Bobby Cochran: Midnight Is Forever
Bob Weir and Cochran With The Ibanez Allstars
Can you tell a little bit about your father’s influence on you?
My dad [Bob Cochran] was also a big part of my early development. He ran a recording studio called Advanced Recording Studio that was pretty cool. We would have guys from Cal’s Corral and the Squeakin’ Deacon Talent Show showing up to record. At a young age I basically became his staff guitarist. I was able to live and breathe guitar. His studio was great because it gave me an opportunity to play with a lot of excellent players. Del Shannon, who wrote “Runaway” showed up once, and there would be some amazing old country pickers dropping by. These old guys could really rip. Our area was a mecca for Okies and a place where these country guys could get out from under the brush and do their thing. My dad also forced me to sing. I became a singer kicking and screaming. I was embarrassed to sing when I was young. I had a high pitched voice like Mickey Mouse, but he made me do it anyway. And thanks to that I developed my voice and learned how to sing lead and harmony parts. I also give a great deal of credit to my mom who was trained as an opera singer. She loved blues and jazz and introduced me to lots of great artists, like Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, Frankie Laine, Eartha Kit, Kay Starr and Ray Charles. My uncle thought enough of her voice that he cut some demos of her to present as an artist like Julie London. A CD was later released of her recordings on one of my uncle’s discs. She would have been so proud to be on a CD with Eddie. My Dad also urged me to push my guitar skills. He didn’t like what he called single-string players, who just used one string to play parts. He wanted me to learn how to use multiple strings, like Eddie, so that I could take it to the next level.
How would you describe your style of guitar playing?
I play a little bit of everything. I started off in country music and then moved into surf style and then onto rock & roll and R&B, but I like to play a variety of music. I play best when I’m manifesting something that’s coming through me, when I’m connecting. At its best, it’s like channeling. With [Bob] Weir that was definitely the situation. The music we played really allowed for the possibility of connecting and feeling. It was great chemistry. A lot of guitarists think it’s all about having murderous chops. Technique is important, but the best playing is inspired. It’s about the spaces in between the notes. A lot of guitar players learn a bunch of licks and then learn to string those licks together. That is not necessarily music. When I play, it’s more spontaneous. Sure, I use some licks, however it is more like singing a spontaneous melody.
Has your playing changed a lot over the years?
Oh yeah, my style has evolved tremendously. My equipment has evolved as well. I play a lot more acoustic now, which has allowed me to discover another side of my playing. I like to record finger style loops and then solo over those. I’ve been accepted by the finger style crowd. I am part of a group called the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society. I use a hybrid set of strings for a rock and roll acoustic approach, La Bella puts the custom sets together for me. I have always used a hybrid picking style. I used to combine thumb picking with flat picking, but I stopped practicing with a thumb pick while I was with the Burrito Bros. I realized I would never become as good as I wanted when I always switching between those styles. So since I made most of my money with a flat pick, I decided to put away the thumb picks and concentrate on my hybrid style using a flat pick and my fingers.
Why did you start playing the acoustic guitar?
I always played acoustic on sessions, however seldom live. After my daughter Bree died [Cochran’s daughter, Breeannon Mikalia, passed away in 1999 in an automobile accident. Like her great uncle, she died at the age of 21 and on the same day, April 17, and at almost the same time of day], I found myself playing the acoustic guitar that she had bought before her death. I was doing a lot of crying and just introspectively noodling, daydreaming, pondering life and processing the loss. I wound up writing a bunch of happy sounding songs on the acoustic guitar. It was a way for me to process my sorrow and pain. It was a time that helped clarify the issue of love, loss, and life for me. Love resonates through everything. It’s the best, most precious part of life. Music helps to give us access to our emotions. Watch a movie with the music turned off and you will see how flat it is without the music. Music is an extraordinary gift to the world and it deserves to be honored and recognized for its transformational qualities.
You’ve been very involved with the gear and equipment side of playing over the years, from guitars, amps and effect pedals to recording software. How’d you get into all of that and is it that something that you enjoy doing?
Oh yeah. I’ve been hot-rodding guitars and working on pedals and equipment since I first started playing. When I was just a young teenager I’d go down to Cal’s Corral to hear all the great country artists play. I first discovered fuzz tone on a steel guitar down there. My first fuzz tone pedal was a Gibson Maestro. I later discovered much better fuzz tone effects, but I remember being blown away by that at the time. It sounded like the steel player was using it to emulate a saxophone. I took it apart to see what was in it. And then I built one. I was always modifying my guitars. I installed pickups and worked on my own guitars from the time I started playing. That type of hot rodding runs in the family. Eddie altered his guitars and amps and my dad built hot rods and raced them in the middle and late ’50s. Dad created what was possibly one of the first weed eaters, by taking an old upright vacuum cleaner apart and screwing hack-saw blades to the arbor. He cut our back yard grass which was about two feet high. It was amazing! I began testing guitars and effects for Fender at the age of 15. They would ask me to check out an amp and report back and I would come back with a list of 30 things wrong. I tested the rosewood Tele that went to George Harrison during the Let it Be era and a rosewood Strat for Jimi Hendrix, but he died before they could present it to him. Out of my interest in hot rodding guitars I got into helping design and test equipment of all types. I’ve worked with Fender, Yamaha, Ampeg, Ibanez, Peavey, Presonus, Digitech, Cakewalk, La Bella, D’Andrea, Patrick James Eggle, Montarado Guitars, RMC, San Greal, and lots of other companies. I was never normal. Even at a young age I could always sit down with adults and talk about designing guitars, effects and life.
You seem to have a high standard for sound and tone . . .
Indeed, whenever I play I arrive ready to sound my best. I bring the best gear I can so that I can produce the best possible sound. I show up expecting [Paul] McCartney to be there (laughs). I want my sound to be sweet. I’m ready and willing to bring whatever gear it takes. Lately I’ve been playing my acoustic stuff through an amazing SanGreal amp. My guitar is set up with a nice Earvana nut. And I usually add some compression, delay and reverb to my sound.