineup, with Nagy and Restrepo joined by Steve Nawara on guitar, Joe Mazzola on bass, and Kenny Tudrick on drums. After a brief hiatus and a move to Bloodshot Records, the Phil SPector-influenced Tied & True was released in 2007 with yet another rotation of musicians — reintroducing Greg Cartwright and adding seasoned bassist Carol Schumacher, a fellow member of the Reighning Sound, to the ever-changing roster.