Bootheel Blues Society
An Interview with Gospel Music's
Sylvia Rose Cobb
(photo courtesy of Sylvia Rose Cobb)
I became aware of Sylvia Rose Cobb when I was introduced to a song she composed, the popular "Mansion, Robe and Crown." A group I performed with did the song and she later saw it on YouTube. After a few emails between the two of us I was able to arrange for her to talk to me here.
Sylvia has been involved with music in one form or another for most of her life. After she heard the chorus from Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas perform at her church, she decided that's where she wanted to attend college. By her sophomore year, she was named the school's first female student director of the college chorus. After two years at Southwestern, Sylvia received a Ford Scholarship to Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas and she graduated in 1977 with a bachelor's degree in music. She later taught music and directed the chorus at Harding for 3 years before moving to Detroit, Michigan. After her move, she decided to concentrate writing religious music. Over the years, Sylvia has written hundreds of songs, started her own publishing company, written a musical, Long Live the Dream, served as interim principal for Luckett Christian Academy and many other endeavors. In 1997 she founded Great Heritage Ministries, Inc. which is a non-denominational ministry.
When you were growing up, did your father and siblings also have an interest in music? Whereas we have a few members who sing, my family is known primarily for its ability to talk. We are at ease in speaking, a gift from our father, but I am the only music major and composer in the family.
Whereas we have a few members who sing, my family is known primarily for its ability to talk. We are at ease in speaking, a gift from our father, but I am the only music major and composer in the family.
What was the first moment you remember realizing that music was what you wanted to do? When I was in the fifth grade I was introduced to music and knew almost immediately that it would be my life. It was the comfort that I needed when my mother died at an early age.
Which musical instruments do you play and what do you consider to be your main instrument? I began playing the violin in the fifth grade and moved from there to woodwinds – first, clarinet and then settled on saxophone (primarily tenor) which I played in high school and college band. I dabbled at several others because I wanted to become an orchestra and/or band conductor. However, in my senior year of high school I joined the choir and ended up switching my focus to “voice”, majoring in choral conducting instead. I use the piano to compose, but am not a pianist at all (unfortunately), so I probably would consider my voice my main instrument.
What inspires you to write a song? Do you hear melodies first or do you work out the lyrics at first? I am by so many things. Often I will write something because I need to or have a specific reason. For instance, I have written a mini production to celebrate my sister’s 70th birthday so have written songs primarily to reflect and rejoice in the goodness of God, her love for him and the love that people have for her. Sometimes I begin with melodies and at other times I begin with lyrics.
Do you usually write songs entirely by yourself or do you collaborate? I typically do not collaborate, having only done so once.
Is there an "average" time it takes you to compose a song or does it depend on the song? I only ask because I write songs and I'm curious about other writers-some songs I compose in literally 5 minutes and others I may spend months on. Like you, it varies. I, too, have written songs within an hour, minutes and at other times, days, weeks or months. At first I thought it was an age thing as well, feeling that I had slowed down due to age, but this latest project has proved that not to be correct. I suppose it’s really about inspiration. ?
Do you compose at the piano? Most of the time I do. However, since I have a recording mechanism in my laptop, I have used it to record melodies and/or lyrics and then taken it to the piano just to develop the harmony and chording.
Aside from gospel music, what types of music do you enjoy listening to? Who are some of your favorite artists? I am a lover of music in general, but I do listen to gospel primarily. Years ago, I used country music to help me get in writing modes, especially when I was working on writing a themed project because nobody tells a story better than a country music writer. But you may find me listening to classical, jazz, pop and R&B. I am not a fan of Rap.
Do you enjoy personally performing your own compositions? I rarely sing my own compositions. I don’t sing as much as I used to, choosing to perform mostly at funerals when asked. I love hearing my songs performed by others, especially in the various arrangements and styles that others have performed them.
Have you ever felt intimidated being a woman in the music business? If so, how do you handle it? I don’t think that I would say that I have been intimidated, but I can say that it’s hard to find many people who will help or work with you to succeed. To this end, I rarely seek assistance anymore.
What inspired you to write the book "Rise Up"? I had written a different book with another person that was submitted to a publisher. They contacted me saying that they didn’t want that book, but wanted me to write or submit something else for them. Although I had several other manuscripts that I could have submitted, I said that I was willing to write what they needed. They requested a book on leadership for African American women and they titled it “Rise Up” upon its completion.
Have you ever considered delving into politics? You seem to be such a strong voice and advocate for women, especially African-American women, that I could see you having a positive impact in this regard.)Whereas I am quite the activist and advocate, I am not a politician. I could never be elected for anything because I am not a loyalist to or towards a party or a position. I am a strong advocate for women and an independent fighter for what I consider right and especially for the voiceless and the “least of these”.
I am regularly in contact with my representatives in congress and will speak out or take to the streets for issues that I believe in (health care and anti-war demonstrations).
When did you form your publishing companies? Was there any gender or cultural difficulty encountered when you created them? Right after I wrote my first song, in 1977, I read about Neil Sedaka having to purchase his own music back from a publishing company, and decided then that I would want to own my music. Having only written a couple of songs at that time, I always believed that what I would write would have value enough that ownership would be important. So when I read an article in Songwriter Magazine about publishing companies and how to form them, I followed the steps and did so. I believe that was in 1979. Afterwards, I joined organizations that held conferences that I would attend that increased my knowledge about publishing, copyrights, etc. Whereas I can’t say that I encountered problems because I was a black woman, I can say that I rarely saw women or blacks in this field during that time who owned publishing companies so I had few if any that I could relate to or connect with.
What do you like to do to relax or do you ever get to? [Couldn’t help but chuckle at this one. ] I don’t do this enough. I used to go to the movies in years past, but today I find so few that interest me. I will rent them from the library perhaps, but don’t go into the theaters that much. I have pretty much moved from music to ministry and although I enjoy it, it requires times of respite, more than what I am prone to take. I do spend a lot of time alone because the time that I spend with people is usually taxing, since I am often ministering to people who really need help. Primarily, I am a minister at a shelter for women who have recently been released from prison, those who are homeless, those battling drug and alcohol addictions and those being sheltered from abusive men. I also minister a lot to senior citizens.
In an interview with you on "YouTube" you have a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King on your wall and you also wrote a musical (partially?) based on him. Did you ever meet him when you were younger? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was and is my hero and inspiration. I lived in
Are your books A Guide to Effective Choral Singing and Songs of Faith available for purchase? (I've seen "Rise Up" on Amazon, etc) How would someone go about buying these books? A Guide to Effective Choral Singing and the hymnal, Songs of Faith, were self published. The first is no longer in print and the second is sold directly through our offices from my publishing company. It is available online through our company, although the site is down at the moment. In addition to Amazon.com, I also sell copies of “Rise Up” as well. It is offered via my ministry site (www.greatheritage.org) but will also be sold online via my publishing site (www.srosepublishing.com) as well. (By the way, Songs of Faith contains “A Mansion, Robe and Crown”. I had assumed that you had gotten the music from there and was surprised to know that you had just chorded it yourself. Good job!)
As a former teacher and principal, what do you think about the importance of keeping music education in schools and available to all children? Needless to say, this is also one of those things that can get a quick sermon out of me. Unfortunately, education is not of primary importance in this country, and especially a well-rounded one. We have done an injustice to our children in limiting their exposure to the arts. It was my introduction to music through the public schools and their provision of school-owned instruments that allowed me to grow and flourish into the musician and music lover that I became. It also increased my self-esteem and kept me sane and composed, in light of an abusive home after the death of my mother. I cannot fathom what life would have been like for me in school as a young child without music education.
A big thank you to Sylvia Rose Cobb for making time to do this online interview with me. If you are interested in learing more about Sylvia Rose visit:
To hear "Mansion, Robe and Crown" written by Sylvia Rose visit these links:
Guitar on the Brain
An Interview with SEMO's
How old were you when you first started playing guitar?
I started when I was 5. My dad showed me some basic open chord positions and I began picking out single note melodies. I started my first band when I was 9 with my brother Dewayne and my cousins Mike and Darrel. We called ourselves The Four Z's. Later we added Jere Swader on drums and changed our name to the Blazers. I was in that band until I was around 14. I have never been out of a band since I was 9.
Do you play any other instruments?
Mandolin, harmonica, steel,a little piano and drums. I have several lap steels that I play in different tunings. I have a double neck Rickenbacker 8 string lap steel that originally belonged to Darrel in that first band. It's sound is great for western swing and old style country.
Are you self taught or did you have music lessons?
Self taught. My Dad showed me enough to get me started and I picked up from there. I never had band in school or any formal training. I have always played by ear.
Seems as though I recall your father was a musician with the Bootheel Jamboree-is this correct and tell me anything about that you'd like to add.
My Dad played bass in the house band for the Jamboree from the very beginning. The original Bootheel Jamboree was started by Jerry Foster and Bill Rice. They were DJ's at the radio station in Malden at the time. They didn't have a building for the show and they had it in a big circus tent in Malden. I started playing drums on the show when I was 12 and I use to play acoustic guitar and sing some on the shows also. They use to have stars come in from the Grand Ole Opry and do special guest appearances so I got to play with several when I was just a kid. There were some great musicians in the band. Billy Springer played pedal steel and Dale Hawkum played guitar. You had to back every singer that walked out on stage. I learned a lot just from being exposed to great players. Foster and Rice later sold the rights to the Jamboree and moved to Nashville and teamed up as song writers and wrote a string of hits. The Palmer family bought the Jamboree and built the building in Bernie and the show ran for many years after that. My Dad was in the band until the very last show.
What brand of guitar do you play the most?
When I play blues I mostly stay with the Gibsons. My main guitar is a Gibson Firebird. I also have a Gibson ES335. I carry several guitars on stage when I am playing with the Waterstreet Band.
I have some other guitars on stage for slide in a couple of different tunings and a couple of Fenders. I also have a telecaster and a strat that I use when I need a brighter or twangier sound.
Your CD "Guitar on the Brain" was great; how can fans buy a copy?
I will have a way to buy my CD on line soon through my MySpace website. You can also buy it in Cape Girardeau at Hastings or P-Mac.
Your niece Christy Griffin who I work with at Bernie High School said that your daughter in law designed the very cool cover for the CD. Are other family members involved in your music in any way?
My daughter in law Lisa is a graphic designer and she did the cover for me. All of my kids play instruments and sing. My son Eric plays guitar and saxophone. Brandi plays saxophone and piano and sings. I recently did a show where my band backed Kimberly Dahme. Kimberly is the bassist for the rock group Boston and has out several solo CDs. Almost all of her songs have a male and female back up vocalist so I brought Brandi in for that show to sing the female back up parts. She did a great job on that show. My youngest daughter Victoria plays clarinet and sings.
Have you put out other recordings?
Guitar on the Brain was my first solo CD although I have a played guitar on a lot of sessions for other people over the years.
I am in the process of recording another CD now but I don't know when it will be finished yet.
What are some of your earliest musical memories?
One of my first memories was when my dad had some musicians over and they were rehearsing in the living room. I was probably about 5 and I had a small bodied Gibson that my aunt's boyfriend had given me. It was cracked all the way across the back of it and it rattled when you played. He gave it to me just as a toy but I wanted to know how to really play it. My dad had showed me how to make an A chord by barring my finger across the second fret. They were playing a Hank Williams song in A with a simple 1-4-5 progression. I would play along with them when they were on the A chord and I would stop when they went to the 4 and the 5 because I didn't know how to make those chords but I knew it wouldn't sound right to play the wrong cord. I could hear the chord changes. After everyone left I asked my Dad to show me the other two chords. So he showed me the D and E. I think that is when it all really started for me. I don't really remember this part but when the family got together this past Christmas at my Mom and Dads, we were talking about this. I had told them that I wanted a guitar that didn't rattle and my Dad told me that when I could play a song all the way through he would buy me a better guitar. My Mom told him that he might as well get his wallet out. In a couple of days I was playing that 3 chord progression and he bought me a guitar that played a lot better and easier to learn on.
What is your personal favorite kind of music? Who are some of the artists you listen to?
I like everything. I still love all the old country songs and western swing. The Beatles of course and lot of music from the 60s and 70s like the Stones, the Band and CCR. I loved all of the old Motown and the stuff coming out of Memphis from Stax and Hi records. Most of the music I listen to now is from strong singer songwriters like John Hiatt and some of the really hot guitar players like Albert Lee and Tommy Emmanuel. I also like the good slide players that work in different tunings like Sonny Landreth and Bonnie Raitt.
I remember Bernie musicians Junior Curtis, Butch Smith, Ray Doane, Stan Hathcoat, Bob Ash & others from way back when. Were you in any bands with them?
Those guys are some my best friends in the world. I sold Junior Curtis his first set of real drums. I was around 17 or 18 and Junior was probably 12 or 13 I guess. I had pretty much gone to guitar all the time and wasn't really playing drums anymore. I wanted to sell them to buy a new guitar. Like most of us then we didn't have much money and Junior had a homemade set of drums. I remember his hi-hat was made out of paint can lids. Shannon Howe worked at the pool hall and Junior us to hang out there. Shannon saw Juniors potential and bought my drums for Junior. When I was in my 20s Junior and I put together a progressive rock band called Dirtywork. It was a great band and I still have people ask me about to this day.
Ray Doan was my neighbor and his was the only family that lived on our road that wasn't a relative. He use to hang out the house all the time when we were playing guitars. He talked his folks into buying him a set of drums and they ordered them from Montgomery Ward. I showed him how to set them up the day they came in and showed him some basics about drumming. We didn't have air conditioning at the house so we slept with the windows open. During summer vacation he used to practice until 2 or 3 in the morning and we could hear it plain as day at our house. He almost drove my mom and dad crazy but I liked hearing it. I think the first song he learned to play was a Lovin' Spoonful song called Six O'clock. When I was high school, Ray and I put a band together with Stan Hathcoat on bass. We played together for a few years and Ray and I went on the road together when we were in our early 20s with a band called the Next of Kin. That was my first experience with the world outside of Bernie.
Butch Smith was a great talent. We first met when we were 15 and his family moved to Malden. He had been living in California and playing with guys like Clarence White who later played with The Byrds and was the co-inventor of the B-bender that is used on half the country songs you hear today. He was so far ahead of the rest of us when he moved to town. He was the one who introduced me to slide guitar and different tunings. I have no doubt that if he had stayed in California he would have ended up in a major band. I still have Butch's old 63 Fender Tremolux amp that he use to play harp thru. I miss him a lot.
Bob Ash moved to Bernie when we were in the 7th grade. His dad was with Brown Shoe Company and got transferred to Bernie to be the superintendent of the factory there. The first time they came to Bernie to see the town I was playing on a flatbed trailer with The Blazers for the grand opening of a cafe there where the bus stop was. When school started he ended up being in my class and sitting beside me. He wanted to meet me because I played but he was kind of shy at didn't know how to approach me. He had just got his first guitar for Christmas and he got my attention by sitting at his desk drawing out guitar chord diagrams on a piece of paper. I saw it and asked him if he played guitar. We ate lunch together in the school cafeteria that day and that was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. He knew 3 chords when I first met him and could play Twist and Shout by the Beatles. We started going to each others houses and playing guitars together. He learned faster that anyone I ever saw and in 6 months time it was pretty much an even exchange because he was figuring out stuff and showing it to me as much as I was showing him. We played in bands together off and on a lot throughout the years. In my late 20s and early 30s we had a band called Stampede with Earl Perkins and Scott Barnett that was together for about 6 years. The first year that band was together we played 320 nights. To this day there is no guitar player that I play with that our styles mesh together any better. We got together and played some gigs this past summer and it was like we had never stopped playing together.
All of us as well as Gene Hanners another great Bernie musician use to rent the JC hut at Malden and have these jam sessions that would last all night. We had great fun and learned a lot from each other.
I saw you warm up Buddy Guy at the Show Me Center a while back-just you and a bass player and you two were absolutely astounding. I've rarely heard so much music coming out of just two people. Is this what you like to do best or do you prefer playing with a larger crew?
The bass player is Ken Keller and he is my bass player in the Water Street band and a tremendous talent. He is also a great engineer and owns IBS studios where I recorded my CD.
When we opened for Buddy Guy that was the first time that we ever played together with just the two of us. My CD had been sent to Buddy Guy'3
s people when they were looking for someone to open up for him. They liked the CD but did not want to have that large of band open because of the logistics of the equipment change over between acts. They asked if I would do a solo or duo. I wasn't going to do it at first but the guys in the band wanted me to so I asked Ken to play with me. I do some solo and duo gigs and I really enjoy them. When I play those it is usually in a small room like a house concert and some winery gigs. This is where I get to try out a lot of my originals. I will always like the energy of a full band though.
Do you have a "day" job or just play music? (every musician's dream)
I do have a day job. I work at the RapcoHorizon company in Fruitland. They make cabling systems for the Audio industry. I mostly work with sound contractors and touring sound companies helping put together the cabling for their tours so I am working with musicians on my day job too.
What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?
I hope to be semi retired and just playing music again. I would like to do some road work again. To date I have played 38 states and 6 countries. I plan on doing some overseas tours again.
Looking back, what, if anything would you do differently in regards to your music if you could?
I would get more formal training. I don't think there is any substitute for a good ear but there have been some missed opportunity's because I was not a good site reader. If you have the ability to do both it can make a big difference.
What would you tell young musicians just starting out?
The main thing is to make sure it is always fun. The wonderful thing about playing an instrument is you don't have to be great to get enjoyment out of it. It can be enjoyed at many different levels. As far as young musicians who want to be in a band this is the advice I give them. Please yourself. You have to have somewhat of a thick skin because you no matter how good you get there is always going to be someone that doesn't like you. I don't know how many times I have heard someone say they hate the Beatles or they hate Elvis Presley. You are never going to please everyone. I know there are people that will hear me play and not like it or be indifferent to it. On the other hand I have had many people tell me that my music has brought great joy to them or touched there lives in someway.
The other thing that I tell them is the first rule of bands is all bands break up[except for the Rolling Stones] When you are in a band ,especially your first bands you can get to be like family and if the band breaks up its like getting a divorce. Don't let it stop you from playing. Find some more musicians and keep going. I would also urge them to play with as many different musicians as possible and to keep your mind open to playing all styles. Your musical taste change as you change. It's just a fact of life.
Thanks to Bernie native Bruce Zimmerman for taking time out of his very busy schedule to do this interview with me.
LADY SINGS THE DELTA BLUES
An Interview with
Donna Herula Did you grow up in a musical family? What made you decide that guitar was your instrument of choice?
I got to hear Donna Herula perform June 12 and 13, 2009 at the Chicago Blues Festival and it was quite a treat. We'd become friends on MySpace prior to this and it was nice to get to meet her after her first performance. Donna plays a very impressive slide guitar and sings the Delta Blues like she's been doing it all her life which she just about has. Her guitar playing reminds me of that done by the late Memphis Minnie and her voice reminds me of Maria Muldair.
Did you grow up in a musical family? What made you decide that guitar was your instrument of choice?
Yes, I have three older sisters and an older brother and they all play musical instruments. Although my mom did not play, she made sure that all of her kids knew how to play the piano. One of my sisters currently plays French Horn semi-professionally. When I was young, I remember watching my sister play the guitar and sing and wished that I could do that, too. After about five years of piano lessons, I was very happy to switch to the guitar when I was 10 years old.
How did you learn to play the blues and what were your first experiences playing the blues?
My brother played really amazing saxophone at neighborhood bars in
What first interested you in playing slide guitar and Delta Blues?
When I went to the Chicago Blues Festival in the 1990’s, I saw two street performers, Steve Arvey and Kraig Kenning, play some great acoustic blues. Kraig Kenning played slide on his silver metallic Dobro guitar. I had never seen anything like that before and loved it. In 1999, I saw blues slide guitarist Eric Sardinas for the first time and it had a huge impact on me. In addition to playing electric slide with his band, he also performed some solo acoustic songs by Delta Blues legends Robert Johnson and Mississippi Fred McDowell. His playing was raw and emotional and he had superior technical ability with the slide. From that day on, I knew I had to learn how to play slide guitar.
Tell me about your guitars. How long have been playing these two and where did you find them? They are vintage 1930's I believe. Do you play resonators for a more authentic sound?
I am a big fan of National Guitars. I found the old 1930's National Triolian at a vintage guitar show in the
What kind of tunings do you use most often? I'm not a slide player (but trying to learn a little) so this interests me. What is your preferred type of slide?
I use an open G tuning and an open C tuning (which is open D dropped down a whole step). I have a low voice so the C tuning tends to work better than the D tuning for me. I also use a Guild Dreadnought and play in standard and drop D tunings when I fingerpick. I like both the glass and metal slides. I used to use the glass slide more often, but more recently, I have gone back to the brass Dunlop Preachin’ Pipe.
Was this your first time officially performing at the
This was the first year that I officially played at the Chicago Blues Fest, and I was thrilled to be part of it. I have been coming to the Chicago Blues Festival since I was a teenager and my husband and I have attended each year since then. In 2006 and 2007, I was a blues street performer at the fest and in 2008, I was one of the performers at the ZonePerfect Booth. This year, 2009, I performed a commemoration for slide guitar legend Robert Nighthawk at the Route 66 Roadhouse. Nighthawk would have been 100 years old this November. Not only was he an amazing slide guitar player, he had an incredible voice and was a fantastic songwriter and lyricist. I felt honored to play his music and had a lot of fun bringing his songs to other blues lovers.
Were you nervous performing at Blues Fest?
No. As we were driving into the City, I actually felt less and less nervous and more and more excited. I felt good knowing that I was going to play a number of really cool old blues songs that many people had never heard.
I liked the PorchBoard Bass you used. I've seen John Hartford with something similar. How long you've been using it in your performances?
I bought my PorchBoard Bass in the summer of 2008, so I have used it for about a year. Before then, I tried to make my own stompboard with a pick-up and a piece of plywood and also looked into some other stomp boards, but they did not have the full, deep booming sound of the PorchBoard. On the way back to
What do you do when you aren't playing music?
When I’m not playing music, I like to watch others perform and support local music venues. In the past couple of months, I've seen Paul Geremia at a place called SPACE in
What do you see yourself doing musically in 10 years?
I would like to continue to play at music festivals and grow as a musician and songwriter.
A big thanks to Donna for taking the time to do this interview with me.To listen to Donna's music and learn more about her, including how to buy her CD, check out her MySpace page at:
www.myspace.com/donnaherula I got to hear Donna Herula perform again at the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival in Helena,AR Oct. 9 and 10, 2009. Below are photos taken then. Donna is a huge talent and a genuinely nice person and we hope to get to hear more of her down in our neck of the woods in the near future.
(Above,left) Donna performing her tribute to Robert Nighthawk at the Miller Hotel,Helena
(Above,right) Donna with Robert Hill and Joanne Lediger performing on the street in downtown Helena
(Above,left) Donna Herula and Cindy Lester at the Miller Hotel before her Robert Nighthawk tribute
(Above,right) Donna, middle, performing on the King Biscuit Time Radio Show on KFFA, Helena
I got to hear Donna Herula perform again at the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival in Helena,AR Oct. 9 and 10, 2009. Below are photos taken then. Donna is a huge talent and a genuinely nice person and we hope to get to hear more of her down in our neck of the woods in the near future.
Malden's Platinum Blues Band
Jimmy Robinson, Barnell Porter, Robert Underwood, King, Kia Vincent and Ronnie Williams at a recent performance in Malden
If you are a blues performer the BBS would love to feature you on this page. Email:
If you are a blues performer the BBS would love to feature you on this page. Email: