Tidings Café: Don Maddox and the Step It Up and Go Band

He sauntered into the studio wearing his cowboy hat, boots and customized Western shirt neatly tucked into his freshly pressed jeans. At 87 years old, Don Maddox is still playing his fiddle and singing rockabilly style.

Maddox is the last surviving member of a popular '40s and '50s country music band. He has been a cattle rancher for more than 50 years in Ashland. But before he started his second career as a cowboy, he was a part of a family band made up of his three brothers and sister, Maddox Brothers and Rose.

Playing at the Tidings Café, the Daily Tidings' in-house video concert series, Maddox joined the newly formed Step It Up and Go Band for a song written about him called "Don Juan Rides Again," as well as two others, "Faded Love" and "Jackson."

The Step It Up and Go Band includes Johnny B on upright bass, Nicole Strykowski on vocals, Mike Lee on drums, Evan Davidson on guitar and Eric VonRadics on second guitar. Johnny B, owner of Johnny B's in Medford, met Maddox at a bluegrass festival in Prospect.

"Don just stole the show, so afterward I met him and we became friends," he said. "I wish all my fans were like him."

When Maddox speaks about touring in the '40s and '50s with the Maddox Brothers and Rose he talks about "playing the dances." Most of the performances were raucous and full of spirit. Maddox describes the audience as being two parts: one group away from the stage dancing and the other at the very front just watching. The group was known for their over-the-top outfits and sense of humor.

"I got nothing else to do, so I might as well become a star," Maddox said.

"Don Juan was the prankster of the group," Strykowski added, calling Maddox by his nickname.

Rockabilly is a genre of music that started in the 1950s, defined as one of the earliest styles of rock 'n roll music. Rockabilly fuses rock and hillbilly music, but according to Maddox it's just country music that was marketed by record labels as something else.

"It used to be called 'hillbilly,' but in the big cities like Las Vegas, they didn't want any hillbilly music, until Elvis came along and they started calling it 'rockabilly,'" Maddox said. "I don't care too much for modern country. I still do the plain old country music."

During their Tidings Café performance, Maddox, in his glittering bolo tie, led the Step It Up and Go Band in uptempo, vintage songs that demanded anyone listening to tap their foot. The amount of energy Maddox used in his wrinkled hands to play the fiddle was stunning.

The rough and tough band was a perfect match for Maddox's style, with two men on guitar and a drummer who can emulate the rhythm of a train going down the tracks. Johnny B repaired a broken string on his upright bass with a weed wacker cord. Strykowski and Johnny B sang backup for Maddox on "Don Juan Rides Again," a song written for Maddox.

"We just want to bring back this music. It's uplifting and Don practically invented the genre," Strykowski said.

"We want to introduce the young people to it," Johnny B said.

The Step It Up and Go Band can be seen locally at a variety of venues and Maddox is currently touring with a fiddle group until January.

Their Tidings Café performance can be viewed at dailytidings.com and at the Tidings Café group page of connectashland.com.

Mandy Valencia is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Contact her at mandyv911@jeffnet.org.

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