Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Willie Cobbs: Blues Man Making Name for Self

Willie Cobbs: Blues Man Making Name for Self
By Karen Freeman for the Greenwood Commonwealth 1990

Willie Cobbs wants to win a Grammy Award, and he's giving it his best shot.

To win such an award and to be recognized by one's peers is the goal of countless musicians. For some, like veteran rhythm and blues singer Bonnie Raitt (who can count among her recent Grammys a shared win with blues great John Lee Hooker) the recognition is decades in coming. For others, it appears to happen overnight. Some never make it.

Blues musician and singer Cobbs, 58, better known in Greenwood as Mr. C. of Mr. C's Barbecue, hopes it won't take too much longer to find his name in the book of winners. But more important, he just wants to make good music.


"I write songs about my way of life. I get visions for songs, and that's where they come from," said the relaxed Cobbs during an interview at his home in Greenwood.

Cobbs has much to be thinking about these days, and he says he has all the work he can do. His career takes him from Greenwood to Memphis, where he has a home, and to his family home in Smale, Ark. "Population 39, when I'm there," Cobbs joked.

His latest single is "Feeling Good," the flip side of "May the Years Be Good to You." Both receive a fair amount of air play from Greenwood radio station WGNL-FM, an urban contemporary station. And to showcase his talent, he has a couple of performances lined up for the people of Leflore County.

He will play with local musicians at CROP Day Saturday, Aug. 4, and on Aug. 5 he and his seven-member band are booked to play at Pine Acres Ranch in Itta Bena.

For Cobbs, it will be a nice change to be able to play for home folks. Most of his shows are in blues festivals and clubs in Memphis and Chicago and overseas in Japan and Europe, ,where blues is enormously popular.

In fact, because there is a larger market for blues in Europe and Japan many blues artists choose to go there to make their records. But to be accepted on one's own turf is a good indication of success.

Cobbs doesn't worry about not being enormously famous. He just keeps playing and singing, and gradually he's finding his success.

His latest project is to participate in a British documentary called "In Search of the Missing Chord," which will tell the origin of blues music and how it has spread to other countries and influenced many other artists. Cobbs and his manager have extended an invitation to the London production company to film part of the work at CROP Day and at the Pine Acres show.

Another promising sign for Cobbs is the interest a couple of record labels have shown in signing him. Cobbs said he turned down two recent offers, preferring instead to wait for a deal with a larger label that would bring him more distribution. His latest single is on Wilco Records, his own independent label.

Cobbs remains optimistic about his career and blues music in general, which he sees as having a largely white audience.

He noted that for many of his performances, such as at the Chicago Blues Festival which attracted hundreds of thousands of people, most of the crowd is white. In fact, all of his band members except one are white.

"That doesn't bother me. I just want a band that's like family, one that just wants to make music," he said.

Cobbs is glad of any audience attracted to blues music, and he believes that, if it were not for people's interest in it in the past few decades, blues as a distinct musical form would not have survived.

When pressed to name his favorite artist, he says he can't. "I like everybody. Whenever I hear I song that I like, that's just it."

Cobbs is encouraged by signs of renewed interest in blues music, both traditional and non-traditional.


"The Delta is the birth of the blues. I’ll bet many people around here, if they look far enough back, will find they are relatives of some famous blues artist," he said.