An Interview with Mud Bay
(The following interview was conducted via e-mail and by telephone on March 3 & 4, 2007. The questions came from author/journalist Greg Potter. Randall T. Carpenter and Mud Bay Slim supplied the answers.)
1) What is Mud Bay and where is it?
Geographically, Mud Bay is an adjunct of the larger Boundary Bay and lies about 22 kilometres southeast of Vancouver on the Delta-Surrey border adjacent to Crescent Beach. (You pass by Mud Bay anytime you drive south on Hwy. 99 from Vancouver to White Rock or the U.S. border.)
Ecologically, it is an area of mud flats and tidal marshes, home to huge numbers of shore birds such as Dunlins and Sanderlings (members of the sandpiper family) whose combined numbers there peak in the tens of thousands.
Historically, it is the agricultural area associated with Elgin, the early settlement center established circa 1872 as a base for logging operations. Elgin became the cultural hub of the area, a stage stop on the Semiahmoo Road with a six-room hotel, barn and blacksmith’s shop.
Mythically, it is the legendary birthplace of the Mud Bay Delta Blues Sound and the spiritual homeland of its foremost and most famed practitioner, Mud Bay Slim (“King of the Mud Bay Delta Blues” / “A Legend In His Spare Time“) and his band of merry men, The Mud Bay Blues Band.
2) Didn’t everybody in the band, as well as Bergmann and guys like that, come from there or that area?
Everybody except Randall T. Carpenter was born and raised in the wilds of Surrey (and adjacent vicinities.) Carpenter was born and raised in the wilds of East Vancouver.
The MBBB began as a part time / sometime coalition of musicians playing in the various bands that comprised the South Surrey music scene of the mid-to-late 70s (of which the Shmorgs were the central figures and kingpins) and later coalesced into a permanent band upon the disintegration of 3 of those bands: The Shmorgs, Kilgore Trout, and The Monitors. Various members of these bands soon resurfaced in Vancouver and became fixtures in the burgeoning punk rock scene there, forming or joining bands such as The Young Canadians (Bergmann) Active Dog (John Armstrong, Gord Nicholl, Bill Scherke) Pointed Sticks (Gord Nicholl), the Modernettes (John Armstrong), and Los Popularos (Bergmann, Armstrong, Nicholl, Scherke.)
Carpenter also migrated back to his hometown soon thereafter and became active in the Vancouver music scene with such bands as The Melody Pimps, Thirsty Souls, The Nelson Brothers and, later, Hunting Party and The Frank Frink Five. He also played stints as a sideman with Herald Nix, The Yo-Dells, and The Modernettes (where he co-wrote a number of songs including “Red Nails”, “I Can Only Give You Everything”, “Tears Will Fall” and “The Rebel Kind”.)
Slim: “That’s our origins, I was brought up there and I always think of us as being from White Rock, even though most of the guys live in Vancouver now. But I think being from here is one of the things that distinguishes us from the Vancouver blues scene. We created our own scene out here…”
Randall T. Carpenter: “Speaking of Art Bergmann, the Mud Bay rhythm section, drummer Murphy Farrell and bassist Dennis Ingvaldson, were Arthur’s original cohorts and partners-in-crime in the legendary Shmorgs. They were the hottest and most in-demand rhythm section in the area.
3) How many original members? Who?
As noted above, the band originally had something of a revolving line-up.
Slim: “I would rent a hall for a dance or book a club gig and whoever wasn’t playing somewhere else with their regular band would back me up.”
Later, when the MBBB settled into a regular line-up and began touring and playing one-nighters outside their base area, the personnel was:
Harold Arnold (a.k.a. Mud Bay Slim) – harmonica and vocals
James Lougheed (a.k.a. Floyd Reamer) – guitar and vocals
Mark Branscombe (a.k.a. Mark McGill) – bass and vocals
Murphy Farrell (a.k.a. Nervo Negrew, a.k.a. Mr. Meanstick) – drums
Tom Upex (a.k.a. Spazz Otis) – piano and vocals
Randall T. Carpenter (a.k.a. Rudy Mono) – guitar and vocals
When Upex and Carpenter departed and Dennis Ingvaldson joined the band as bassist, Branscombe switched over to guitar. This line-up (with various additional guitarists, horn players, etc) stayed consistent until Jim Lougheed’s untimely death, at which time Carpenter and Gord Nicholl rejoined the band as full time members.
Randall T. Carpenter: “It took two of us to replace Jim Lougheed. He was a giant of a musician. When he died (in a single car fatality in the late 90s) Gord and I told Slim, ‘Don‘t let this break up the band, Jim would have hated that… So we volunteered our services until such time as they decided what they wanted to do… I think Slim had a number of players in mind that he intended to audition–and there was certainly no shortage of guitar-slingers vying for the job–but once Gord and I had played a number of gigs with them, Murphy, Mark and Dennis told him to forget about auditions. ‘These are the guys,‘ they told him. And I think that by then Slim felt the same way. It made more sense to bring a couple of founding members back into the fold than to bring in someone new–no matter how hot a player he might be…”
4) What has kept the band alive for 28 years?
Slim: “Definitely the love of doing it, playing music for the right reasons, not to chase the brass ring…”
Randall T. Carpenter: “The respect the band members have for each other and for the music they play and write. That was one of the things that struck me when I rejoined the band after being away for so long. With Mud Bay, it’s so much more about craft than artifice–very different from other bands I’ve worked with or been acquainted with over the years … There’s nothing contrived about this band, no ‘5 steps to show biz heaven’ b.s. It’s all about the music.”
5) What was the impetus to stay in the country in the late-’70s rather than follow the exodus to Vancouver for the punk-rock sweepstakes?
Slim: “I always knew that the blues had its relevance whether it was currently in style or not. And I knew its time would come and considered it a worthwhile project to keep going on… We were always a people’s band with a solid following in our home base so we just kept bringing the music to the people who wanted to hear it…“
Randall T. Carpenter: : “Actually, the band did play a number of Vancouver venues during the early days of punk… At one point, we got fired from The Windmill Club for ‘being a blues band masquerading as punks.’ The concept that punks might play blues had zero credibility back then… And though we shared an affinity for raucous guitar-driven music with our friends in the Vancouver punk scene, there were no venues for what we were doing… None of the r& b rooms in Vancouver were interested in these wildmen from Surrey who played too loud and too fast and didn’t give a damn about being properly reverent about the blues… They took one look at us and slammed and locked the door…”
6) What style of blues does the band emulate? Name some influences.
Randall T. Carpenter: “We were originally inspired by the Chicago Blues masters: Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James, Little Walter… and also by the British Blues band of the 60s–especially The Yardbirds. Back then, we called our style ‘Neo-Yardbirdism’ and tried to play with the same energy we heard in their records…”
7) How influential were the British Invasion blues bands: Yardbirds, Stones, Animals, Them, Cream, Jeff Beck Group, even Led Zep?
Slim: “Very influential–especially The Yardbirds… A lot of blues purists don’t appreciate them but we all grew up listening to rock music and it was through the British bands that we were led back to the original Chicago Blues that inspired them. It’s like B.B. King said: ‘If it wasn’t for those guys, I’d still be playing the Chitlin Circuit…’ And that’s the truth. What really opened American ears to American music was having somebody from another country shove it back in their faces in a bombastic manner… Of course, later on we did work hard on playing a more traditional style and sounding more like the original Chicago blues…”
8) Is this the first release for the band? If so, why did you wait so long?
Slim: “We’ve been featured on 5 or so releases over the years, a few bootleg albums and such, and put out our first official release, ‘Floyd’, a few years back. It took us many years to get around to recording it but it was really easy when we did ‘cause we’d had the band together for so long… This is our second one and it was a lot tougher to do because we were reconfiguring at the time, working out what it was that we wanted to do and we had to come to terms with that. Then it took us a while to get down to writing some good songs to make it worth doing… “
Randall T. Carpenter: “They originally were going to call that first album ‘Death, Taxes and the Mud Bay Blues Band’ but ended up calling it ’Floyd’ instead–in tribute to Jim Lougheed, who passed away shortly after the recording was completed. ‘Floyd’ was his nickname. So when we recorded the current album, which is the first one done since Gord and I rejoined the band, we decided to use the original title. It seemed appropriate…”
9) Is it all originals? Any covers?
Randall T. Carpenter: “There are 8 originals and 4 covers. One of the covers is an Alejandro Escovedo song, ‘Guilty’, which we re-arranged and gave a bit of an uptown spin: lots of horns, harmonies, a kind of Booker T / motown groove… On the subject of originals, people have asked us, ‘Why write blues songs when there’s so many great ones already written and you guys already know so many of them?’ My answer is that it’s just part of what we do–writers write, songwriters write songs… Rejoining this band gave me a deep, wide idiom to write in, so right from the start I started bringing original material to the rehearsals. And the other guys started doing likewise and before we knew it we had a wealth of original material to work with… To me, it’s another way to differentiate ourselves from other bands, another part of a style that’s uniquely ours…”
10) What covers are featured in live gigs?
Slim: “It changes with every show, we don’t plan it in advance. At one time we had 300 -400 songs in our repertoire. I don’t know how many we have these days… We usually just read the crowd and give them more of what they like…“
11) Can we safely call you a “blooze-rawk band” without drawing offense?
Slim: “Sure. But that’s only one aspect of what we do. We play Chicago blues, country blues, zydeco-style, New Orleans blues…”
12) Do you do places like the Yale and whatnot?
Randall T. Carpenter: “Yes, we’re starting to play a bit more regularly in Vancouver these days and recently headlined The Yale and got a great response. We’re playing there again in April, the 18th, I think… check the listings…”
13) How often do you gig?
Slim: “Sometimes more, sometimes less… The last year or so, we’ve been mostly writing and recording. But now that the new album is coming out, we’ll be playing a lot more gigs.”
14) Explain the longevity of the band and any myths and legends you’d like to add.
Randall T. Carpenter: “The blues is a long term thing… It can be a lifetime preoccupation. And for something that’s all too often considered to be a simplistic form of music, it sure is hard to do it right… Witness the over-abundance of people trying to get it right versus the few who actually do…”
Slim: “The longevity is due to loving what we do… As for myths, well, I don’t know where some of this stuff comes from, but a while back, someone asked me: ‘Didn’t you guys used to open for The Rolling Stones?’ Totally seriously…. Murphy and I just looked at each other and laughed…“
15) How much longer will you keep going?
Randall T. Carpenter: “As Mark Branscombe recently said: “The only way anybody leaves the Mud Bay Blues Band is feet first… We’ll be doing this ‘till there’s none of us left. And then the next generation can take over. They don’t call us ‘The Band That Won’t Go Away’ for nothing…”
16) How do white guys get away with playing the blues?
Randall T. Carpenter: “Music is colour-blind. Listening to a recording you can’t tell if the singer is black, white or purple… it doesn’t matter.”
Slim: “That’s a non-question… Blues isn’t a tangible thing. It’s a feeling and if you can tap into it and express it in such a manner that other people will get the same feeling, that’s all that matters…”
17) How and when did Mudstock evolve and who’s property was that? Also, was that Mud Bay in the back 40 (I seem to recall)
Randall T. Carpenter: “Mudstock was the yearly outdoor live music party that Slim and his wife, Ellie, hosted every summer for years and years. It was held in the front yard of their isolated rented house in Mud Bay, on the bank of the Nicomekl river, not far from the site of the original Mud Bay Blues Band’s first publicity photo shoot down on the Mud Bay flats…
One summer in the early 80s, Slim and Ellie decided to throw a party and invite a few hundred friends (it was a very big front yard) and since this was shortly after Bud Luxford had presented his “Budstock” multi-band extravaganza at the Commodore Ballroom, someone–I think it was Gord Nicholl–suggested to Slim that he call his gig “Mudstock.” The party was a howling success, the name stuck and it became a yearly event until, eventually, the property changed hands and Slim and Ellie moved away in the late 80s. And yes, that was Mud Bay in the back 40…
Those were great parties–what I can remember of them… I always looked forward to Mudstock. All kinds of different bands played there over the years: Art Bergmann, The Frank Frink Five, Route 666, The Almost Blues Band, Toxic Reasons, … a whole bunch of others I can’t recall at the moment. But the highlight was always the Mud Bay Blues Band, the crowd pleasers, the home town heroes. They always managed to steal the show…”