One of the classic Texas Tenors, there was always excitement elicited by Cobb’s uninhibited, blasting style which earned him the label Wild Man of the Tenor Sax.
Arnette Cleophus Cobbs, was born on August 10, 1918, in Houston, Texas. He was taught piano by his grandmother and went on to study violin before taking up tenor saxophone in the Wheatley High School band. When he was fifteen he joined Louisiana band leader Frank Davis’s band and performed in the Houston area and throughout Louisiana during the summer. He worked with trumpeter Chester Boone for two years and left to become a founding member of the Milton Larkin Orchestra in 1936.
Cobb worked with Larkin for six years and, with members Eddie Vinson, Cedric Haywood, Wild Bill Davis, Illinois Jacquet, and others, made the band one of the most successful territorial bands from Texas. The band became a regular at venues including the Apollo Theatre in Harlem and boxer Joe Louis's Rhumboogie Club in Chicago.
Originator of the “open prairie” tone and “southern preacher” style, Cobb continually turned down offers from many national bands including Jimmy Lunceford, Count Basie, and Lionel Hampton. However, with his mother’s approval, and Gladys Hampton’s offer to Elizabeth (Cobb’s wife), in 1942 Arnett took the lead saxophone chair in Hampton’s band, replacing Illinois Jacquet, who had gotten the position as Arnett’s substitute (from an original 1941 offer to Cobb). Jacquet had held his position with Hampton on the condition that he switch from alto to tenor and “play like Cobb.” With Cobb as the featured soloist, Hampton re- recorded his theme song, Flying Home [No. 2]. He was a major asset to the Hampton band for five years as co- writer, writer, reed-section arranger, lead saxophone, featured soloist, and talent scout. Gladys Hampton and Elizabeth Cobb helped manage the band, and Cobb’s mother did the tailoring.