An Interview with the Muddy Sons, a two-man blues band where respect the past with perception of today

"The blues isn't something you can learn. It's something that just has to happen to you." - Madman Sam

The Muddy Sons: Cross Railroads

The Muddy Sons were created when a South bound train out of Chicago collided with a North bound train out of Mississippi. Not literally, of course, but that's the intensity you can expect from this brand new two-man band whose members are anything but new to the blues. The Muddy Sons are comprised of Madman Sam, an intense songwriter/singer/guitarist from Portland, and Jeff "Drummerboy" Hayes, a drummer from Seattle with many years’ experience playing drums for all types of blues and roots music bands. Both Sam and Jeff draw heavy influence from the deep past of traditional blues while keeping a firm grasp on the present and future of today's music.

Madman Sam and Jeff Hayes met at the 2011 Waterfront Blues Festival after Sam's solo acoustic performance and spoke briefly about their mutual love for old delta blues. Over the next several months they had the chance to play together a handful of times and were thrilled with the results. Sam was very impressed with Jeff's range of drumming and extra impressed that he seemed to have the same crazy personality type as him. Nine months after their first meeting the Muddy Sons were born, offering a whole new looks at traditional blues, breathing fresh air into that old raw sound. The result is a Chicago flavored delta blues that is intended to be music for today, not a history lesson.

Debut album of band "Pushed On Down The Road" released on July 4th, 2012 the same day The Muddy Sons, won the Cascade Blues Association's  Journey  to  Memphis  Competition  as  the solo/duo entries and will be representing the association in the  Blues  Foundation's  International  Blues  Challenge  in January/February of 2013.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the “Blues” mean to you?

Sam: The blues is the core of all music we listen to today.  People like to describe the blues with the tree analogy, the whole “blues is the roots” thing, but I actually see the roots as being all the pain, fear, joy, love, sex, hate, and other craziness that music is made up of.  Blues is the trunk!  Look around you.  Everything you see exists for the sole purpose of allowing music to be made, because there is nothing more important to the world than music.  Blues is the core of all that.  The blues contains everything you need to make music – 3 chords and 5 notes.  Now, you can start adding extra notes and chords…twigs, leaves and branches, and make beautiful music, but those twigs, branches and leaves all have to come from the trunk. The blues is the foundation for everything we feel as a people.  Without blues there would be no feelings…or puppies…or anything. Why do think Mars looks so crappy? No blues.

Jeff:  Blues to me is probably a broader term than most folks think of the blues. I can feel & hear the blues in most “roots” oriented styles of music. All the different terms that radio program directors and marketing execs have come up with over the years like “alt. country”, “soul”, “r & b”, “jazz”, etc all have heavy aspects of blues contained within. In other words, to me, if it’s good, it will have an aspect of blues in it. That's what blues means to me. Of course, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me..

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues music?

Sam: I learned everything I know about playing and singing the blues from a small handful of blues men:  Muddy Waters, Johnny Shines, Skip James, and Son House to name a few.  If the blues was an entire tree of its own – these guys would be the trunk! I never met any of these guys, but they taught me everything.  There have been plenty of great blues men through the years but these guys really stand out because they treated every single note they played, and more importantly sang, as the most important note in the world – like it was the last note they were ever going to get to sing.  I remind myself to do that every night before I perform and do my best to live up to that.

Jeff:  There is no way that I could identify anyone in particular. Every soul that has ever shared a stage, backyard, or garage with me has taught me something about the blues and I’m grateful to every one of them. I’m especially grateful to the ones that have placed their original music in my hands for rhythmic interpretation. It’s an honor for me to be a part of something that came from their head, heart, & soul.

                                                                                   Photo by Tony Kutter

What is the best advice a bluesman ever gave you?

Sam: You know, I can’t really recall getting any good advice from anyone, but then again, I’ve never really sought it out either.  Advice is usually someone telling you how to play more like them, or dress like them. People love to say “hey, you're great, I love your originality - now you just need to be like these guys and you'll be successful”. I like to do things my way. It's gotten me in to some trouble, but for the most part it's always been for the best. The way I see it, if you succeed at doing someone else’s thing – you failed. But, if you fail doing your own thing – you didn’t fail at all. Nobody cares that I can paint the Mona Lisa – some other dude already did it - I’m gonna go paint something else.

Jeff:  We have a regional blues legend here in the Pacific Northwest of the United States who goes by Little Bill. Bill has been playing rock n’ roll and blues for longer than I’ve been alive. If anyone deserves to just sit back and wait for the phone to ring, it’s him. But he told me that he has NEVER had the luxury of waiting for the phone to ring. He cultivates relationships and makes phone calls, gets on the computer, shakes hands, whatever he has to do to get the gigs. I figure that if Little Bill can go out year after year and make that happen, then it’s ok for me as well. I don’t wait for the phone to ring...

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

Sam: For better or worse, they’ve all been interesting. I seriously can’t pick any one stage of my life as being the MOST interesting. Every stage of my life has been at the very least…interesting. Right this second I’m doing an interview with a guy all the way over in Greece – that’s pretty damn interesting!

Jeff:  The most interesting period in my life is the moment that I’m current living in because what's past is done and the future isn’t yet here. The only period of time that I can do anything about is the here and now, so that's where I try and live my life.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?                                                     (Photo by Joe Davis)

Sam: Learn everything. It doesn’t matter if you only plan to play guitar – learn piano, learn harmonica, learn clarinet. Learn to play every kind of music. Learn music theory.  Learn music business. Learn music law. Learn to manage all your crap on the internet. Write poetry, draw, paint, build bird houses. Meet everyone - not just in the music business, not just people who can help you - everyone.  Nobody ever failed in business because they knew too many people.  Learn the name of everyone you deal with and how YOU might be able to help THEM! It’s not just the bad shit that goes around and comes around.  Good shit does that too!

The girl who pours your coffee in the morning – she has a name – learn it. Those 4 people who have been in line with you to get that coffee every single day for the last 10 years – meet them! You deal with hundreds of people every day.  If you don't – get out more, you should be dealing with hundreds of people every day. Get to know the people around you – they're part of your life. Be nice to people. Help out when you can.

You can't sneeze without spitting on 50 guitar players. How you act as a person is way more important than your musicianship when it comes to moving forward in music, and in life! Most importantly, don’t take anyone’s advice unless it feels right to you after you hear it.

Jeff:  Get a rich girl/boyfriend or choose another career.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES

Sam: As long as there's music, there will be blues.  Its popularity as a genre comes and goes, but it's so intermingled with most other genres of music that it can't really go away.  Like I've said a few times already – the blues is the core of all the other music.

My one wish for the blues? I wish people would quit treating it like a barely breathing body on life-support that needs CPR all the time.  Seriously, stop it! You’re scaring the kids away. Young people don't want to be a part of trying to preserve some rotting old corpse. We need to just treat the blues the same as any other current music and just play the shit out of it! Kids that like good music will find their way to it.

Jeff: The blues will always be with us because it’s the basis for almost every kind of music made in America. You may have to dig a little, but the blues will always be there.

My wish for the blues would be that young people would come to know it and learn to love it the way that I do. I have daughters that are in their early 20’s and until I introduced them to the blues, they didn't even know that they liked it. I think that its a matter of education and introduction.

What is the “feel” you miss most nowadays from Mississippi blues of the 1920s - 30s, and Chicago blues of the 1940s - 50s?

Sam: The thing I miss the most from those eras is vocals! The vocals used to be treated as the most important part of the music. For many years now, the vocals have been treated as secondary – at best! Everything revolves around the guitar, and how many notes you can wring out of it. Let me tell you something – there has never been a guitar with the blues.  Plain and simple – guitars don’t get the blues. You show me a guitar that’s been cheated on, poisoned, thrown in jail or executed for a crime it didn’t commit and MAYBE I’ll consider it to be more than an accompaniment for a singer, but until then…

I also really miss the raw passion that was captured in those early recordings before we had the ability to edit out every bit of emotion. Over-production is really killing the feel of music in every genre.  Stop it already!

There are definitely many exceptions to this, but you have to dig a bit to find them sometimes. The more popular an act is, the higher the probability that their screws are being turned by some hot-shot know-it-all producer who’s never heard of Muddy Waters. You can still find some good raw sounds out there though…plenty of them out there.

Jeff:  With all of the recording technology available these days it’s possible to produce a virtually “perfect” recording. I think that in the pursuit of “perfection” we may have lost the soul of the music.

When we talk about blues, we usually refer to memories and moments of the past. Apart from the old cats of blues, do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

Sam: Oh hell yea! I mean there are a lot of people just going through the motions, but it always pisses me off when people say that there's not ANY good music/blues today – there's tons of it. The people who say that, would never turn off their televisions long enough to discover any, is the problem. My favorite blues musician right now is John Németh.  He's a young guy. I'm not sure how young, but at least 10 or more years younger than me and he's absolutely amazing. Hands-down the best blues singer I've heard in a long time! Great harp player too. And, I don't mean to say “he's good for his age”, he's good for any age and will go down in history as a truly great blues man. They're out there – you just gotta listen. It’s amazing to me that people who get 100% of their daily music consumption from American Idol tryouts will complain about the state of music today. If you’re gonna drink from the toilet, don’t act surprised when it tastes shitty.

Jeff:  I don’t know about everyone else. But I still get the blues. So yes, I do believe that the blues exist today.

What’s the difference between a good blues musician and a bluesman, who lives the experience through blues.

Sam: There is no difference. If you can't live through your blues and truly feel it when you play, you can never be a good blues musician. When it comes down to the technical nuts and bolts of playing the blues, I could teach you everything there is to know in 20 minutes. But if it ain't in your heart to play the blues, you ain't never gonna play 'em. Those chords, scales and lyrics ain't the blues. The way they affect every aspect of your life – that's the blues. The blues isn't something you can learn.  It's something that just has to happen to you.

Jeff:  I’m not qualified to answer this question because I’m a drummer … not a musician 

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

Sam: I’m not really a big jam guy.  Jams tend to be a lot of cover songs with a whole lot of really long solos.  It can be fun once in a while but it's just not really my thing.  I'm just more in to writing and playing my own music and songs. The best jam I played in though, was in November 2011 at a fundraiser. I hadn't played electric guitar in like 15 years, but since the fundraiser was basically a big jam, I figured I'd dust off the electric, do something different, and have some fun.  That was the first time me and Jeff “Drummerboy” Hayes played together and was the first spark in the big-ass fire that would become The Muddy Sons about 6 months later.

Are there any memories from the road with Madman Sam, which you’d like to share with us?

Jeff: Not really. Although we both have been playing and traveling for some time, we’re a relatively new band, so we haven’t had many opportunities yet. But I’m hoping to create some noteworthy stories in the very near future (watch out Sam!)

The Muddy Sons - Official website

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