They’ve dubbed themselves “the band that won’t go away.”
But, in truth, the last thing a legion of die-hard fans around B.C. want is for the Mud Bay Blues Band to disappear into the ether.
After four decades of music making, the band and their iconic, luxuriously-bearded front man, singer and harmonica player Mud Bay Slim (aka Harold Arnold), are indisputable South Surrey-White Rock legends.
This Saturday (Feb. 24), at 8 p.m. at the Crescent Legion Club 240, they’ll be celebrating “40 years of the blues and beyond” – and their fifth independent release, Mud Bay Live at Lorenzo’s.
Slim and his longtime colleagues – drummer Murphy Farrell, singer/guitarist Mark Branscombe, bassist Dennis Ingvaldson and singer/multi-instrumentalist Randall T. Carpenter on guitar, steel guitar and mandolin – have evolved an almost telepathic musical communication, a huge help in developing a playlist that, since their last album, Colebrook Road, veers more toward originals than covers.
“We used to be about the loosest band around,” Slim admitted to Peace Arch News. “It took us about 30 years to tighten it up, but now we’re getting compliments that we’re the tightest band people have heard.
“We’ve got four songwriters in the band and three vocalists – it’s not all about one person, which is a little unusual.”
About the only other change to the band – which has been remarkably consistent in its lineup since the tragic loss of charter member Floyd (Jim Lougheed) in a car accident a decade ago – is its current gradual rebranding into ‘Mud Bay.’
Slim said they’re following the example of the Downchild Blues Band, which has become simply Downchild in recent years, but it’s also an acknowledgment that these days, in addition to classic Chicago blues, they’re just as likely to play songs that could be classed as country, Cajun, rock or soul.
While he is still the front-man, he also pays tribute to the significant musical leadership of Carpenter, who, he says is – in addition to being a great instrumentalist – “a writer and arranger with a keen sense of how things should be presented.”
But the other secret of the Mud Bay Blues Band’s success is a humourous twinkle in the eye that goes back to the roots of the project and has been reflected in the multiple nicknames and personas the band members have had over the years (Slim admits he was once a Led Zeppelin, Allman Brothers enthusiast who went by the moniker Chuck Farley).
They’ve never really presented a purist’s idea of the blues – “we always say that if there are any purists in the house we’re ready to meet them outside in the parking lot,” Slim chuckled.
The truth, he said, is that the band members all came to it in the late `70s as a concept project, as musicians primarily coming from local rock and punk bands like Kilgore Trout and Art Bergmann.
“It started when I was the subcontractor to put together a lineup of bands who’d play for next to nothing at the White Rock Sea Festival or Canada Day or something – the guy who was organizing it was a cigar-smoking Realtor who didn’t know anything about music.
“I pulled a little joke on him, told him there was this old black guy named Mud Bay Slim who lived on the foreshore of Mud Bay and played blues.
“I put together something called the Mud Bay Country Blues experience. I wasn’t black, but I had this old beater guitar with three strings and I had my dog – Bernie The Wonder Dog – and when I played harmonica he’d sing along with me.”
Out of a three-song set came the inspiration for the Mud Bay Blues Band, which Slim put together with musicians who were working with other bands.
“For the first year or so we had a kind of floater lineup – whoever was available. Then suddenly, we started getting really popular as a party band – we were playing baseball dances and all kinds of things. We got really popular way up in the valley and in the interior and broke down all kinds of doors – including The Yale in Vancouver – before there was a blues scene, when bands were all Graffiti or Motown.
“In fact, I think we were even more popular then, when we were really crummy, than now when we’re getting kind of good.”
Humourous self-deprecation aside, the real testament to the band’s success is the compliments its picked up over the years from such greats as James Cotton – who said “it’s like playing with family” – and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
And it continues to win fans from regular airplay of Colebrook Road on CBC’s Saturday Night Blues, CFRO, CITR and LG104 and Roundhouse Radio, along with Internet radio in Europe, Canada and the U.S., and community and university radio across Canada as well as Stingray Music.
Saturday’s venue is at 2643 128 St. Tickets ($20) are available at the door or at the Legion box office, 604-535-1043.
Mud Bay Blues Band will also perform at release parties for Live at Lorenzo’s at Vancouver’s Fairview Pub on March 11, the Heritage Club in New Westminster, March 17 and at The Byrd, in Whalley, on April 14.