An Interview with John Felty and Matthew B. Mayes of Jupiter Coyote: A worldly view of Southern Rock

"Blues is form that is largely unchanged that expresses the hurt of the heart and soul and Jazz is a radical departure from that and is more cerebral..."

Jupiter Coyote: Beyond from music borders

In the course of their 23 year history, Jupiter Coyote has played over four thousand shows, traveled everywhere and done just about everything a touring band can do. JC is brand name and still trucking along, despite today’s ever-changing, increasingly unpredictable music scene. JC plays it the way they feel it - with little regard as to where they fall between the cracks of what is considered trendy and fashionable. A band prolific in its writing, skilled in its musicianship and congenial in its nature, they remain the prototype of the truly independent band.



Coyote has shared the stage with The Allman Brothers Band, Dave Matthews, Widespread Panic, String Cheese, The Radiators and Kansas just to name a few. The group traces its roots to Brevard, N.C., where childhood friends Matthew Mayes (guitar, guijo, vocals) and John Felty (vocals, guitars) decided in 1990 to pursue a career in music. In essence, Jupiter Coyote is a musical stew with members adding their own individual flavor to the mix. The band is the new twist in southern rock and they deliver it with a relaxed, worldly view. Their sound has been labeled “Mountain Rock” - a mixture of Southern Appalachian boogie, bluegrass-infused, funk-rock.

Unlike many touring bands, JC rarely repeats a set from show to show. True to their self-determined “independent band” status, Jupiter Coyote handles all operations themselves. The Coyotes are:  John Felty, Matthew B. Mayes, Sanders Brightwell (bass), Steve Trismen (fiddle, vocals), Noel Felty (drums, vocals),  Benji Shanks (guitar); and Count Mbutu (percussion). 


Interview by Michael Limnios


When was your first desire to become involved in the music & who were your first idols?

Matt: I was in second grade, I saw a young kid playing bluegrass banjo at a festival and I knew I wanted to learn to play right then. I was always fascinated with guitars too at a very young age, any kind. Anyone who had one I would bug them all the time to let me hold it and try and play it. First idols were Earl Scruggs, Raymond Fairchild, Mark Pruitt, Jimmy Page, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and David Gilmore.

John: From an early age I was around music as my mother played piano and I was always drawn to it.  I also had older sisters, 13 and 16 years older.  They turned me on to the Allman Brothers, Little Feat and Marshall Tucker when I was 8 years old and then I discovered Lynyrd Skynyrd.  All that made me want to play guitar.


What do you learn about yourself from the music, what does the Mountain Rock mean to you?

Matt: I write most all of the songs so the music is very close to the bone for me. I have found that searching my own personal experience makes for the best songwriting, people can send eth conviction in it. Mountain Rock is a term that someone came up with in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It has certainly stuck over the years. It is a hybrid blend of bluegrass, funk, blues, jazz, and a good helping of southern boogie.

John: I think the experience of being on the road with a group of guys trying to achieve success showed my skills not only as a musician but also part of a leadership team with Matt. It allowed me to find my talents as a listener and use my creativity to come up with solutions. It also made me realize that I liked being with my band mates but also cherished my “alone time” Mountain Rock was term to describe our sound.  It was rock & roll but it had these bluegrass and country influences we absorbed growing up in the mountains of North Carolina.



How do you describe your sound, what characterize Jupiter Coyote philosophy and progress?

Matt: I have been best friends with John since first grade. Our musical evolution and journey together started at a very young age, has been telepathic really. John pretty much taught me how to play guitar when I first started fooling with it. We have grown and pushed each other in many cool directions but when we crossed the Guijo and John’s slide guitar playing we hit something magical. The JC philosophy was always play it the way you feel it. Make the music go somewhere.  

John: Our sound is an amalgamation of Rock, Country, Bluegrass and funk/R&B. Often we describe it as a cross between the Allman Bros. and the Doobie Bros. with a touch of Flatt and Scruggs.

Philisophically-Independent, self reliant and crafty with a tenacious survival instinct.


Tell me about the beginning of Jupiter Coyote. How did you choose the name and where did it start?

Matt: My roommate at the time in Macon, GA wrote a song called Jupiter Coyote. His name was John Meyer, an incredible guitar player himself. He was our first sound man too. We loved the fact that the name was cosmic but kind of tribal an organic; and it did not mean anything so whatever we evolved into would define the name. It was just really different. We started the band in Macon, GA, had a few players come and go but by 1993 we were on our way.

John: We became a band purely by accident.  It was really supposed to be only 1 year of playing covers before pursuing more gainful careers in business. But during that first year Matt and I started writing songs and incorporating them in our shows and the response was so positive. I said to Matt “I don’t want to look back 10 years from now and say I wish I’d done that!”

So coming out of being a cover band to an original, we wanted to change the name to have a fresh start. WE went through a lot of possibilities with nothing that stuck. Then in a conversation with our first sound man who was also a great guitar player, very Frank Zappa influenced, and he was telling us about this song he had written called “Jupiter Coyote Shit” and we said that would be a cool name without the shit! It had a visual appeal and it didn’t really mean anything kind of like a “Pink Floyd” So that was it.


Are there any memories from recording time and on the road with the band, which you’d like to share with us?

Matt: I really enjoyed the first 3 albums we made at Duct Tape Studios in Decatur, Al with producer Johnny Sandlin. He really took us under his wing and we learned a great deal from him. One of the nicest people I have ever known too. Waxing Moon and JC Live were great fun too; we cut Waxing Moon and mixed the live album right in my front yard in the remote recording truck in Brevard, NC. We also did those with longtime friend Jim Bickerstaff who also worked as an engineer at Duct Tape with Sandlin. As for the road, I always loved the Colorado and Wyoming tours but after 4400 shows played it is more about the camaraderie of all the guys in the band now, we all still really get along and enjoy playing.

John: I think besides the enjoyment of being able make music for a living, the experience of touring allowed us to see places and meet people we never would have had the opportunity to.  Music opened so many doors professionally and personally.  Pretty much everything I have and my career now producing and promoting live music events is because of Jupiter Coyote. 


From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the music? What is the best advice ever gave you?

Matt: I would say Johnny Sandlin again. It was Johnny that told us it was fine to jam guys, just make it go somewhere. And Robben Ford, we played with him in Birmingham on a show and he told us to find the balance between touring all the time and down time which is critical to keep your creative side alive. He said, “you will learn, if you want to be my age and still doing this.”

John: I think we learned from each other as a band from each other and also from other bands jamming and doing shows and just being around other musicians. Really there aren’t any secrets. Its just doing it a lot and being open to ideas.


Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

Matt: The Allman Brothers’ shows we did were a big deal. Those were some really big sheds. It would be hard to pick one moment though, we have had hundreds of them really. The worst would probably be after 9/11 in this country when we had to cancel our first Europe tour that just killed us.

John: They were all great moments. Forming the band, writing songs, hanging with other bands, the ascension to being successful, the camaraderie, being on stage with your heroes; the feeling of thousands of people singing along to songs that we wrote. There is nothing like that. The whole experience I would not change. 

The worst part of it is the toll it takes on your personal life. We toured heavily, on the road all the time. After I had my first child, that put life in a different perspective and realized there were other things, more traditional things that I wanted to experience. Realizing that life is short and you can’t do all things and be all things. The realization hit me that I was not happy on the road away from my wife and kid(s) and that the band had hit a plateau. We were doing well but in order to stay at that level we had to stay on the road. So we made a collective decision to stop touring for a while and that forced us to pursue other means of supporting ourselves and our families.  That was a tough time.



What is the “feeling” you miss most nowadays from the 70s Southern Rock era?

Matt: The playing, the musicians were all really good in those bands. It was more guitars driven too.

John: I think this applies to music in general in that the 70’s was popular music and the emphasis was on the song and actually playing music on instruments as group and the chemistry between the musicians is what created that magic. Self expression via your instrument.   That still happens but it is harder to find now a days.  MTV and other music video mediums took the focus away from the “sound” and put it more on the visual, so now popular music isn’t about music at all, or creative self expression or substance and making a statement.


Why did you think that Southern Rock / Mountain Rock continues to generate such a devoted following? 

Matt: I’m not sure but for some reason it resonates with music listeners. As for JC I think it was realness, honesty and conviction in our music.

John: Relating to what I said about the current state of popular music, Southern Rock fuses the roots music in blues and jazz and country, That stuff is authentic and invokes a real feeling that people will always connect with.  It was a unique era in a time of political and social change and that freedom to express and produce music was a way for artists to speak for the masses of youth. Those youth are now aging but without losing that spirit of the music. Thus it’s still going to be around for a long time.


Some music styles can be fads but the Southern Rock is always with us. Why do think that is?

Matt: I think it is because all of those bands had some great players and some great songs that have stood the test of time. Southern rock music just strikes a chord with folks, makes me just want to turn it up.

John: As I just said, there will always be a place for something that is real and authentic and tangible that people want to connect with. We are bombarded with so called “music” today that lacks real expression and true musicianship


Which memory from Allman Brothers, Dave Matthews, Widespread Panic, Radiators and Kansas makes you smile?

Matt: These bands were all great bands and fun to play with but the Allman Brothers are my best memory. Just watching Warren and Dickey, and later Derek Trucks, every night was incredible.

John: The first time we played with the Allman Bros.  That was for me a highlight getting be on the bill with one of my all-time musical heroes.


What the difference and similarity between the BLUES, JAZZ, JAM ROCK and SOUTHERN ROCK feeling?

Matt: To me the difference is Blues and Jazz are more of the pure forms, the teacher if you will. Jam rock and southern rock are the blended offspring of those pure forms, the preacher if you will.

John: Blues is form that is largely unchanged that expresses the hurt of the heart and soul and Jazz is a radical departure from that and is more cerebral but both are uniquely “African-American”  in origin. Jam rock took the improvisation of Jazz in the context of rock and roll that was born out of blues and allowed for indulgent self-expression and experimentation that is exclusively for the musician playing it. The listener is more a bi-standard and not so much a participant in the experience, although that could be argued, especially when mind-altering drugs are a part of the experience.  So Southern Rock includes the listener in the experience both musically and lyrically because that was the expression of a common experience expressed in a way that the listener identified with.


What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

Matt: Well I only played in one Jam Band, so I guess Jupiter Coyote. As for the shows, it did not really matter where or what the size, if folks were feeling it and we had it going on stage, that was all that really mattered. 

John: They were all unique. I honestly can’t recall one being “better” than another.  A jam doesn’t last long if they aren’t connecting. Some didn’t really evolve but still if there was a connection made with the other players involved either musical or personal it was good. Ultimately it was about connecting.


What is your music DREAM? How you would spend a day with Grateful Dead?

Matt: My music dream right now is to get my home studio built so I can crank out a few more albums. I would really enjoy being able to record and write at my own pace and not feel rushed to get something finished. As for the Dead, for me, just being able to sit around and pick banjo with Jerry would be it.

John: The one band that is most influential was Little Feat. One of the most under recognized bands of the 70’s especially the Lowell George era. I never got to see them with Lowell so to see and play with Lowell would be mine. Of course that can’t happen but it is nice to dream about.  The Dead?  I wouldn’t call myself a deadhead. I appreciate their place in music history but would rather spend it with Little Feat of the Allman’s.


What would you ask of Duane Allman? What would you say to Freddie King?

Matt: For Duane, “who you been jamming with.” For Freddie, “we miss you man.”

John: I’d ask Duane about his influences and how he was exposed to them.

I’d ask Freddy King about having a multi-racial backing band in an era that was still somewhat divided in the U.S. and also why he thinks he had such an influence on the greats like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Clapton?


Jupiter Coyote - Official website




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