Tidings Cafe: Muskadine reborn

A familiar face from the past caught Tom Stamper's attention in summer 2000, while he was playing a Green Show for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The face was Mark Adams, a high school classmate of Stamper's from Marin County, California. The two reunited in Ashland as Adams was house-hunting in Southern Oregon.

Stamper, who is an Ashland musician and drum instructor, collaborated with Adams, a professional harmonica player and blues vocalist, 30 years ago in Adams' Muskadine Blues Band. Fast forward to 2010 and the two are back playing together in what is now the reformed Muskadine Blues Band.

"Mark asked me if I could put a band together because he was coming out of semi-retirement," said Stamper. "I thought about the best guys I could find and was amazed that they all said yes when I asked them. So it was like a dream come true for me."

The best guys he could find were John Huschild, or "Johnny O," from Chicago, Scott Roger, an Ashland resident of 42 years, and Joe Diehl, Ashland musician who's played with the likes of Karen Lovely and the Rogue Suspects.

"Muskadine Blues Band was my high school blues band, but to me it's really fitting to be here because all I ever wanted was to play with these guys right here," said Adams. "It's a reincarnation in a lot of ways."

This reincarnation came together last April and the band practices every Tuesday in Stamper's studio. "None of us have a garage; we're not a garage band. We're a barn band," Roger said, speaking of Stamper's barn where they practice.

Thanks to Huschild, a Chicago native, and Adams, who has worked with Bay Area musicians from the 1970s who were heavily influenced by Chicago-style blues, Muskadine has a very electric, gritty Chicago blues sound.

"It is not rehashing Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan, it's rehashing Muddy Waters," said Huschild of the band's music. "We're kind of a blend of Chicago meets San Francisco," said Diehl.

Adams' career started and continued for many years with legendary bluesmen Mike Bloomfield and Nick Gravenites. Each member of this five-piece band has blues deeply rooted in their hearts.

"It is an interpretation of what might be called the hard electric greasy Chicago blues," said Adams.

"There is something pure about it, it's a little unusual," added Stamper. "This group almost can't help but sound pure."

Since the group is a hand-selected collection of experienced bluesmen, it is no surprise the men create and play together in a special way. "I'm honored to play with these guys, because they all understand what they are doing on a really deep level," said Diehl. "It goes beyond just playing the music, it goes into a realm of cultivating a real sound together, a real vibe together, rather than just playing a bunch of notes and chords."

In the Muskadine Blues Band's performance at the Tidings Café, members played an original song by Mark Adams written when he was just 17 called "Before You Leave."

The band has played a few gigs this summer and only play when every member can attend.

"It is not for lack of projects, it's that everybody in this band is involved in other projects, so we turn down gigs unless everyone in this band can be there," said Stamper. "There is a real commitment from everybody here and it is real important because we are as good as we are."

Next the band is looking for management to help book quality gigs that make the most of everyone's time. "One thing that will kill a band is poor management and stupid itinerary and I've been with both. I don't really want to do that with these guys," said Adams.

When asked where they would like to play, Huschild replied, "Europe." The men have their goals set high and know they have the chops to back it up. Their dream would be to tour internationally and at blues festivals, but still rest their heads in the Rogue Valley.

"Working out of this valley is going to be just fine," said Adams. "It is a nice place to come home to and unwind," said Huschild. "We're in the middle of the West Coast here," added Roger.

The Muskadine Blues band will perform at 9:30 p.m. tonight at Alex's Plaza Restaurant, 35 N. Main St., Ashland.

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

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