Dave Cobb: Unafraid To Move

Dave Cobb has built a name for himself in Nashville, and now he's landed a Grammy nomination for Producer of the Year, as well as nominations for Album of the Year and Best Country Album (both for Chris Stapleton’s Traveller) and Best Americana Album (Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free). It’s a success earned the hard way—by building a strong body of work—but before all that happened, about 15 years ago, Cobb was something else entirely: lead guitarist on one of those great, lost albums that fall through the cracks—Distressor by The Tender Idols.
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Dave Cobb has built a name for himself in Nashville, producing the likes of Shooter Jennings, Houndmouth, Chris Isaak and Anderson East, among others. Now that talent for bringing out the best in artists has paid off with a Grammy nomination for Producer of the Year, as well as nominations for Album of the Year and Best Country Album (both for Chris Stapleton’s Traveller) and Best Americana Album (Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free). Broadening his production scope even wider, he’s producing Lake Street Dive’s heavily anticipated major-label debut, Side Pony, due out in February.

Dave Cobb at Low Country Sound.
Photo: Michael W. Bunch

It’s a success earned the hard way—by building a strong body of work—but before all that happened, about 15 years ago, Cobb was something else entirely: lead guitarist on one of those great, lost albums that fall through the cracks—Distressor by The Tender Idols.

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On paper, it didn’t necessarily make a lot of sense—four guys from Georgia and an ex-pat singer from the UK playing Britpop in Atlanta—but it sure worked. The Tender Idols gelled over the course of two polite albums (an eponymous 1995 debut and, following Cobb’s arrival on guitar, 1998’s Step On Over), but finally hit paydirt on 2001’s Distressor, where they condensed 35 years of British Classic Rock—from late-period Beatles to Pink Floyd to Sex Pistols to Radiohead—into a stellar album produced by Gavin McKillop (Goo Goo Dolls, The La’s, Toad The Wet Sprocket). Even better, they were one of those acts that could really make it happen live, too, as I saw for myself during at a sweaty, packed show on Manhattan’s Lower East Side around the time Distressor came out. You can find out for yourself, however, in the live clip above from the band’s appearance on Fuse; that’s Cobb on the left, kicking things off with the insistent riff of “Afraid To Move.”

Ultimately, The Tender Idols and the frail indie label they were on weren’t able to capitalize on Distressor, and the group broke up soon after. Maybe someday the album will get the attention it deserved (it would make a great vinyl reissue, for sure), but if the record hadn’t vanished without a trace, Cobb might not have moved on to Los Angeles, where he wound up producing Shooter Jennings’ Put the "O" Back in Country (the first Cobb-produced album to do well). From there, it was off to Nashville, where today he’s built a far more lucrative—and now potentially Grammy-winning—career on the other side of the studio window.