Cobra – First Strike (1983)

Cobra_FirstStrike4 out of 5 Stars!

Back in the early ’80s, Cobra emerged as a promising group from the area of Memphis, Tennessee—a band not related in any single way to the state’s booming, renowned Country Music scene—and really grabbed my attention. First Strike, Cobra’s lone album, displayed a maturity and polish not often found on debuts, with the group’s blend of hard ‘n’ heavy rockers and lighter melodic ballads, its sizzling guitars and tight rhythms, and one of the most gifted and recognizable vocalists to have ever emerged in the Hard Rock/AOR genre.

Of course I’m talking about Jimi Jamison, the singer who would eventually go on to major fame as part of the group Survivor, not to mention becoming the answer to a TV Trivia question regarding the track “I’m Always Here,” the theme song of the mega-popular Baywatch series that ran through the entire decade of the ’90s in America. But also featured in Cobra was Canadian-born-turned-Switzerland-resident Mandy Meyer, a chap who would go on to perform tasteful and shredding six-string solos for bands such as Asia and Unisonic, Gotthard and Krokus (for a second time). Anyway, when First Strike sadly didn’t make a huge splash on the scene as anticipated, the group started to disintegrate, and in 1984 with both Jamison and Meyers (the two chief songwriters) leaving Cobra to join up with Survivor and Asia respectively, that certainly signaled the official end for the band, and even all these years later, I can’t help feeling it a crying shame.

As I said above, the band was nothing short of promising. With melodic, hard-hitting songs like the pounding title track to “Only You Can Rock Me,” “Danger Zone,” and “Travelin’ Man,” to “Thorn in Your Flesh,” “Fallen Angel,” and “Blood on Your Money,” the album didn’t lighten up except for the catchy mid-tempo ballads “I’ve Been a Fool Before” and “Looking at You,” the tunes that truly showed the band’s full commercial potential.

With only the merest hint of keyboards to round out the already rich guitar sound and add some atmosphere, the band’s music often came across (to me, anyway) as almost a throwback to Hard Rock groups such as Montrose, April Wine, Moxy, Y&T, and Hydra (but without the latter’s Southern-Rock flavor), only with more than a touch of straightforward AOR magic in the tradition of Survivor (which is why it came as no shock to me when the Chicago band snatched up Jamison to replace the departing Dave “Eye of the Tiger” Bickler, their individual singing voices too similar in style and tone to dismiss).

Anyway, I missed Cobra, hoping for at least a second album, perhaps a reunion of sorts, that would never materialize. Thankfully, aside from Jamison and Meyers, the band’s underrated rhythm section (bassist Tommy Keiser and drummer Jeff Klaven) went on to join Krokus (but at a different time than their former Cobra cohort Meyers), whereas guitarist and keyboardist Jack Holder (previously of Black Oak Arkansas fame) tended to avoid the future limelight, working instead as mostly an in-demand session musician back in Tennessee.

Regardless, based on this enjoyable album, Cobra’s sting should have been felt worldwide, but alas, fate had other ideas.

(RIP Jimi Jamison and Jack Holder)

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