Jammin' at the Howlin' Cow
How a blues man from Como turned a 1950s dairy barn into a recording studio
Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

The Underground Band: Left to right, Bobby Coffman, lead guitar; Oliver Mowat, keyboard; Debra Bohanon, rhythm guitar; Andy Stephens, drums; and Gary Massey, bass. Not pictured is Lenny Robinson, soundman

Aug. 27, 2006 -- As the official "Dairy Capitol of Texas," Hopkins County has undoubtedly “got milk,” but many residents will be surprised to learn that the growing community recently “got the blues,” as well. 

Bobby Coffman, a blues musician from Como, cleverly brought the two together by turning a 1950s dairy barn into a hometown-recording studio.  Howlin’ Cow Studio, located on the Walls Family Farm off State Highway 11 east on CR 2321, emerged after Coffman, a builder by trade, discovered great acoustics inside the old parlor-style barn that sits next to the house he is renting and renovating.

“A neighbor down the road said the only thing the place was good for was a bulldozer," laughed Coffman, the singer, songwriter and lead guitarist for the Underground Band, whose only real intention was to use the space as a place for his band to rehearse in. "But the sound was so incredible we decided to take it the extra mile and establish it as a studio.”

The studio got its name when a friend presented to Coffman a ceramic, howling Holstein dairy cow, found at a garage sale, saying, "Anyone who rehearses and records in a dairy barn has got to have this."

Bobby Coffman's Underground Band, which has been performing together for the past four years, is made up of veteran musicians from the area, players who throughout their careers have been in and out of recording studios across the country, according to Coffman. 

"Combined, we have over 100 years experience," he said, laughing again.

The group itself recorded their first CD together, “The Blues Is Live," in 2004 in Clarksdale, Miss., at Jimbo Mathis’ Delta Recording Studio.

“It has nothing on this place,” said Coffman, who has since recorded the band's second CD, “Band With A Plan,” at the local studio. 

Coffman attributes the barn's old-fashioned stanchions, or head gates, as the reason for the studio's exceptional resonance.

“They sort of act as a baffle, or sub-woofer, that lets the music travel through the room, giving it a real breathy sound,” he explained. “There is a certain tone generated by a vacuum tube — almost a warmth. You can feel it. With solid state you don’t get that. It’s dry, almost processed. Once you learn to listen for it and then achieve it, it’s kind of a neat thing.”

According to Coffman, East Texas hadd no place with that kind of sound for musicians to record at until now..

“We have people traveling up and down this interstate [I-30] going all the way to Clarksdale to record their music,” he said. “And some of the greatest are from right here in Texas: Stevie Ray Vaughn, Freddie King, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, ZZ Top. We’ve produced quite a few. So, why not have a place for them right here?”

Coffman said the Howlin' Cow will provide an opportunity for musicians, from near and far, to sneak off to the country for a unique and impressive recording experience. 

"We'll invite the cream of the crop from the Metroplex, like Hash Brown and Perry Jones, feed 'em good and let them try it out. I know they will be as impressed with this place as I am," he said. "There is no telling who will end up recording here."

However, the facility is not only for professionals. Anyone from any genre of music is welcome to use the studio for a nominal rate of $45 an hour in addition to a $100 engineering fee. 

The studio has advanced digital mastering capabilities, thanks to Adobe software.

"A lot of studios don't have this capability," Coffman said. "This puts us up there on the professional level. With this, we can even turn old videos into DVDs."

In addition to recording, the studio also features the Drip Shed Stage out back where open mic jamborees are held every Sunday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., free of charge.

The jam sessions are family-oriented and open to the public, with activities such as volleyball and horseshoes. Once the event really takes off, Coffman said, they may even fire up the grill.

"We'll be selling our CDs and T-shirts," said Coffman, who has been playing the nightclub scene and blues festivals for the past 15 years. "Sometimes singin' the blues is good for what ails you. This will be a big dose of positive energy for anyone around."

For more information, call 903-488-3510.

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