William Emanuel “Billy” Cobham Jr. (born May 16, 1944) is a Panamanian-American jazz drummer who came to prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s with trumpeter Miles Davis and then with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. According to AllMusic's reviewer, Cobham is "generally acclaimed as fusion's greatest drummer". He was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Classic Drummer Hall of Fame in 2013.
Cobham performing at WOMAD in July 2005
|Birth name||William Emanuel Cobham Jr.|
May 16, 1944 |
|Occupation(s)||Musician, songwriter, bandleader, educator|
|Labels||Atlantic, Columbia, CTI, Elektra, GRP|
|Associated acts||Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jack Bruce, New York Jazz Quartet, Jazz Is Dead, Bobby and the Midnites, Mark-Almond|
Born in Colón, Panama, Cobham moved with his family to Brooklyn, New York, when he was three. His father worked as a hospital statistician during the week and played piano on weekends. Cobham started on drums at age four and joined his father four years later. When he was fourteen, he got his first drum kit as a gift after being accepted to The High School of Music & Art in New York City. He was drafted in 1965, and for the next three years he played with a U.S. Army band.
After his discharge, he became a member of Horace Silver's quintet. He played an early model electric drum kit given to him by Tama Drums. He was a house drummer for Atlantic Records and a session musician for CTI Records and Kudu Records, appearing on the albums White Rabbit by George Benson, Sunflower by Milt Jackson, and Soul Box by Grover Washington Jr.
Cobham started the jazz rock group Dreams with Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, and John Abercrombie. He moved further into jazz fusion when he toured with Miles Davis and recorded Davis's albums Bitches Brew and A Tribute to Jack Johnson. In 1971, he and guitarist John McLaughlin left Davis to start the Mahavishnu Orchestra, another group that fused rock, funk, and jazz. Cobham toured extensively from 1971 to 1973 with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, who released two studio albums, The Inner Mounting Flame (1971) and Birds of Fire (1973), and one live album, Between Nothingness & Eternity (1973). The original studio versions of tunes on the live album were released in 1999 as The Lost Trident Sessions.
In 1980, he worked with Jack Bruce, in a band named Jack Bruce & Friends. On October 30, 1980, he joined the Grateful Dead during the band's concert at Radio City Music Hall. He performed a long drum solo session with the band's two percussionists, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, also known as the Rhythm Devils. In 1981, Billy Cobham's Glass Menagerie was formed, featuring Michael Urbaniak on violin & EWI, Gil Goldstein on piano, Tim Landers on bass, and Mike Stern on guitar. Dean Brown replaced Stern when he left to play with Miles Davis. Glass Menagerie released two records for the Elektra Musician label.
In 1984, he played in the band Bobby and the Midnites, a side project for Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, with Bobby Cochran and Kenny Gradney, and recorded the album Where the Beat Meets the Street. In 1994, he joined an all-star cast Greek Theatre in Los Angeles and the results appeared on the album Stanley Clarke, Larry Carlton, Billy Cobham, Najee and Deron Johnson Live at the Greek. The concert was predominantly Clarke's music, but all the musicians contributed material.
In 2006, Cobham released Drum 'n' Voice 2, a return to the 1970s jazz-funk sound, with guests including Brian Auger, Guy Barker, Jeff Berlin, Frank Gambale, Jan Hammer, Mike Lindup, Buddy Miles, Dominic Miller, Airto Moreira, John Patitucci, and the band Novecento. The album was produced and arranged by Pino and Lino Nicolosi for Nicolosi Productions. In 2009, he released Drum 'n Voice 3. Guests included Alex Acuña, Brian Auger, George Duke, Chaka Khan, Bob Mintzer, Novecento, John Scofield, and Gino Vannelli.
In December 2011, Cobham began teaching drums online at the Billy Cobham School of Drums, a school within the ArtistWorks Drum Academy.
Cobham is one of the first drummers to play open-handed lead: a drummer who plays on a right-handed set but leads with his left hand on the hi-hat instead of crossing over with his right (and also has his ride cymbal on the left side, instead of the traditional right). He typically plays with multiple toms and double bass drums and was well known in the 1970s for his large drum kits.
Many artists have cited Cobham as an influence, including Kenny Aronoff, Steve Arrington, Ranjit Barot, Danny Carey, Jimmy Chamberlin, Dennis Chambers, Brann Dailor, Matt Garstka, Chris Hornbrook, Thomas Lang, Mac McNeilly, OM, Opeth, Chris Pennie, Mike Portnoy, Thomas Pridgen, Sivamani, Bill Stevenson, Jon Theodore, and Tony Thompson. In addition, other artists have been quoted expressing admiration for his work including Steven Wilson, and Dave Bainbridge.
- 1973 – Spectrum
- 1974 – Crosswinds
- 1974 – Total Eclipse
- 1975 – Shabazz
- 1975 – A Funky Thide of Sings
- 1976 – Life & Times
- 1977 – Magic
- 1978 – Inner Conflicts
- 1979 – BC
- 1980 – Flight Time
- 1981 – Stratus
- 1982 – Observations & Reflections
- 1983 – Smokin'
- 1985 – Warning
- 1986 – Powerplay
- 1987 – Picture This
- 1992 – By Design
- 1994 – The Traveler
- 1996 – Nordic
- 1998 – Focused
- 1999 – Off Color
- 2000 – North by Northwest
- 2001 – Drum & Voice 1 (All That Groove)
- 2002 – Culture Mix
- 2003 – The Art of Three
- 2006 – Art of Four
- 2006 – Drum & Voice 2
- 2007 – Fruit from the Loom
- 2008 – De Cuba y Panama
- 2009 – Drum & Voice 3
- 2010 – Palindrome
- 2014 – Tales From The Skeleton Coast
- 2015 – Spectrum 40 Live
- 2016 – Drum & Voice 4
- 2017 – Red Baron
- Huey, Steve. "Billy Cobham". AllMusic. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
- "Modern Drummer's Readers Poll Archive, 1979–2017". Modern Drummer Magazine. Retrieved 7 February 2018.
- "The Classic Drummer Hall of Fame". The Classic Drummer Hall of Fame. Retrieved 7 February 2018.
- Hobart, Mike (25 April 2014). "Interview: Drummer Billy Cobham and His Fusion Jazz Career". Financial Times. Retrieved 9 June 2017.
- "Interview: Billy Cobham". Hit Channel (in Greek). 4 January 2014. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
- Reesman, Bryan (31 October 2003). "10 Questions for Billy Cobham". Drummin Fool. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
- Amendola, Billy (March 2017). "On The Cover Kenny Aronoff". Archived from the original on 26 April 2017. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
When I first started playing with Mellencamp, I was trying to be Billy Cobham. [...]
- Mattingly, Rick (April 1993). "Kenny Aronoff: Rock Drumset Goes to College". Percussive Notes (31).
I had no respect whatsoever for simple rock 'n' roll drumming, I only liked heavy fusion and technical drumming like Billy Cobham [...]
- J-Zone (July 29, 2016). "Give the Drummer Some: Slave's Steve Arrington". Red Bull Music Academy. Archived from the original on August 19, 2017. Retrieved April 19, 2017.
- Sibley, Rod. "Drummer Ranjit Barot Interview". www.abstractlogix.com. Archived from the original on 25 May 2008. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
[...] When I heard Cobham play and I tell you this in retrospect: Im a fan of every drummer on this planet. I think there are so many, so many great drummers out there that its hard to create a list. But Cobham is a pioneer, for sure. Cobham is the closest I've heard a drummer playing with an Indian soul. He had the whole speech thing down. [...] Cobham, when he played, I could hear him talk. His snare drum, thats the heart of his language. He really had this speech happening on the kit. Thats what stopped me in my tracks. Because Id been listening to tabla players, and I said, Hold on. This guy, he understands. He understands where this whole thing is coming from. So he was probably the first big influence. And I just love everything hes done, man.
- Oriel, Jane (21 November 2006). "Handyman: Danny Carey, Tool's drummer, talks to DiS". Drowned In Sound. Archived from the original on 11 December 2009. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
[...] I drew my influences from some of the more jazzier guys like Billy Cobham (John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, Miles Davis) [...]
- Peiken, Matt (May 1996). "The Smashing Pumpkins' Jimmy Chamberlin" (PDF). Modern Drummer. p. 33. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 March 2017. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
- Common Ground: Inspiration (audio and video). Alfred Music. 1 October 1999. ISBN 978-0769291963.
Dennis Chambers: I keep my ideas fresh when I listen to people like Vinnie Colaiuta, Gary Husband, Lenny White and Billy Cobham [...]
- Kearns, Kevin (12 May 2004). "Brann Dailor of Mastodon". Modern Drummer. Archived from the original on 6 March 2017. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
Q: You must have a big list of drummer influences.
Brann Dailor: [...] for jazz, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, and Billy Cobham [...]
- Lentz, Andrew (June 16, 2014). "Matt Garstka: Let's Get Technical". Drum!. Archived from the original on November 11, 2016. Retrieved April 28, 2017.
- Coleman, Danny (21 March 2017). "Interview: Chris Hornbrook Never Lets His Senses Fail". concertblogger.com. Archived from the original on 27 March 2017. Retrieved 27 March 2017.
- Mohler, Jordan (9 March 2015). "Interview: Chris Hornbrook (Senses Fail, Poison The Well)". killthemusic.net. Archived from the original on 15 March 2017. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
- Mitchell, Sean (22 May 2015). "Thomas Lang" (video and text). www.theblackpage.net. Event occurs at 11:34. Archived from the original on 8 August 2015. Retrieved 28 April 2017.
- "From The Desk Of The Jesus Lizard: Rock Drummers". Magnet. 8 June 2014. Archived from the original on 29 December 2014. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
- "An Interview with Al Cisneros & Emil Amos of Om". BrooklynVegan. New York (published 25 September 2008). 21 September 2008. Archived from the original on 20 April 2017. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
Emil Amos: [...] Musically, when we first met, the three things that we immediately in conversation bonded on was dub, Pink Floyd, and Billy Cobham, the great drummer.
- Babcock, Jay (March 2006). ""Most High": Howand whyOm builds its minimalist, contemplative metal". Arthur (published May 2006). Archived from the original on 14 April 2009. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
Al Cisneros: [...] I think I was 17. I was at a friend's house and he was saying, 'I can't believe you haven't heard this.' Put it on, put it on. It was "Inner Mounting Flame," and on the song, "Awakening,"' the break with Billy Cobham on the kit...He throws down this one break after McLaughlin subsides these chords. It was so decisive that we just got up and left the room. There was no point in continuing conversation. It was done. That evening had been closed by that drumbeat. And to this day I think that in terms of drumming, "Inner Mounting Flame" with Cobham is Mount Olympus. There's nothing more. It's all. Saying Billy Cobham is a great drummer is like saying the sun's bright, but...I don't even know what to say about Mahavishnu. It was so humbling. It was an epiphany to hear the potential of these musicians and their conviction. Hearing something like that can make you feel like you've just been messing around in a sandbox your whole life.
- Hodgson, Peter (16 September 2011). "Interview: Opeth's Mikael Akerfeldt". iheartguitarblog.com. Archived from the original on 15 October 2011. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
Q: There's an obvious fusion feel to a lot of the material on Heritage. Where did that come from?
Mikael Akerfeldt: [...] the fusion aspect comes from Mahavishnu Orchestra, Billy Cobham... [...]
- Worley, Gail (7 February 2009). "Coheed & Cambria's Chris Pennie". ink19.com (published 10 April 2009). Archived from the original on 2 May 2016. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
Q: Which players have most influenced that aspect of your style, especially with respect to the polyrhythms?
Chris Pennie: [...] Billy Cobham from the Mahavishnu Orchestra are important influences.
- "FAQ home - Drum Playing (Techniques)". www.mikeportnoy.com. Archived from the original on 17 July 2009. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
- Jones, Dave (20 July 2013). "Thomas Pridgen". sightsoundrhythm.tumblr.com. Manchester, United Kingdom. Archived from the original on 27 March 2016. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
[...] when I was growing up played with so many different types of people, and did so many different styles. Everyone from Billy Cobham to Art Blakey [...]
- Saravanan, T. (August 24, 2016). "Drumming is his heart beat". The Hindu. Archived from the original on August 19, 2017. Retrieved August 19, 2017.
- Bidwell, Stephen (29 September 2014). "Influences: Bill Stevenson". Modern Drummer. Archived from the original on 25 March 2017. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
- Shteamer, Hank (21 September 2011). "Bill Stevenson on jazz". darkforcesswing.blogspot.com. Archived from the original on 1 October 2011. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
Q: I play drums as well, and I sometimes feel like it's almost impossible for a drummer to be truly great at playing both rock and jazz. Do you think you have to pick one of the two and focus on that?
Bill Stevenson: I think so. What I was trying to do was to be both. I reckon Billy Cobham is maybe the closest: He's the everyman's drummer, like he can playing everything better than everyone. And I felt like I was heading that directionmaybe I wanted to be Billy. [...]
- Worley, Gail (23 June 2004). "My Favorite Martian: An Interview with Jon Theodore of The Mars Volta". Ink19.com. Archived from the original on 15 March 2017. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
I have to say that my all-time favorite guy ever is Billy Cobham. I even listen to The Traveler and Power Play, his '80s records. [...] I'm totally infatuated with him. I love the way he plays and I think it's so natural, powerful and dynamic at the same time. I pattern a lot of stuff after him.
- Amendola, Billy (2002). "Tony Thompson". Modern Drummer (published 19 July 2005). Archived from the original on 20 April 2017. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
[...] I would go down to 7th Ave. South. That was a club in New York City that The Brecker Brothers used to own. [...] I saw Billy Cobham for the first time and saw God. When they broke into "The Inner Mounting Flame," it was the most awesome performance I've ever seen in my life. My God, it's still embedded in my soul seeing him play like that. To have that command and power plus his chops were just super-human. Before that, I'd never seen anyone like Billy Cobham.
- Prasad, Anil (2013). "Steven Wilson - Past presence". Innerviews. Archived from the original on 10 May 2013. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
[...] Listen to Billy Cobham on a Mahavishnu Orchestra album. It's like a juggernaut heading towards a cliff edge. It has a feeling of momentum and rushing towards something.
- Strik, Henri (January 2015). "Interview Dave Bainbridge - "With this album I was aiming to recapture some of the emotions that first motivated me to devote my life to music"". www.backgroundmagazine.nl. Archived from the original on 14 February 2017. Retrieved 14 March 2017.