MUDCAT: SHAKE ‘EM ON DOWN
By James Calemine
Daniel “Mudcat” Dudeck sits in a wooden chair on the small stage playing Blind Willie McTell’s “Savannah Mama”, sliding the brass cylinder up and down the neck of his acoustic Gibson guitar. His gritty rendition conveys a jubilant message to the dancing crowd. “Mudcat” travels like a troubadour, and serves on the board of directors at Music Maker Relief Foundation. Music Maker, a non-profit organization, provides poor musicians with life maintenance, tour support, instrument acquisition, and emergency relief. Mudcat’s musical tutelage includes blues great Ink Spot Eddie Tigner, Cootie Stark, Guitar Gabriel, Frank Edwards and Beverly “Guitar” Watkins.
Mudcat ends the song, takes a shot of whiskey and thanks the festive crowd at the Atlanta juke joint, the Northside Tavern. Tonight Dudeck plays solo, like a one-man band, bringing old-time blues music to the young, computerized generation.
Born in 1966 on the banks of the Mississippi, Dudeck’s family moved to Tybee Island, near Savannah Georgia, eight years later. He learned how to play guitar at seventeen. He dropped out of high school and moved to New York City where he began playing music on the streets as well as the Staten Island Ferry. During this time he studied acting at the National Shakespeare Conservatory. In time, Dudeck played his music also on the streets of New Orleans and Atlanta. In 1989 Dudeck moved to Atlanta, Georgia. He recently told me his intention at the time, “I decided that I needed to stay in one place for a little while and plant some roots. I was making progress, and having some great experiences, but I needed a base of operation. So I came to Atlanta because I love Georgia, and I have friends from Savannah here.”
In 1996, Dudeck released his first album, Worldwide Mud that displayed his profound love for old music, his trademark slide work, soulful voice, and a lighthearted message in his songs. Certain elements of Ry Cooder’s playing can be heard in Dudeck’s sound. His songs contain versatile styles with elements of jazz, country, and blues in every composition.
Dudeck’s second release, Mud, Sweat, & Beers hit the streets in 1999 and continued with the same combinations of his rootsy debut. Dudeck revealed insight into his recording process, “When I make a record, I typically bring in a lot of friends because there’s a lot of talent around here and I like to collaborate for the magic of it. There were some personnel changes between the first two CDs, although a lot of people on those records weren’t necessarily in my band. That’s true about all of my records.”
Around this time Dudeck met Music Maker president Tim Duffy. “I first met him at Blind Willie’s (blues club in Atlanta). He was playing with Guitar Gabriel and I went out and really enjoyed the show. I made a great connection with them. Afterwards, they closed up and were all sitting around drinking, and Guitar Gabriel showed me some stuff on guitar.” Since then, Dudeck remains a big part of Music Maker as session player, roadie, sideman, and performer often playing with Cootie Stark, Taj Mahal, Eddie Tigner, and various other MMRF artists.
In 2000 he released Mo Better Chicken. Like all his recordings, the album spans a wide variety of styles with various elements such as fiddles, jazz, swinging blues, rockabilly, Hawaiian guitars, barroom rock, and traditional country songs.
His musical tastes remain measured by some of the artists he covers on albums and shows like Son House, Blind Willie McTell, Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Smith, Charlie Patton, Memphis Minnie, Professor Longhair, A.P. Carter, Brownie McGee, Reverend Gary Davis and Music Maker musicians such as Willie Mae Bucker.
I had a transition period back in 2000. We played Switzerland with the band that’s on Mud, Sweat, & Beers and Mo Better Chicken. I recorded those records basically simultaneously. One started out as a demo project for Tim (Duffy) which was Mud, Sweat, & Beers, and then it expanded. We recorded it up in the woods of North Carolina. Then Lori Beth Edgeman started off in the band as a backup singer, but I really liked her charisma, so I wanted to put out a record that she really sang on. So I started recording Mo Better Chicken here in Atlanta at the Snack N Shack. So, those two records were finished at the same time, but I held Mo Better Chicken back about six months. Then Lori Beth went out to Hollywood and made some movies out there. She’s back now. But the European tour was the last big thing we done together. Then I went on and did some solo gigs in Paris. That’s where I met Julie (current Mudcat vocalist/saxophonist). She came to Atlanta, so I gave her a job. Those were the seeds of this latest record. There’s a lot of great raw elements in this current line up. Some of these Kickin’ Chicken songs I had the basic tracks, and when we came back from Europe we finished them. All of my records, I somehow let change and redevelop.”
Mudcat’s new CD Kickin’ Chicken marks another phase of the Mudcat band. Staying busy in Atlanta during the week, the band leaves town on weekends often for extended periods of time. The band’s new line-up includes Dudeck: vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, lap steel, banjo, piano, and organ; Julie Goldstein: vocals, saxophone; Snave: vocals, bass guitar, harmonica, flute, tambourine, banjo, and electric guitar; Tim Gunther and Eskil Wetterqvist: drums, as well as several other musical guests on the new CD.
When I spoke with Dudeck he was about to hop on a plane with some of his Music Maker mates and fly to Costa Rica for the organization’s third annual Taj Mahal Fishing Blues tournament. Last year, among others, Dickey Betts attended the charity tournament, and he and Dudeck became friends.
“Dickey Betts is a great guy——a great musician. It’s kind of strange because he was a big influence on me at a young age. I used to have all those records. When I started playing Fatt Matt’s (Atlanta Rib/Blues joint), and other places, I’d hear cats playing stuff from Fillmore East like note for note and those are thirty minute improvisations. I knew it was note for note because that stuff was drilled in my head. After a while, it ruined it for me. I was hearing it everywhere and everyone was playing it. I went through some period where I purified my sound. I was discovering people like Blind Willie, and I wanted to focus on that style. I got rid of those old records. Since then, I got a lot of em back.
“Then when I met Dickey, I didn’t realize he was such an influence on me. You’d think since I’m really into slide that Duane would be my guy, I love Duane, but he’s not really my guy. But I realized Dickey is playing a lot of slide that’s more up my alley. He’s playing this harmonic minor stuff that sounds Middle Eastern, and that’s always drawn me. He’s a real sweet guy, and he kinda took me under his wing, like ‘let me show you this chord’. He’s very encouraging. We had a great time. I over indulged down there. I was playing, playing, playing down there, but I was drinking some rum too. The food was great. Fresh fish all of the time. You get up in the morning eat some rice, beans, eggs, thick bacon, and hot sauce. The same folks will go again this year like Dickey, Jimmy Herring, Derek Trucks, Taj Mahal, Sammy Blue, and me. Tim recorded some down there. There’s a great version of me and Jimmy Herring playing my song “Rattlesnake”, and he’s just tearing it up. I’m gonna ask him if there’s some way I can release that…”
Tim Duffy plans to film various Music Maker musicians in July during Taj Mahal’s Taj Fest-A World Music Celebration in New York for a MMRF documentary that will include Mudcat. In April the band travels to Europe for a month-long tour.
In Dudeck’s role for Music Maker, including his own career, he acts as a musical ambassador. “It all comes down to satisfying ourselves. We’re lucky it works for everyone else. That way we can continue——it’s getting bigger, but it happens slowly. Ten years ago I don’t know if we’d have been tight enough to play a set on Austin City Limits. Music Maker is great because it gives back to these old musicians and they become young again, and they write new songs. We need to get the young people in touch with this stuff…”
For more information visit: www.musicmaker.org/