Cobra Heart Band
This terminally obscure 45 is one of the very best to appear in the 80s, a time when the real soul 45 was in it's Indian summer in the form of the flourishing indie scene, before it's eventual demise. "Let Me Hold You Tight" is a well constructed ballad, beautifully sung but rather spoiled by a rock guitar solo. But no such impediment mars the enjoyment of Thinking Of You. Check out the superbly emotional hard lead from Perry Widman, the gently cooing background vocalists and the ever tasteful rhythm section. A true masterpeice - no question.
The guy who found it and brought it to the attention of UK soul fans was Brian Goucher, who continues to champion the cause to this day. He very kindly wrote to me outlining how it all happened:-
The story began for me way back in the day, late 1990 early1991 ish I think when I had a list of soul 45’s arrive from one of my then regular suppliers, Ian Faulkner from Shropshire, and I see a tune I’d not heard of before, The Cobra Heart Band “Thinking of you” on Cobra Heart Records. Ian described it as a nice ballad, so I was in there. I still remember the day it arrived and its first play, such was its initial impact, about 9 months on I announced its arrival to the soul world by including it in a personal top ten and having it published in the ‘Voices From The Shadows’ magazine issue 19 which surfaced in the Autumn of 1991.
“Having picked this up some 8 months ago now, this tune has been played virtually every day and I actually rate this as one of my top buys for 91. Released in 1983, this track boasts some of the most soulful guitar work around, teasing ad tempting the best out of our male lead who sings from the off as if his very life depends on it. Female backing is kept well to the back of the mix. Quite simply a deep soul classic in the making here, no doubt about it. Can and will stand shoulder to shoulder with any other tune you care to mention. Eternal thanks to Ian Faulkner who if I remember correctly, simply said “A nice ballad”. Ho Ho Ho"
At the time Voices was the number one soul music magazine in the world specialising in new recent and decent tunage but also paying homage to the roots of our music with pages and pages of reviews of long forgotten/unknown sevens, albums etc nestling alongside the latest cd long player and promo’s. When a piece of music was mentioned in its hallowed pages soul folk around the world paid attention. At the time I fully expected other copies to surface and I would be able to chew the fat about its glory, but that never happened. I suppose it started to dawn on me about a year later when top collectors having heard it admitted they didn’t own a copy, lists have been coming to the house relentlessly over the years and I’ve never seen another for sale. I already knew I had a very special tune, it quickly became my top sound here at home, but I also realised it was a rarity, over the years it has gone on to be the holy grail for the ‘thinking’ soul man and I could have sold it a hundred times over.
The coming together of the Soul Essence Weekenders also helped raise its awareness, the inception of the ‘Downbeat Lounge’, a room where all things deep, sweet, ballad etc are played. We are now at Essence 27 and each and every year I take it along for its annual airing, my spot is usually 4/5 pm ish, and the room fills up to almost bursting point, many simply want hear what is for them the greatest piece of soul music they have ever heard.
I decided very early on to do all I could to protect it from the bootleggers and the parasites that blight the soul scene over here, and in all the years I’ve had it, I think I only copied it for three close friends.
From the information on the label and using the internet a few months ago whilst having a look-see on the net I sent an e-mail to Doyle Wood via his Daxwood Studio’s telling him about the tune, its status within our world and just to put my toe in the water really, the reaction was a wonderful feeling for me, a few more e-mails and the next thing I knew was that Michael Stokes the producer was making contact.
My good friend Mick O’Donnell had the finest soul show around at the time, every two weeks on a Sunday, he was putting together an album with CDS Records, a various artists compilation, of Southern Soul, many of which would be surfacing for the first time, I suggested we try and include the Cobra Heart Band, I put Mick in touch with Doyle and Michael and the rest is history."
Doyle has the rights to “Thinking of you” and has allowed it to be made available to the masses for free, how cool is that. At Soul Essence 27 I let the cat out of the bag, and the looks on the faces, the smiles, the shaking of hands and all round positive feeling in the room made me realise just what a great thing is happening with this tune finally surfacing for all to buy."
The original producer of the tracks was Michael Stokes who gave his version of events to Brian like this:-
“In 1983, I lived in Fayetteville, North Carolina when the band was formed. First, I will start off telling with how the band got their name. I always have liked the king cobra snakes, how they move and how they hypnotize prey before it strikes. I have a lot of love in my heart and slow love music it sooths the savage beast. Well my mother always said kill them with kindness, so people love hard and sometimes too hard. My motto was back in the day, was to play and create love songs with the smoothness of a king cobra and with the love from your heart, thus The Cobra Heart Band was formed. Sheila Grumbach-Stokes, Robyn Hurst and Michael Stokes were the first of the band members, I set out to recruit a bass player and a drummer, so I would go to the recreation center on Fort Bragg, North Carolina where people could go to practice their skills on whatever instrument they played. Next I added Dino as my bass player and Anthony “J” Johnson my drummer and the next added was Rochelle Preston who was one of the lead singers of the band. The first song that was recorded at Daxwood Recording Studio was called “Cobra Heart” a jazz piece named after the band.
Shortly after that first recording I felt like the bass player was not going to work out, so as the problems began with him I felt I needed to replace him, well needless to say he was relieved of duty and replaced by Travis Brown the meanest bass player this side of the globe in my opinion but that was much later. Dino did get to record one more song before he left and the name of that song was “You’re a mystery” a ballad and the words were written by Rochelle Preston and I wrote the music. As we started to develop our sound different musicians were coming up to me and asking if I needed anymore members. If I did I’d tell them yes if I didn’t I’d tell them no. Later on I added Richard Bigham to the band. When we went to Daxwood the owner and guitar player Doyle Wood was asked if he would be interested in playing a guitar lick on these tracks and he agreed. So you will hear Doyle Wood on “Thinking of you" and "Cobra Heart”. After about six weeks of rehearsals at the Fort Bragg recreation center, I told the band that we were going to a talent show and perform our originals while all the other bands performed the top twenty hits during that time. Believe it or not we were just as accepted as the other bands were.
Right before we went on the stage there were these two guys getting ready to performing “On the wings of love", by Jeffery Osborne. Well I sent my sound man over to ask them if they were in a band and if they weren’t would they like to join my band, and the reply was yes just as we were going on the stage. So the new addition was Travis Brown and Perry Widman. After we got off stage I met with them and told them when to come to rehearsal and what time.
So one day there after Robyn came to me and said she had wrote a song and she wanted to show it to me, so I checked it out and I began to writing the music, she just had the words no melody just words. So once I got the music together, I introduced it to the band and we started to rehearse that track. Once we got it down to my satisfaction we went into the studio with it. Out of all the rehearsals on that track, Perry never made not one practice, but then on the day we were going to record it here he shows up, imagine that!!! Nevertheless I gave him the lyrics and I told him if he mess this up he’s out of the band well needless to say, he sang it as he read it at the same time and it was a one taker a real success. The following week we interred another talent show, again I heard some more musicians that I liked I sent my sound man over to them too to see if they wanted to be a part of my band. The only problem with that was they were already in a band, but I didn’t care all I knew was I wanted them and I got them too. Their names were Darrell Eldridge another bass player/Drummer and Stuart Beacon background vocals. After that we started recording the rest of the album which came to a total of ten (10) more tracks but they were recorded on a sixteen track one inch tape reel and we never got them mixed and mastered.
I am in touch with Travis Brown the bass player, Sheila Grumbach, Robyn Hurst Doyle Wood and Leroy McKinney a drummer and personal friend that made up the rhythm section of the band. So you see the Cobra Heart band were a multi-task and versatile band. The band was made up of mostly military personal, so when Uncle Sam AKA the Army, say you have to go, you have to go. The band started to lose the members one after another due to the military shipping them off to other states and other countries. Now here in 2009 we are getting it back in stride."
The second release of this 45 on the Daxwood label is a lovelty ending to a wonderful tale and brings enormous kudos for Brian in getting it to happen. And to Doyle Wood for doing it. The only really sad part about the whole story is the Perry Widman has dosappeared - wouldn't it be marvelous to hear him sing like this again?
Thinking of you / Let me hold you tight ~ COBRA HEART 135 / DAXWOOD 01 (1983)
Special thanks to Brian Goucher for the suggestion, the story and the scan.