Why not me?

Why not me?
Posted on 03/17/2017
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"Monster Mike" Cobb in a performance with Bootsy Collins
“He’s doing it – why not me?”

This is Jonathan Cobb’s rallying cry, and boy, has it worked for him.

Jonathan’s “Clark Kent” identity is as an educational aide at Indian Hill High School; but when he dons his “Superman” cloak – the identity that is a direct result of the focus he has had since he was seven years old – he becomes music director and bass player for Bootsy Collins, an internationally-known, all-time great funk and R&B bassist, singer and bandleader.

“Growing up in Wyoming, I heard my older cousin playing bass,” Jonathan describes. “He was also playing some Bootsy Collins music at the time – I saw the album cover, saw the bass, and decided. I was seven years old, but I knew: I wanted to play bass with Bootsy Collins.”

After Jonathan started playing his cousin’s bass, his cousin offered him an extra – but it had only 2 strings! “I put shoe strings on for the rest,” he laughs. His parents then stepped in, offering to buy him an electric bass if he played in the orchestra. “I did,” says Jonathan, “but I was always drawn to Funk.” 

Jonathan kept on with the bass through high school, playing sports but still coming back to his first love. He attended Ohio State but the fit wasn’t right; came back to UC; joined the workforce. He says, “I did just about everything – corporate computer sales, counselor for at-risk youth, worked in IT for the county. But no matter what, I always played.”

Thinking he wanted to be a lawyer, Jonathan returned to Xavier. Then, he says, "I was on my way to law school, and I just knew there was something else I was supposed to be doing."

This began Jonathan’s “official” focus on music, as he began to play with nine different bands. And one night, amazingly enough, Catfish Collins – Bootsy’s brother – heard him play.

“He came up to me after, said, ‘Has my brother ever heard you play? You sound like him!’” remembers Jonathan. “He invited me over to his home many times, so I could meet Bootsy, but I was afraid – I never went.” And unfortunately, before Catfish could get Jonathan and Bootsy together, he passed away.

At this point, Jonathan was working as a buyer for the City of Cincinnati and that feeling of not being in the right place returned. “One night, I was sitting on the couch. I once again just knew there was something that I was supposed to be doing differently, something new that had to do with music.” Two weeks later, a local band needed a bassist – and Jonathan stepped in.

By the end of the first set, the group was amazed: “Has Bootsy heard you play?” the rhythm guitarist, Keith Cheatham (of the 70’s R&B group, SUN) asked him. Clearly, he agreed Jonathan was someone Bootsy should hear … yet the two had still not connected.

Then, it finally happened: Jonathan stepped in to play a James Brown tribute show, and Bootsy was there. “Bootsy had backup bass player auditions scheduled for the following Tuesday,” says Jonathan. “He had never looked for backups before, this was a first… and I decided to use the tribute show as my audition.”

Sure enough, after hearing Jonathan play, Bootsy canceled auditions and hired Jonathan the next day. “Within two weeks,” he continues, “I was practicing to go on tour.”

It's now been five years, and it's still a dream for Jonathan – who is known as "Monster Mike" (his middle name is Michael) on the road. "I always had goals, but this was surreal, to have that opportunity."

This spring, Jonathan will travel to Hawaii; then this summer, the band is back to Europe for a tour before finishing up stateside. But it’s not all fun and games: “We put in 10-16 hour days, putting a show together,” Jonathan explains. “As music director, it is my job to find ways to make performances fresh, to transition from one song to another and to add new elements to classic masterpieces.”

Traveling the world with Bootsy is exciting and inspiring for Jonathan, but he always comes back to having the right attitude: “He’s doing it – why not me? is what I always say to others. I’m living proof that you can achieve your dreams. I’ve never had the ‘can’t do that’ attitude.” In fact, this is one of the most rewarding things for Jonathan – being able to share this experience to inspire other people, to help them believe in themselves, and believe that dreams do come true. “I always promised I’d be there for those who want to be inspired,” he says. “If I can’t share this with anyone else, then it’s not worth it.”