Rachel Nagy, founding member and lead singer of the Motor City garage rock outfit the Detroit Cobras, has died. The band — which Nagy formed in the early Nineties alongside guitarist Mary Ramirez — announced Nagy’s death Saturday on social media. No cause of death was revealed, nor was Nagy’s age at the time of her death.
“It is with a heavy heart and great sadness that we announce the loss of our beloved friend and musical colleague, Rachel Lee Nagy,” Detroit Cobras’ longtime guitarist Greg Cartwright wrote.
“There are no words to fully articulate our grief as we remember a life cut short, still vital and inspirational to all who knew and loved her. With the Detroit Cobras Rachel Nagy carried the torch of Rock, Soul and R&B to fans all over the world. More than just a performer, she embodied the spirit of the music itself and vaulted it to new heights with her own deeply affecting vocal power. I know that I am not alone when I say that I was inspired by her vitality, her fierce intensity and her vulnerability.”
Third Man Records, which reissued the Detroit Cobras’ first two albums and released their final single (“What More”/”I Can’t Go Back”) in 2018, added in a statement, “In both her voice and personality, Rachel Nagy was the perfect balance of tough badass and absolute sweetheart. From the earliest White Stripes shows at the Magic Stick in Detroit through the Third Man 10th anniversary show in Nashville, Rachel and the Detroit Cobras have been a consistent inspiring presence in our world for nearly 25 years. We will truly miss the sound of her room-filling laughter, her no bullshit honesty, and her true friendship. Rest in power.”
Formed in Detroit in 1994, the Detroit Cobras gained popularity within the city’s music scene and abroad for their garage rock covers of Sixties songs; dubbed “Detroit’s Most Famous Cover Band,” the Detroit Cobras’ four studio LPs — notably 1998’s Mink, Rat or Rabbit and 2001’s Life, Love and Leaving, recorded on Sympathy for the Record Industry, the same label that released the first three White Stripes records — were all covers albums, with Nagy, Ramirez and their army of collaborators delivering renditions of songs by Irma Thomas, the Shangri-Las, the Marvelettes and more.
In 2016, Third Man Records reissued Mink, Rat or Rabbit (“one of the earliest salvos in the great Detroit garage explosion of the turn of the century,” the label wrote at the time) and Life, Love and Leaving. “The inimitable vocals of Rachel Nagy would no-doubt be a template from which folks like Amy Winehouse would work from years later. A landmark collection of covers,” the label said.
“People think, ‘Oh, they’re covers, it’s easy, what’s the problem?’ It’s actually harder. When people are playing original songs, they have the freedom to fuck up, they can change something. With us, it is something very specific that we’re after,” Nagy told All I Could See in 2018 (via American Songwriter).
“That’s the funny thing when people call us a cover band. Usually, cover bands are at the corner bar playing Creed and songs everyone knows and wants to sing along with… Even those that are very deep into their music, they’re usually pretty surprised to find out what songs are what.”
The Detroit Cobras had recently scheduled a series of 2022 concerts — including a hometown Detroit gig on Jan. 7 — but those shows were postponed due to the Omicron surge.
“Once plans have been finalized by the family we will post more information regarding further details to memorialize Rachel and pay tribute to her life,” Cartwright continued. “Until then, please know that if you are as devastated by this news as we are, you are not alone. We are with you in your grief.”