Kool Kat of the Week: Why Brant Slay Returned to the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies and More Random Ramblings about Jason Statham, Lon Chaney and Lawrence Welk

Chickasaw Mudd Puppies, May 1, 2011, at Devil's Pond. Left to right: Alan "Lumpy" Cowart, Brant Slay, Ben Reynolds. Photo Credit: Jason Thrasher.

Sometimes you don’t realize how much you miss a band until you hear they’re back together again. About a month ago we caught up with Guadalcanal Diary, who reunited for two shows at AthFest and Smith’s Olde Bar. But this year’s AthFest was also notable for the triumphant return of the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies, another Georgia band that skated national fame in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and won the hearts of many—including Michael Stipe, Willie Dixon and John Keane, who produced their two albums WHITE DIRT and 8-TRACK STOMP. That affection was earned by a truly unique sound—oft dubbed “swamp rock”—that had its roots in both alt-rock and country as Ben Reynolds’ fast-paced blues guitar riffs mixed with an arsenal of home-grown and found percussion instruments played by Brant Slay including the rockin’ chair, stomp board (their invention), washboard, harmonica, cowbells and tin cans. Like so many great bands, though, the Mudd Puppies slipped away quietly and way too soon.

The rumors started back last spring with the seemingly unlikely proposition that the Mudd Puppies were suddenly back in the studio recording a song for the Jason Statham action movie THE MECHANIC. Then they showed up at South by Southwest in Austin, expanded from a duo to a trio with Alan “Lumpy” Cowart on drums. Cowart had performed with The Beggar Weeds from Jacksonville, Fla., another legendary alt-rock band also with a Stipe-produced record. Soon the Mudd Puppies were playing hometown venues such as The Melting Point and ATHFest, and we knew we weren’t hallucinating in wistful thinking any more. Thankfully they’re finally getting around to playing in Atlanta in the Buckhead Music Festival this Saturday July 30 at the 1930 Buckhead Theatre.

Brant Slay at AthFest 2011. Photo credit: Daniel Pieken.

ATLRetro caught up with Brant recently and he was kind enough to fill us all in on the band’s back story (for those of you who missed the Mudd Puppies the first time around), what he and Ben were up to when they went away, what brought the duo back to playing together, how Lumpy got involved, and miscellaneous other tasty tidbits from Mudd Puppies mythology.

For the young’uns, how did you, Ben and Lumpy get together and start the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies?
Well, Ben and I met in Athens back in the mid-’80s. We were both in art school and looking to vent a little creative energy. We had parties at my house on Barber Street, and everyone invited had to either bring an instrument or play the pots and pans. It sounded horrible, but we had a great time. Ben was learning the guitar, and I was singing and stomping. The harmonicas, found percussion and actual stomp board came later. We simply clicked and usually were the last two at the party still playing. That’s pretty much the inception of The Chickasaw Mudd Puppies.

Chickasaw Mudd Puppies at South By Southwest.

We later met the greatest band to ever come out of Florida, The Beggar Weeds, and Alan “Lumpy” Cowart was their drummer. We toured with the Weeds quite a bit, and Alan was gracious enough to sit in and play with us for an occasional tour. We all hit it off, and the coolest thing that came from that meeting of the bands was that we made some incredible lifelong pals. Many years later, we crawled out of the ground like some 19-year cicada ready to make music again, and it was truly fate that Lumpy become the third member of the Mudd Pups. It’s evolution.

I’m thinking there must be a great story behind that band name, and I probably used to know it. Can you share it?
Do you want the real story or the numerous ones that we made up? We always got this question back in the late ’80s. I’ll cut to the chase and tell the real story. Ben, myself and some of our friends were heading to New Orleans, La., on a little vacation. We were going to fund the trip by playing on the streets in the French Quarter. It seemed like a good idea at the time. On the way down, a large, jacked-up, very fast vehicle came screaming past us in the night, but we didn’t think too much about it at the time. A little further down the road, we hit something large and very much in the way, and we blew-out two tires on the Chickasaw River bridge.

At the Melting Point in Athens, Spring 2011.

While pondering what the hell we were going to do, we see this creekster character coming out of the fog from up the road. It was the owner of the large object (a drive-shaft that had come from the earlier car that passed us) and the guy that had just given us two flat tires. I don’t remember what happened, but I think he simply picked up his drive shaft and left. Needless to say, it was a traumatic incident and worthy of memorializing, so we decided that our band name had to be The Chickasaw “somethings.” Mud puppies, hellbenders and sirens are all river creatures that we all know and love, so the rest simply fell together.

Did you grow up with “porch music” or was it something you discovered later on, and what drew you to thinking you could turn it into rock music?
Ben and I both had real eclectic musical tastes and were lucky enough to grow up around R&B, blues, funk, gospel, old country, bluegrass and rock and roll for our inspirational foundation. My granddad used to listen to old country records like Jimmy Rodgers, Hank Snow, Whispering Bill Anderson, Kitty Wells, Sons of The Pioneers and Hank Williams, Sr. He used to sing and play those songs on an acoustic guitar sitting in this big gold naugahyde chair. Then there’s my dad; he always had the coolest collection of eight track tapes. We used to listen to Tony Joe White, Creedence Clearwater Revival, George Jones, Little Richard and Bo Diddley, just to name a few. I don’t think that I ever realized that I would eventually have an outlet or need to tap into that musical gumbo for creating my own style of music.

Alan simply adds to that mix and enhances our sound tenfold. He is a walking encyclopedia of the wonderful, weird blue velvet sounds that inspire. He is the kind of guy that would drive 500 miles out of his way just to see the largest ball of twine for himself. I love that! That said, there was no way we were going to be able to make music that sounded like someone else. In the beginning, we were not good enough musicians to sound like someone else, and I’m personally thankful that was the case. So here we are playing music that some call porch music, some call backwoods boogie, and some have even referred to it as swamp stomp. I think that all three of us would agree that we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t put our hearts into it, and we wouldn’t do it if we were not enjoying it very much. If others enjoy it with us, then that’s even better. I’m extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to play music with two of the most talented and creative people I’ve ever known. Our musical style simply evolved and seemed so natural.

You play a rockin’ chair, a stomp box, wash board, cowbells, harmonica and tin cans. Does it just take practice or did you have a teacher to learn how to play that mix of  eclectic instruments?

Brant Slay playing the washboard back in the day.

I have pretty decent rhythm, but I’m no percussionist by any stretch of the imagination. So yeah, it takes me a whole lot of practice. I like creating new and funky sounds with different found objects, and I’m a huge fan of Tom Waits and loved how he would bring sounds into the studio instead of relying solely on generating sounds from the electronics within the studio.

You guys went away for a long while. What were you up to in-between and what brought you all back to playing together and recording a song for a Jason Statham movie?

Ben and I finished school. He became a photography professor at UGA, and continued to play music around Athens. I went into the forestry and conservation world, and began working for the greatest conservation organization on the planet, The Nature Conservancy. I’m currently working out of the Georgia Chapter’s Chattahoochee Fall Line program in the Columbus area as a land protection manager. None of us are quitting our day jobs just yet, but The Mudd Pups decided to get the band back together after we had the opportunity to do two licensing agreements for movies. One was a lower budget art flick called TRACING COWBOYS, and the other was the Jason Statham movie THE MECHANIC. We decided to go back into John Keane’s studio and redo the old song called “Chickenbone” for THE MECHANIC movie. We had such a good time playing together again in the studio that we just decided to keep it up. We immediately called Lumpy to join the band.

I keep finding Facebook and blog posts from folks waxing with excitement at you guys playing live again. What was your first live performance since you got back together, and what’s been the response from audiences?

At South By Southwest.

Our first live performance was ironically in New Orleans back in March, I believe. We went on out and played at this year’s South by Southwest in Austin, and caught a show in Lake Charles on the way home. It was a trial run to see if we truly would still enjoy it. We did! We since played our first reunion in Athens at the Melting Point and then the most recent show at Athfest.

There have been other tribute songs about “The Man of a Thousand Faces,” but your song, “Lon Chaney” has this amazing energy and spirit and remains my personal favorite. Were you guys silent horror movie fans or how did you come to write it?

Lon Chaney, Sr., as the Phantom of the Opera.

I love character actors. I always had an interest in the silent films, old horror films and old movie stars. My grandfather kept photos and clippings of old movie stars from the ’30s and ’40s. I think that sparked my early curiosity. Lon Chaney, Sr., was always one of my favorite old actors probably due to his incredible wardrobe genius, creative makeup and the dramatic roles that he played. His granddad founded the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind in 1874. His parents were both deaf, and some attributed his dramatic gestural acting style to having grown up with deaf parents. My mother founded The Listening Eyes School for the Deaf in Columbus [Ga.] in the ’70s, and I grew up with a deaf little sister. This is a very special song to me.

What Chickasaw Mudd Puppies song means the most to you and why?
Lon Chaney …see above. They are all special in their own little way.

Brant Slay at The Melting Point. Photo credit: Michael Jones.

Any special plans for your gig at the Buckhead Music Festival?
We may pull out a new song fresh off the stove. We haven’t even completely structured it yet, but if we have time and are feeling it, we’ll do it.

What’s next for you and the band? Any more Atlanta gigs coming up soon? A new recording?
We have started writing new material. We are definitely going to work on new CDs in the future. We have some pretty interesting things in the works. There are a couple of things going on that are so new, I’ll hold the details in my backpocket so that we can confirm it all as a band. “What’s next?” …have fun!

What question do you wish someone would ask you but they never do, and what’s the answer?

Q: What does your music sound like? A: It sounds like Lawrence Welk doing the futterwacken while drinking King Cobra 40s on George Clinton‘s car hood.

Chickasaw Mudd PuppiesBuckhead Music FestivalBuckhead Theatre, Sat. July 30 starting at 1 p.m.; other bands include Little Tybee, The District Attorneys, Baby Baby, Witches, Abby Gogo & more; $15 ; $30 for a two-day pass including Drivin n Cryin and Jason Isdell show on Fri. night; 3110 Roswell Road, Atlanta; 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.

 

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3 Responses to “Kool Kat of the Week: Why Brant Slay Returned to the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies and More Random Ramblings about Jason Statham, Lon Chaney and Lawrence Welk”


  1. jessedziedzic
    on Oct 20th, 2011
    @ 3:17 am

    Wonderful post.

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