Article - Detroit Cobras rev up on classic R&B

Garage/soul queens pair with Dexter Romweber Duo on tour

Take some classic R&B, retool it with a Motor City makeover, and the resulting retro-fitted vehicle that comes roaring out of the garage will bear the emblem of the Detroit Cobras.
Though the band has only put out one original tune (“Hot Dog” from ‘05’s Baby) in its 15-year career, the Cobras don’t like being called a cover band. “We’ve never said this is like a Rolling Stones project where we start with covers with hopes of being an originals band one day,” says vocalist Rachel Nagy. “We do what we do because we love doing it.”  

Call them rearrangers, presenting garage and soul with a gritty punk edge. The duo blends the raw energy of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels with Irma Thomas and ’50s R&B crossover legends the Five Royales.

Over a five-album career, the Cobras have covered several of the Royales’ gospel-tinged tunes while embracing Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s gospel classic “99 1⁄2.” But the only place the band falls down on its knees to worship in is the church of rock and roll. Even that worship service accepts offerings from country-tinged soul men such as Percy Sledge, whose “Baby Help Me” highlights Baby. “We don’t care where they come from,” says guitarist Mary Ramirez.  “All we really care about is great songs.”

The Cobras are set to update their catalogue with their first full-length release since ‘07’s Tied and True. “For some reason there’s a theme running through it,” Ramirez says of the new record, “but I can’t reveal it right now.”

Meanwhile, the band continues to tour with Bloodshot labelmates the Dexter Romweber Duo, who are promoting their Jack White-produced Ruins of Berlin release.  The Chapel Hill, N. C.- based Romweber has been clearing rooms for two decades with his shockabilly antics, seldom finishing a set with more than one guitar string intact. “He’s a little tamer now,” Ramirez says. “His sister plays on his songs and she’s a really good drummer, so it’s a little more rhythmic and a little more soulful. The two acts go well together. It’s a solid night.”