If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably been seeing some of the many tweets and tributes to Rachel Nagy that have been appearing on your social media feeds since the sad news of her death broke last week. Evidently loved, Rachel was best known in the music world as the vocalist and co-founder of ‘Detroit’s most famous cover band’, the Detroit Cobras.
Before forming the band, legend has it that Nagy worked as both a dancer and indeed a butcher before turning to her attentions to Rock’n’Roll. Along with guitarist Mary Ramiraz – who had cut her garage chops in Detroit’s Vertical Pillows – they were to become the two central anchors of the Detroit Cobras.
Formed in 1994, at a time when bands were evolving in the immediate aftershocks of grunge. Instead of ripping their jeans and moving to Seattle, the Detroit Cobras took their inspiration from far further back, and somewhat closer to home.
The Detroit Cobras put their garage rock energy and niche record collections to work by covering some of the lesser-known or forgotten soul and Motown songs. Choosing tracks such as ‘Cha Cha Twist’, originally released by Brice Coefield in 1960, or The Marvelettes ‘I’ll Keep Holding On’, Rachel, Mary and the Cobras marked out a territory that fizzed with all the excitement that Rock’n’Roll has to offer. Once forgotten tracks became reanimated and re-loved in the hands of these intuitive garage rockers. It might have been swimming against the tide, but that’s just one of the reasons they were so loved. Lux and Poison Ivy understood the same thing.
‘It’s actually harder. When people are playing original songs they have the freedom to f*ck up. They can change something. With us it is something very specific that we’re after. It’s someone else’s thing and we want you to do it in a very exact way.’ Rachel Nagy talking to allicouldsee.com in 2018
Addressing questions about whether the band only played covers because it was a ‘beginners’ or ‘easier’ option Rachel told Metro news –
‘It’s not a cradle that we’re trying to grow out of, it’s what we like to do’
The Detroit Cobras cut through the glossy shell of their neighbourhood bigwigs at Motown, and took these songs back to their primal and startling best. They were the sound of the Stooges meeting The Supremes. Still with the song’s heady choruses in tact, but with a tom heavy jungle beat and garage guitars. Together these elements provided Rachel with the perfect platform to relive and re-animate those lost and soulful 45s.
Theirs was the sound of a future perfect drive time, Detroit Cobras on the dashboard a.m. radio, with the horror of MTV or auto-tune, just a distant shudder in the rear view mirror. The Detroit Cobras offered us a glimpse into this parallel dream world, where The Cramps, MC5 and X would reign supreme alongside Dusty, Diana, Amy and definitely Rachel Nagy.
We send our sincere condolences to Rachel Nagy’s family, friends and band-mates.