The Nationals
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The Nationals

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"CD Review of Double Slide"

Brian Cober & The Nationals are a Toronto blues institution, and have recently reissued their third great CD, called Double Slide. The title comes from the fact that guitarist Brian Cober utilizes a unique-to-himself "double slide" technique. Cober has come up with the brilliant idea of using two custom-made slides, allowing him to create never heard before slide sounds that are thoroughly mesmerizing. Cober’s double-slide playing is a welcome sound to the ears wherever he appears.

The original artwork on the CD cover depicts this slide technique in action. There’s an early 1970s black and white photo of Cober’s old friend Ben Gadd (the CD’s dedicated to Gadd), in the liner notes, posing with the one and only Muddy Waters, allowing us to know that Brian’s interest in the blues has been a long-time commitment on his part.

Based in Toronto, Ontario, and seen mostly in the musically creative Kensington Market area of Toronto’s trendy west end, Brian Cober can be found every Sunday night hosting a jam at Grossman’s Tavern on Spadina Avenue, with bassist Paul McNamara and drummer Bill Hedefine. This original "Home of the Blues" in Toronto is the preferred stomping grounds, where many of the blues "elite" come to sit in with Cober or with their own bands. The creative force present at these jams transfixes audiences, which is why they keep coming back for more every week.

Cober and his band The Nationals are in high demand here and in the US, where Cober has performed with some of the finest of the old-time blues guitar originators. Brian has recently performed at European blues festivals in Finland with ex-David Bowie guitarist Tony Springer and has received much-deserved praise in reviews there. Cober previously appeared in Finland in 1997, in the Canada All Stars. Along with Cober in this all-star band were bassist Prakash John (Blues Angels; ex-Alice Cooper/Lou Reed), drummer Whitey Glan (ex-Alice Cooper/Lou Reed/Johnny Winter), blues harp player Jerome Godboo (ex-Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks) and guitarist Mike McDonald.

Double Slide begins with the powerhouse Brian Cober original (they all are, except for "Only the Lonely Knows" by Ted Taylor) "Lay It On." This tune effortlessly commands the audience’s attention and appreciation, with its rousing emotional appeal. It features some mild Cajun influences with a touch of rockabilly. The bluesy lead slide Cober comes up with is outstanding in every respect. Years of fronting bands and traveling to Europe and the US has led to Cober’s mastery in playing his unique style. His Telecaster is set up like a lap steel guitar and delights all the great musicians Brian comes in contact with in his travels. Just listen to the imaginative slide on "I Had A Dream." It’s both surreal and captivating all at the same time. Cober’s vocals have a distinctive and pleasant "sound," once heard, never forgotten and always enjoyed!

The guitar plucking and sliding on "Only the Lonely Knows" is a fitting intro to a lyrically poetic story that Cober unravels in his vocals in a way that keeps listeners on the edge of their seats. The slide in "Lonely Knows" would be at home in any Allman Brothers Band recording. Renowned guitarist Pat Rush (ex-Jeff Healey Band/James Cotton/Johnny Winter), has often joined Cober in a tune and was himself taught his amazing slide guitar technique decades ago by Duane Allman, when their bands used to tour the southern US "Chitlin’ Circuit" together.

More powerhouse blues occur in "Not An Ordinary Man." Ian Green’s drumming in this tune rocks it up real good, while the bass lines provided by long-time Cober side-kick Paul McNamara pound out their urgency added to by highly imaginative screams of double-slide emanating from Cober’s guitar.

Cober cries out he’s "on fire" in "Don’t Know What You Got." What this tune has "got" is a pounding drum beat that keeps the energy flowing through every note and vocal. "Better Get Ready" has "hit quality" stamped all over it. The rhythm and melody are mesmerizing! The story of relationships is told straight out, with "Ooh babe, look what we’ve been through. It’s the same for me -- and the same for you." This common story of human relationships is told in a very entertaining way with Tibi providing her fabulous background vocals.

"Pound of Pain" is an invigorating, medium-tempo blues tune, featuring Green’s hard driving drumming along with Cober’s energetic, commanding vocals. Again he provides more of his highly enjoyable double-slide technique and mind-boggling leads. McNamara’s laid-back bass lines add just the right bottom end to bring out the best in Cober’s creativity.

In "Nowhere Left To Ride", Cober screams out "It’s a cold, cold night, and you’re not here by my side …." Then his slide begins to scream like a good, close friend, backing up his claims of loneliness with every captivating note that his double-slide can command. In "Listen Up," Cober speaks about taking love for granted and the regret of love loss, but with the hope of "another chance." This tune is delivered from the soul and is crammed full of musical wisdom that’s good to reflect on. Cober’s country slide and leads are perfectly complemented by Green’s driving percussive beat. Eric Webster’s organ riffs add some mellow emotion to the proceedings. Tibi’s vocals answer Cober’s, providing just the right "woman’s touch."

Cober’s signature tune "Kensington Kat" (and this writer's favorite Cober tune) advises the listener, "Don’t try to take me into your home, ‘cause I might just have to run away and see you again some rainy day." The country blues guitar leads Brian plays are very southern US sounding. Images of the real Kensington Market in Toronto are evoked with lyrics like, "I think Joe at the Fish Market grilled some fine salmon today."

The distinctive character of the Kensington Market area of west central Toronto has spawned some of the finest musical creativity and artistry around and continues to do so today. Brian Cober’s appearances here and in the deep southern US, as well as in European festivals in Finland have garnered Cober many fans as well as positive media attention worldwide. This writer has read European newspaper reports mentioning a genuine appreciation for Brian’s unique double-slide guitar mastery, when he appeared there in 2003 with the Tony Springer Band (Wild T & The Spirit).

Double Slide effortlessly captures the essence of Brian Cober’s special "muse"-ical gift and is highly enjoyable to listen to. It’s a highly prized CD in my collection. I hope you add it to yours. You can listen to The Nationals at as well as purchase their Double Slide CD there. There's a Nationals Live At Grossman's Tavern CD slated for release sometime in 2007. It is currently being mastered. - Jazz Review

"The Nationals - Feature"

BLUES ARTIST BRIAN COBER HAS A SOLID GROOVE, GREAT LYRICS AND A UNIQUE SET OF LICKS TO BACK THEM up. He is also the best friend that the slide guitar ever had. Cober is to slide what the revered Jaco Pastorius was to the bass. He has given the slide guitar a voice and range of capabilities that have never been released before and harnessed them to drive his own brand of streetwise hard-drinking blues.

Trained in classical slide guitar from kidhood, Cober founded his first band in high school, Terraplane, along with his best friend Ben Gadd. "We grew up together as people and musicians, learned together and met Muddy Waters together," reminisces Cober of his recently departed friend, to whom his latest album Double Slide is dedicated.

He played and played, ending up by founding The Nationals in 1986 along with sideman Paul McNamara on bass and vocals. Their first album, Blue Howl, appeared in 1990, followed by Piece of Wood in 1994 and their newly released offering Double Slide. Influenced by the great blues heros such as Muddy Waters and Delta bluessmith Robert Johnson, Cober's down-to-earth stylings are flawlessly backed up by seasoned pros and punctuated with classic searing riffs and solos alternating with whimsical lyrics and melodies. He has captured the soul that makes one actually enjoy in a sympathetic way his confessions of heartbreaks and excesses.

Says Cober about the invention of his unprecedented fingering technique, "I realized that there were so many things I wanted to do with the slide that I just could not seem to do." This led to the conception of the "double slide", which Cober describes as "essentially the use of a main slide held by the fingers and a shorter slide on the free thumb"; something no one had done before. His preferred guitar is a Fender Telecaster with the strings raised, a modification that he adds to the guitar himself. (His custom-made stainless steel slides are crafted by an artisan in Missouri.)

"We backed up Bo Diddley on a tour around Ontario," Cober laughs. "He had never seen anything like it." Cober has been touted by Toronto Tonite magazine for his "unique talents and great songwriting" and by the Kitchener Waterloo Record as "Canada's best slide guitar." The Toronto Blues Society's Greg Tate declared that "Cober's slide tones are sacred."

In essence Cober has elevated the slide from its usual role as a backing instrument into the traditional role of the lead guitar, complete with a totally new range of sound and unprecedented guitar hero pyrotechnics. After a couple of songs, Cober ingenues will find themselves waiting eagerly for the next solo and will soon relax into comforting melodies that mellow us into the role of listeners to his doleful croonings and gentle jabs at life in general as well as himself.

Wisely, Cober steers clear of categorizing his style. "I've been called everything," he says, "all the usual stuff; I just call it the blues with some rock and roll." Close enough, if you're not so hung up as to need a definition to enjoy the music.

Some of Cober's lyrics on his latest, Double Slide, are downright poetical, as in the Dylanesque "Lay It On", while others are straight-ahead reworkings of classic lines, such as "She said loving someone else is easy, loving yourself is hard" from I Had A Dream. He speaks enthusiastically about his producers Ben Richardson and Alec Fraser. "Watch out," he says. "These guys are going places."

At the age of 45 Cober is lean and well conditioned. Originally raised on a farm in rural Ontario, he still has a countryboy smile and a lazy voice. No hyperactivity here I thought while sharing a beer in his Kensington Market digs above a store right in the heart of Toronto's cultural smorgasbord. This entirely belies the energy manifest on stage.

He may not be packing them into stadiums, but Cober never lacks an audience. A fixture in Toronto's eclectic Kensington Market, he gigs perennially in club after club, often hosting events. A particular feather in the cap of any Toronto bluesman (or woman) is his current tenure as house band at the venerable celebrated home of the blues, Grossman's Tavern (which has hosted every known and unknown R and B artist able to stir up a smoky room) for its celebrated Sunday nite jam. A particular treat has been The Nationals' appearances at the Kensington Summer Festival, when appropriately the blues march hand-in-hand with reggae and oom-pa-pa bands as equal crowd pleasers.

Cober also sidelines as tutor in guitar to students of all ages, including a retired symphony violinist who is using Cober's expertise to work on improvizational technique.

The Nationals tour Canada-wide, as well as through the States. This summer will see them playing in the Missouri Ozarks, and throughout southern Ontario, including Stratford. July 6 and 7 will see the band on stage at the Montreal Jazz Festival, playing with local blues artist Steve Rowe.

During my chat with Cober we were joined by self-styled "Kensington independent" David Pitkin. Left alone with him for a moment I asked him to comment on the musicianship of his longtime friend.

"Well," said he, "No matter how down I am, his music always makes me feel better." Joined by bandmates Paul McNamara and Bill Hedefine, Cober is always ready, willing and able to roll up his sleeves and kick out the healing blues.

Jonathan St. Rose is unable to keep a beat or play a note but loves the blues and the folks that play them.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Performing Arts and Entertainment in Canada
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group - Performing Arts and Entertainment in Canada


Double Slide - 2001 (re-released 2007)
Piece of Wood
Blue Howl



Deeply set in the tradition of Mississippi Delta blues, The Nationals have adapted to the modern Chicago stylings and conjured up the best of both worlds.

Founded in 1986, The Nationals have crafted four albums and toured across Europe and North America with weekly gigs in Toronto’s home of the Blues – Grossman’s Tavern.

Working alongside Blues greats Chuck Berry, Bo Bo Jenkins, Johnny Winter, James Cotton, and Bo Diddley, Brian Cober recalls, "Our musical vision was very different from the people we were backing up. We knew we had something special.” Brian’s "Double Slide Guitar" system features a modified steel guitar bar in his left hand and a smaller slide on his left thumb. Using the two slides together, he creates a unique, playfully eccentric rhythm driven blues-rock.

The Nationals’ lead vocalist and double-slide guitarist Brian Cover has broken through more confines than Houdini.