The Netherlands had a great pop scene in the '60s and '70s, and The Hague was the place to be. Bands which started there like Golden Earring, Q65, Supersister and Shocking Blue are still respected the world-over. I'd say it was second only to Hamburg as a go-to European city for aspiring musicians. Often, English names can be found in Dutch bands, such as singer Christine Holmes (ex-Family Dogg, later known as 'Kristine Sparkle') in California License and guitarist Ray Fenwick (The Spencer Davis Group, Tee-Set) who was a founder of After Tea. (Incidentally, I used a ripping Ray Fenwick track back on Vol103). Cobra had a British singer called Winston Gawke. Before his time in mainland Europe he'd already tried his hand in the UK as Winston G and had various backing groups, culminating in The Winston G Set (later called Fox & The Whip). For fact-fans out there, The Winston G Set was also an early band for Huw Lloyd-Langton of ├┤awkШind.
The Dutch quickly assimilated the popular hard rock sounds of the time, and one thing I like was their ability to mix these heavy sounds with a certain pop, almost glam sensibility, avoiding getting too cheesy, but remaining endearingly fun. Good examples of this were Blue Planet, Big Wheel, Panda, Inca Bullet Joe and many more. I hope to focus on some more of these names in later episodes...
Back to Cobra. They made five singles (including one under the name of Island), all of which are great. I have contacted the original guitarist of Cobra, who does an excellent job on all the singles, his name is Rob Vunderink. He still works successfully in music and has been a member of distinguished Dutch progsters Kayak since 2001. One of Rob's other notable successes was as a founding member the pop rock band Diesel, which had a number-one single in Canada from an album which was also popular in the US around 1980.
The other two main members of Cobra were Michiel Driessen (drums - later in Livin' Blues, Sun, Flair and Monte Carlo) and Paul Heppener (Bass - ex-Confrontation, later in Centaur, Drama, Shocking Blue, Fontessa and Belgian band Otger Dice).
references and further reading
Obscure Bands Of The 50's & 60's > Further reading on The Winston G Set
(as Island) Move Over / Super Woman
Imperial 5C 006 24256
The War Will Soon Be Over / Midnight Walker
Polydor 2050 078
I'm in Love / I Feel Down
Polydor 2050 121
Don't Do Like I Do / Schoolgirl Blues
Polydor 2050196 (released in Germany & Netherlands)
So Dissatisfied / What's Next
Polydor / 2050167
|Rob (left) in The Counts|
I was born in Nijmegen. The Van Halen brothers lived here, as did Nina Simone. I got my first guitar when I was sixteen, because I loved the Beatles. Why guitar? That's what they played. I never had lessons, I taught myself and I was in a school band. At a certain point I joined a local top band called The Counts [links: 1, 2] and they had a manager, who became my personal manager also.
Q02. What happened after The Counts?
My manager called and said the singer of the Yardbirds was looking for a guitarist in Nijmegen. These had been a peculiar German version of The Yardbirds [a bogus, or 'tribute' version] without any real Yardbirds. The singer was Winston Gawke from the UK. I started a band with Winston which was first called Jasper Mule. At this point we also had Joop van Kesteren (bass, ex-Counts, who later went on to Grass) and John Lejeune (drums, ex-Corporation, later to Livin' Blues).
Q03. What music were you personally in to at the time?
I liked Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and other hard rock bands.
Winston attracted John van Setten as our manager. John had managed a band called Island previously, which had ceased to exist by this time. He arranged a recording session for us and the resulting songs, "Super Woman / Move Over", were released as an Island single. We had nothing to do with the old Island and it was a one-time occasion.
|1. Michiel Driessen 2. Rob Vunderink|
3. Winston Gawke 4. Paul Heppener
I'm in Love single (1971)
We moved to the Hague in 1969, Michiel Driessen and Paul Heppener then took the roles of drums and bass respectively, and the Cobra lineup was made. At one time Cor van der Beek (Shocking Blue - drums) had one or two rehearsals but didn't join. We got ourselves a record deal with Polydor and after my suggestion for calling the band Grizzley, Winston came up with 'Cobra'.
Q06. How did Cobra get signed to the Polydor label?
We just went there and talked to Freddy Haayen, who was director and producer for Golden Earring. He produced us himself, including our first single, 'The War Will Soon Be Over (My Love)' which became a hit in Holland.
Q07. Was there a big rock scene in The Hague in the early '70s?
The Hague was called 'beat city'. Lots of big Dutch bands were from the Hague, like Golden Earring, The Motions, Q65, Supersister and more. Every Tuesday evening musicians would hang out in a place called De Maraton [inc. Q65 and Golden Earring - wiki]. So yes, a big rock scene and a fun place too.
Q08. Did Cobra play many gigs or festivals?
We played all over Holland, both clubs and festivals. We opened up for Ten Years After in Amsterdam in the early seventies. Alvin Lee was a star then because of Woodstock.
|Paul Heppener (bass)|
I think 'The War Will Soon Be Over' was recorded at the Phonogram studio in Hilversum. I remember it must have been early January 1970. Haayen produced us and Cees Schrama played keyboards [aka 'Crazy Casey', also of Golden Earring, Casey & The Pressure Group - wiki, RYM]. The second single was called 'I'm In Love' and it was a Haayen production too, record at the Soundpush Studio in The Hague. The third single was called 'So Dissatisfied', written and produced by Craig Bolyn from the US [ex-Nazz, prod. Ash Tray], same studio as the first one. The fourth single 'Don't Do Like I Do' was produced by former Earring drummer Jaap Eggermont, who would peak at Billboard #1 in the band 'Stars On 45' in the '80s. It was recorded at Soundpush also.
Q10. Do you have any favourite Cobra songs? Can you remember anything about playing any of them, like ones which were hard to play?
I really like So Dissatisfied. I like the bass playing in I'm In Love. There was nothing hard about playing these songs.
Q11. I really like Cobra's music, and all the members put in a great performance. While it’s generally got an anthemic sing-along melodic style like 'The War Will Soon Be Over (My Love)', there's glam rock ('Don't Do Like I Do'), and couple of heavier rockers like 'Midnight Walker' and 'I'm in Love'. There's also some slow blues like 'Schoolgirl Blues'. Can you explain your thoughts on the band’s versatility and what influenced the sound of Cobra?
Winston was the one who got the band together and he wanted a blues/rock band like Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple. He introduced me to the guitar playing style of Rory Gallagher. The War Will Soon Be Over was the odd one out, actually, but the combination of acoustic and electric playing intrigued some people. Later Winston proposed a style more like Mother's Finest, but that never came off. For blues influence we listened to BB King.
Q12. Who were the creative leaders of the band, if there were some?
The song writing was done by Winston and me. No songs were written by Michiel and Paul. I think him and me were the creative leaders, if indeed there were any.
Q13. There is some extra orchestration on the song 'So Dissatisfied', which sounds like a mellotron/keyboard. Is this correct, and can you remember who played it, or was it put in later?
Craig Bolyn experimented with the Moog synthesizer and he got it on board during the recording. He also added some low string guitar work during the guitar solo.
|First Patricia Paay LP (1969)|
It was Jaap Eggermont's idea. He hired Dutch singer Patricia Paay [radio host, glamour model and television personality - wiki]. We hated Eggermont's production, he fucked it up and didn't even put his name on the record, so he knew he fucked up. The single was a flop.
Q15. 'What Next' is a mini progressive epic. It talks about world war, racism, greed and other such issues. It's longer, more philosophical, and quite different to all your other songs. What's the story behind that? It also has a very nice emotive guitar solo at the end, is that you playing?
That was Winston's work, those words. It was the time of hippies, peace and grass, so Winston was just exploiting the mood of the time, really. And yes, it's me on guitar.
Q16. What equipment did you use for your guitar sound in Cobra?
At first I used a Fender Stratocaster, later a Gibson SG which I've still got and used when recording Diesel's 'Sausalito Summernight', which peaked at Billboard #25 and #1 in Canada in 1981. For amplification I used Marshall.
Q17. I've been told that it was particularly hard for Dutch rock bands to get label money/backing to record a whole album in their home country back then, and they were often encouraged to focus on writing radio-friendly pop singles, in search of a 'hit'. Because of this, many bands with great hard-rock potential like Cobra made singles which may have been aimed more at commercial acceptance than what the bands actually wanted to sound like, and unfortunately made no albums. What are your thoughts on this? Did these issues affect Cobra?
It's the same everywhere: mainstream radio plays music for the average audience. If you want publicity you have to appeal to a large audience. We were moderately good in getting attention. It all went wrong when Eggermont overdid it with his pop song approach. By that time the band had grown tired of struggling. Myself and bass player Paul Heppener were especially unhappy with the situation.
Q18. 'The War Will Soon Be Over (My Love)' reached number 33 in the Dutch charts for two weeks. later-on 'So Dissatisfied' spent three weeks at #31. Did this encourage Cobra to aim higher?
You must first score better with singles before a recording company will spend money on you to make an album, we never got that far.
Q19. Do you think Cobra had the potential be more successful?
The band could have been bigger with some guidance and a better management.
Q20. How did the band end?
Paul Heppener and I made the decision to leave. We didn't like the lack of development, we disliked the manager who was filling his own pockets. Then Pim van der Linden joined on bass simultaneously with Ben de Bruin on guitar. Cobra lasted for a couple more years without success.
Q21. Is there anything notable you can tell me about what happened to any of the other guys after Cobra was finished?
Michiel Driessen made a living from having a duo with a keyboard player at parties. He bought his own apartment in the city of 's-Hertogenbosch so he must have been doing well. Winston went into business, he said. He must be a pensioner now, being 71 or 72 years old. Paul Heppener played in a group called Drama, and then later was in Shocking Blue, until singer Mariska Veres died. Ben de Bruin played with Rob Hoeke [and Herman Brood's Flash & Dance Band].
Q22. Do you have any final Cobra memories to share?
No, except that we had a lot of fun and I would not like to have missed the experience.
So there you have an explanation for how an original band with some initial success and lots of potential could lose momentum and fade away in the harsh pop world. I will be getting some stories on equally good bands from the same period later, so keep TDATS book-marked.
I asked Rob some further questions regarding his career after Cobra.
Q23. What did you do after Cobra? Can you tell us a little about how you came to play for Maywood (Dutch pop duo)?
After Cobra and an unsuccessful band called Centaur [also with Paul Heppener] I met guitarist Mark Boon who played in Smyle. Smyle's singer Bas Muijs sounded just like John Lennon and did the Beatles stuff for Eggermont's Stars on 45 later. Boon and me formed a band called The Hammer. Take a look here:
I play that red Gibson SG, as you can see. This was on a famous Dutch TV show around Sjef van Oekel. The Hammer had the same manager as Kayak. Pim Koopman was Kayak's drummer who later started producing artists like Maywood and Pussycat, for which Mark and myself were often hired as studio musicians.
Q24. It seems the band you started called Diesel had some great success, #1 in Canada! Can you tell me some more about them?
Later Pim joined Mark and me to form Diesel. Diesel had two hits in the Netherlands and Belgium with Goin' back to China and Down in the Silvermine. We recorded an album, Watts In A Tank. The opening song is Sausalito Summernight, written by Mark Boon and myself. [Sausalito Summernight on youtube] Both the album and the single got charted in the USA and Canada. In 1981 we toured the States and Canada for seven weeks, about forty gigs. Already before the American hit guitarist/singer/composer Mark Boon and bass player Frank Papendrecht had left. Later drummer/producer/composer Pim Koopman left to. Before the tour Mark rejoined. After the tour we recorded another album, without Pim, which flopped. I left. In 1987 Pim and me got together again, singer Jeroen Engelbert joined (he's the singer on the live version of Sausalito Summernight with Kayak in 2010 [below]). In 1987 we had another hit with the song Samantha. Diesel disbanded again in 1989. In 2000 Pim, me and some other guys recorded an album of covers with three original songs. The album was called Diesel on the rocks, You can find it on iTunes.
Q25. How did you come join Kayak late in its career?
Much later in 2001, when Kayak got together again, Pim asked me to join for one gig because guitarist Rob Winter had to play elsewhere. I never left. Here you can see Kayak playing Diesel's Sausalito Summernight during the Pim Koopman Tribute Concert at the Amsterdam Paradiso in 2010, one year after Pim's death:
Thanks for your time Rob, and thanks for the music!