Talk Music: The Mudcatz shake up downtown Victoria blues scene
Sept. 11, 2013 at 4:11 a.m.
Head to downtown Victoria on Thursday night and catch a glimpse of The Mudcatz in action.
Appealing to "catz and kittenz" of all ages, lead guitarist and vocalist Terry Easterwood said it's about promoting blues in the Crossroads, sharing the stage with talented musicians and keeping it fresh.
For the past year, the trio, including Easterwood, Mike DiSanto and Richard Mahan, has been a staple at Steve-a-reno's. They're now expanding their reach to get the weekend started early.
How long have the Mudcatz been playing in the Victoria area?
We have been playing as The Mudcatz for about 13 months now.
We started not long after Steve-a-reno's opened.
We had a group of us go down there and visit with Steve on a Saturday. He had an opening on the following Saturday.
What's the story behind the band?
We had a group of other guys who were playing together. I played with Mike DiSanto and a couple of other guys. The drummer wasn't able to make it, and we needed to get a drummer. Separately, I had played with The Rackitt, and Richard Mahan is in that band. He's a friend; I asked if he knew any drummers. He said he'd play if we had drums, and we had drums.
It's an association of musicians that tends to change a little bit from time to time. If Mike can't make it, sometimes we get a different bass player. Sometimes, Richard moves over to bass, and we get a different drummer.
What's good about having an association with these musicians is you can accommodate each other and back each other up.
Last time I saw the band, a woman got on stage and did "Proud Mary." Amazing.
Her name is Hope Boyle. She's got a tremendous voice.
She's one of these ladies who sings in the church. Like with boys choir, that's where it all starts.
If you learn your music in the church, you've got a pretty good background.
I sang in church choirs when I was a kid and when I was a young adult raising my kids. It teaches you about harmony and stuff like that.
Where was your introduction to the fundamentals of blues music?
The biggest thing to me - getting back to traditional blues - was living in Washington State before I came to Victoria. I played with a guy in Northwest Washington who played a lot of traditional blues around the state.
There's a joke up there in Northwest Washington - a "Do Not Play List."
I've relented and played one or two of those songs, but there are some things that just everybody plays and everybody expects. You try to stay away from those things because they're the throwaway blues tunes everybody plays.
There aren't many groups around Victoria that can pull off being a trio. What's it like for you?
When I was in high school, I fronted a three-man band. That's not really my preference. I like being just the guitar player.
At some point, I felt that if it was going to happen, I needed to do the singing.
It's nice to have somebody else in there playing with you.
Sometimes, we have Garland Spencer playing keyboards; sometimes, we have another guitar player. It's a little easier on my voice to make it through a gig to share those duties with other folks.
As time has gone on, I've gotten my singing technique a little bit better. I don't just wear out my voice doing a gig.
The first musical endeavor I did was in boys choir, so there's some fundamental stuff about singing that came back to me. When I'm tired and hitting notes that aren't easy, I use my diaphragm like you're supposed to.
The Mudcatz don't play the cliche blues songs; where'd you build your repertoire?
Every since I was a kid, even before I played guitar, my dad brought home the Cream album "Wheels of Fire."
That kind of music - the music that used to play on the San Antonio AM Station KTSA - I would get that up in Temple when I was growing up.
It wasn't just contemporary stuff; it was also stuff that was a little bit of a hangover from the British blues invasion - Jeff Beck and some of the things that inspired some of the Led Zeppelin tunes. That's in the back of your mind, and part of what you playing growing up - ZZ Top, Johnny Winter and stuff like that.
As time goes on and you study the music, you learn they learned that music from other people. You get back to the original blues in Mississippi, Chicago and some parts of Texas.
What's your favorite song to play with the band?
There's no one song in particular. The way we perform the tunes, it depends on where we are with the audience and who's there that night and where we are with each other.
It's not dependent on a particular song as much as it is those fluid things - the mood you're in, audience feedback and band feedback.
It's hard to pin it down to any one tune.
Nothing is jumping out at me, one song over another. There are some that are tougher and some that are easier.
When I was up in Washington, a signature tune for me was Albert King's "Don't Throw Your Love On Me So Strong."
When people ask me to play "Stormy Monday," I play that.
How would you describe the state of blues music in Victoria?
Since we've started playing, I've been more aware of the live music going on.
It's really hard for me to say without that perspective what was going on before we started playing.
I feel like since the downtown venues have opened up, it hasn't just revitalized downtown, it's revitalized the local music scene.
I know that just from talking with the other local musicians in town; it's refreshing to know that the live music starts generally as early as Wednesday and goes through the weekend.
As far as blues in particular and more of the blues-rock oriented flavors of blues, there wasn't a good venue for that until Steve-a-reno's opened up. I think that was instrumental to opening up a different genre for people to come listen to.
When I talk to people, they say that years ago, Victoria had that kind of genre that people would go to listen to, but it died off. I think it's been born again. It's vital now.
So have you seen the attitude change?
There's something you hear from time to time that I speak up when I hear - it is somebody will be talking about somebody from out of town coming to town.
The thing that's thrown out there is, "You just don't get talent like that in Victoria."
You've got talent like that performing every night in Victoria. Maybe you need to get downtown and listen.
If you go out in the country and hear some of the people who get together at the country music jamborees, the musicians are talented; it's just that nobody knows about them. There are guys who played Texas swing when it was new. They're in their 80s, and they're still performing.
I'm noticing more young musicians like Gary Clark Jr. becoming successful in the blues. What is it about blues that crosses generations?
It's a common denominator. Whether it's happy or sad, it's real close to the bone, real close to the heart. As a genre, you can hear it in all kinds of different music.
I played more legit blues when I was up in Washington state.
The thing that was interesting to me about it was those people loved it. They liked hearing me sing with my Texas accent; it was more what they considered legit, I guess.
Outside of a few places like Dallas, Houston and Austin, you don't see a whole lot of interest in people playing blues in Texas.
That's one of the reasons I enjoy playing it in Victoria. We've got people who are interested in hearing it. They haven't heard it in so long, or they haven't heard it that much, and it resonates with them.
What's up next?
Trying to keep it fresh and be sensitive to the audience and deliver what they're looking for while we're trying to keep the quality up.
Try to keep it open to other musicians to come and perform with us and rotate in and out and things of that nature, to keep the audience a little bit surprised about what might be different tonight.