One of Nashville’s most promising singer-songwriters would have been content if his music had never been heard beyond the Georgia state line.
Today, Brent Cobb’s songs are sung by stars such as Luke Bryan, David Nail, Kellie Pickler and the Eli Young Band. He writes for one of Music Row’s top publishing houses and has just completed his first Nashville recording as an artist. Brent says he never intended to be known much beyond his hometown, but fate, family and his fellow Georgians conspired to change that plan.
“I was never going to move from Georgia and didn’t care to,” says Brent. “I loved being where I was from. I always liked the idea of being the guy who never left and didn’t pursue music, but who wrote these cool songs that folks loved down there.”
“Down there” is Ellaville, Georgia, a small town an hour east of Columbus in the rural, south-central part of the state. Both of his parents were highly musical. His father and uncles were songwriters.
“It’s a big musical family,” he reports. “My dad’s always been in a band, and still is in a band. My uncles played, too. Everybody plays. I was always around music.
“Mainly, I was into songs. Growing up, I thought the cover songs that my dad and my uncles were doing were their songs, like ‘Tangerine’ and ‘Rocky Raccoon’ and ‘I Like Beer.’ I’d listen to them play those and thought they wrote them. I didn’t know they were on records by other people.”
Brent can distinctly remember watching his father and an uncle compose together when he was five or six years old. Less than a year later, the boy came up with his own original ditty about collecting rocks. He made his stage debut with his father’s band at age seven.
“We were at the American Legion Hall in Richland, Georgia. My favorite song was ‘Don’t Take the Girl’ by Tim McGraw. The band had learned it, and my Dad got me on stage. There’s a line in the song that goes, ‘Johnny hit his knees, and there he prayed.’ So when I sang it, I hit my knees, and the crowd just went wild. That was my peak as a showman.”
Around this same time, papa Patrick Cobb’s band opened for country star Doug Stone, a fellow Georgian. Stone was so impressed that he brought Patrick Cobb to Nashville and arranged meetings with booking agents, song publishers and record companies in 1992. Rather than seizing the opportunity, Brent’s father chose to return home.
“He wound up not doing it, because I was seven and my sister was three, and he didn’t want to not be around. So I think, in my mind, I was always a little scared of doing it, because I felt like you had to just give up your whole life,” to make music your profession.
So Brent Cobb followed in his father’s footsteps. He intended to become an appliance repairman like his dad and be happy as a weekend music maker. He picked up the guitar at age 12 and began writing songs regularly at age 13.
“I loved the life that I had. When I was 18, I was playing in a band called Mile Marker 5, and we were doing good in Georgia.
“What happened is that I had a great aunt who passed away, and I was a pallbearer at her funeral. At the funeral, I met a distant cousin of mine, who was a record producer in L.A. I had a little, six-song acoustic demo tape that my folks wanted me to give him at this funeral. I didn’t want to, but my grandma gave it to him anyway.”
Cousin Dave Cobb produces Shooter Jennings, The Secret Sisters, Jamey Johnson and other artists. Two days after hearing Brent’s song demos, he invited him to come to Los Angeles to make a record. Brent Cobb commuted back and forth at first, then moved to L.A. to complete his 2006 CD No Place Left to Leave.
“While I was in L.A., I got held up. Some guy was trying to carjack me. Then I almost got shot in this drive-by shooting. Those two incidents made me start to think about maybe checking Nashville out.”
Mile Marker 5 had opened shows for Georgia native Luke Bryan. Luke heard Brent’s album and took an interest in him. He invited Brent to come to Nashville, but Brent initially resisted the offer.
“I was just so ignorant of the way things worked. I felt like people in Nashville would steal your songs. So I was back in Georgia. When Luke’s video of ‘All My Friends Say’ came on GAC, it was early morning. I was going to work with my dad, and he said, ‘Man, you ought to give him a call. He has taken a lot of interest in you.’ The very next morning, Luke called and left me a voice mail. He hadn’t forgotten me.”
Luke brought his fellow Georgian to Music City, put him up at his house and took him on a whirlwind tour of booking agencies, publishing companies and record labels. It was practically a replay of what Doug Stone had done for Brent’s father. This time the result was different. Brent Cobb moved to Nashville in 2008.
During his first year in Music City, Brent worked at Walgreen’s developing photos. It turned out that the time he’d spent in L.A. had not been in vain. In 2009, Dave Cobb produced The Oak Ridge Boys CD The Boys Are Back. It included the quartet’s version of Brent’s ballad “Hold Me Closely.” In the meantime, Brent played his songs for Matthew Miller at Carnival Music in Nashville.
“Sometimes I have anxiety, but the morning I went to Carnival, I was on fire. I felt confident. I felt smooth. I walked in to Matthew and said, ‘I’m Brent Cobb, and I just want you to know I’m going to play you some of the best songs that you’ve ever heard.’ I just felt good that day.”
Carnival signed him to a songwriting contract in 2009. By 2011, Luke Bryan had recorded Brent’s “Tailgate Blues,” David Nail and Frankie Ballard both released his song “Grandpa’s Farm,” Kellie Pickler did his “Rockaway” and the Eli Young Band recorded “Go Outside and Dance.”
In the meantime, Brent began booking weekend performing dates and opening for stars such as Blake Shelton. In 2012, Carnival’s Matthew Miller and co-producer Oran Thornton took Brent into the recording studio to capture his gripping, passionate vocal style. So now there’s a Brent Cobb EP collection to sell at his shows and take to radio programmers.
“It all sort of happened at the same time,” the singer-songwriter marvels. “I feel like I’m rockin’ right now. I’m glad that these songs are feeling right to people. I’m just thankful that it’s working. This has been the coolest experience.”