Bobby Cochran: Midnight Is Forever
What are some of your favorite guitars?
I’ve had so many great guitars. They all have their own language. I played a Gretsch 6120 for a while. I loved it, but I couldn’t turn it up as loud as a Tele. You had to play differently on the Gretsch. And I’ve had some nice Teles [Fender Telecasters], including a ’52 and a ’56. Both were really good. Once I started playing a Tele I had to change how I played, and that change made me blossom. For a long time I had a dark spot on my right hip where my Tele rode. Then I swapped and started playing my Ibanez, the cowboy fancy model that many people recognize from my period of time playing with Bob Weir. I modified that guitar to try and get some of that Tele sound out of it. And lately I’ve been playing acoustic guitars. And of course I modified a lot of my guitars in the past. They weren’t sacred to me. Though my outlook on that has changed a bit recently.
How’d you come to link up with Bob Weir?
I was good friends with the guitar builder Wayne Charvel. He and I used to spend a lot of time in his shop [in Azusa, CA] where we would work on guitars together. While I was in Wayne’s shop one day an Ibanez rep, Kim Johnson, came in. Wayne introduced me to him and we got to know each other a little and he asked me if I’d be interested in evaluating some stuff for Ibanez. In particular we discussed a sliding pickup mechanism that they were working on at the time. I told him what I saw as the problems. I’d been doing R&D [research and development] for years with Bob Luly, who developed the first portable satellite dish, and later became one of Leo Fender’s right hand men. There are many guitar builders and repairmen I got to know. I also did a lot for Fender, so I knew my stuff. Eventually I got on the phone with the Ibanez Marketing Director, Jeff Hasselberger. Jeff was impressed by me. He was like, “How do you know this stuff?!”
Jeff who was good friends with Bob Weir, started bringing me guitars and effects to check out whenever he could get to my shows. He’s from the Philadelphia area. He really liked my guitar playing and singing with the Flying Burrito Brothers. He introduced me to Weir. He also asked me to come on board with Ibanez to do some clinics in association with NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants). This association eventually led to Jeff putting together the Ibanez Tama Allstar band, which included myself, Weir, Alphonso Johnson on bass, Billy Cobham on drums and Steve Miller. The group, minus Steve Miller, eventually became Bobby and the Midnites. There was some amazing fire power there. But yeah, Hasselberger was the connection behind me and Weir and the spark behind our collaborations.
That’s quite a combination of talent. Didn’t you also play in Kingfish for a tour?
Yeah, Bob and I did some touring with Kingfish and Matthew Kelly but I first played with Bob in an outfit called the Heaven Help the Fool Band [aka The Bob Weir Band], which was a group that was formed to back Weir’s solo album Heaven Help the Fool (released on Arista Records). That band included keyboardist Brent Mydland, who was also in Bobby and the Midnites, until Brent was hired off by the Grateful Dead.
Those Ibanez cowboy guitars that you and Weir played at the time have to be some of the best looking guitars to ever come down the pike. What can you tell me about them?
When I started playing for Ibanez they asked me to use their guitars and they asked me what kind of guitar I wanted. I gave them my input on the cowboy guitar that Weir had developed with them. He had already designed one and it was a great start. I wound up with my own modified version of that guitar that included my own pickup configuration and some other changes. I actually had two of them made — my original version and then another one that had some improvements. I remember working with a Japanese tech from Ibanez to try and get more tension on the bridge so that the guitar would have a sound closer to my Teles. He machined the brass bridge for me on the spot one day at the factory. The bridge allowed for a more severe string angle to create the proper string tension. It’s hard to get a guitar perfectly in tune and get the intonation right, but once they are set up by the right guy they can be wonderful. We ended up replacing the sustain block with ash and moving the switches to the bottom of the guitar. The shape of the horns [between my first and second] is ever so slightly different too. And there are some differences in the inlay. The headstock size got smaller too. What’s cool about these guitars is that there are 63 switch positions available, two three-band EQs, and in the pre-amp off position the 20 db gain knob becomes a tone control to roll of highs. I gave one of them back to Ibanez to help them model the Weir reissue that was released several years back. Ibanez made some great stuff. They also provided my main rackmount effects system that I used with the Midnites.
How do you feel about the music that you and Weir created during your time together?
Bob’s side projects were kind of a hobby for him, a way for him to explore his musical interests outside of the Grateful Dead. But I can tell you that it turned out to be much more than that. Weir and I had something magical and it really took off. People who knew him well said that he really broke some new ground with me and that he flourished and developed. He was happy. There was a lot of smiling on stage and really fun times with all the guys in our bands. I didn’t really know his music before I played with him. I remember driving in Jeff Hasselberger’s Porsche. He had a tape playing and was telling me about Weir. He was playing the song “Truckin’.” He said this is Bob Weir singing. I didn’t even know it was the Dead (laughs).
You have become a part of the extended Grateful Dead family. How do you feel about Deadheads?
I love them. I love the inspiration of the audience, the free flow of energy. It’s an amazing thing. Weir’s audience is great. They want the inspired moment to happen. They are open to that possibility and always ready to jump on board.
Do you think you’ll play with Bob again?
I know so. I often play with him when he is in town. He has asked me a few times to get out to TRI and we are in the midst of planning that. I know that there’s a lot we could do, be it in an electric or acoustic format. We’ve got a nice body of songs that we already know and we could bring all of our latest influences to the table as well. It’s always fun to play with him. I think we interact in a way that continues to be something great. We articulate a nice sound and take a journey of intensity. I know what he’s capable of. He is a real talent.
How long have you been in Nashville now and what are you up to these days?
I’ve been living in Nashville for 18 years. I opened a studio here and I also got hired to do my “Rock and Roll Forever” show so I stayed. A few days after I had put the money down on my house here, I got a call from a client to produce their next album. The only problem, they said, is we have to do it in Nashville. They didn’t know I was moving here. I had 30 days to relocate all my recording equipment and prepare to start working on their CD. So that worked out well. I still continue to perform on the West coast with my show and I started touring Europe. I also do solo acoustic guitar gigs now that feature my latest work. It is a cross between Chet Atkins finger style mixed with blues, rock, and country lead playing. I’m headed out to California for a bunch of shows soon. I will do more touring in Europe as the economies improve. Some production work is being talked about, and I’m always writing. My new book occupies a lot of my time. I am living life and enjoying the ride so to speak. I am paying attention as life unfolds and bringing my joy to circumstances rather than allowing circumstances to control my joy.