For 6x Grammy winning music producer, Dave Cobb, it always starts with the voice.
He first heard Chris Stapleton’s classic country delivery through the tinny speaker of an iPhone and was so taken he swore he’d someday work with the Kentucky-born singer. He also heard something special in Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Anderson East. His work with all those distinct, genre-bending voices has earned him widespread critical acclaim and four Grammy wins and a nomination for Producer of the Year.
“I think the voice is what I look for first,” Cobb said. “Singers always. If you have a great singer, you can make a great track. I think that's a common thing and I think another common thing in all those artists is soul. Whether it's country or more R&B-flavored, I'm still looking for soul.”
Soul poured out of the radio as he grew up on an island off Savannah, Georgia, and out of the congregation at his family’s century-old Pentecostal church, overseen by his grandmother. He learned the hymnal first by singing the lines into memory, and then joined family members in the church band after learning to play the drums at 4.
“There was always this sound in the air,” Cobb said. “I think it's the sound of Georgia. Georgia always had that little-bit-country, little-bit-R&B thing compared to the other states, I think. Just hearing Otis Redding for the first time, he's from Georgia. That's super influential, even if I'm doing country. I think that is in the back of my head.”
Cobb shut that sound out as a young man, however, first heading to New York with his band The Tender Idols, then running to California where he aimed to become a rock ‘n’ roll producer, roots be damned. A few years in, he began producing Shooter Jennings, and through Jennings met bedrock country traditionalist Jamey Johnson. Cobb cut a couple of tracks on Johnson’s That Lonesome Song. It was Johnson who sat him down and convinced him that his heritage couldn’t be denied, so Cobb uprooted his family and moved to Nashville.
“I left the South to run away from it, then I came here to make country records,” Cobb said. “It makes no sense. I can't explain it. It's like tripping over yourself and landing on something.”
Since, Cobb has made some of the most respected and critically acclaimed albums to come out of Music City. He teamed with Johnson again, cutting seven tracks on the timeless double album The Guitar Song. He made Sturgill Simpson a reluctant star with Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.
And then there was the triumphant emergence of Chris Stapleton and his acclaimed solo debut album, Travellerwhich sold over 3 million albums since its release in 2015. The follow up Stapleton LPs From A Room: Volume 1 & From A Room: Volume 2, both released in 2017 have earned RIAA Platinum status and all 3 albums remain in the Billboard Top 200.
“We had a good house and a good life in California and we gave it all up to follow the music,” Cobb said. “If I hadn't moved here I wouldn't have met Stapleton, Sturgill or continued to work with Jamey. I wouldn't have landed the opportunity I had with Chris Stapleton or Jason Isbell. I followed the music. I followed the feeling.”
2019 Winner - Best American Roots Song “The Joke”by Brandi Carlile (co-writer, producer)
2019 Winner - Best Americana Album - By The Way I Forgive You Brandi Carlile (producer)
2018 Winner - Best Americana Album - The Nashville Sound - Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (producer)
2017 Winner - Best Country Album - From A Room: Vol. 1 - Chris Stapleton (producer)
2015 Winner - Best Country Album - Traveller - Chris Stapleton (producer)
2015 - Nominee - Producer of the Year
2015 Winner - Best Americana Album - Something More Than Free - Jason Isbell (producer)