When John Rider helped form Max Creek in 1971, he envisioned not just a band, but a community to welcome and embrace people who couldn’t quite fit in— people like himself, who found the mainstream to be an uncomfortable and constricting place. He saw Max Creek, he said recently, as “a vehicle for the dreams of musicians, artists, poets or anyone else with a vision.” Nearly 50 years later, that dream endures.
45&Live, thirteen songs culled from eight sets played in their 45th year, is strong, meaningful music. Max Creek is fronted by veterans John Rider (bass), Mark Mercier (keys), and Scott Murawski (guitar), and since 2012 has been backed by Bill Carbone (drums) and Jamemurrel “Jay” Stanley, whose next-generation status affirms the timelessness of Creek’s musical direction, even as audience members introduce the band’s music to their children.
“She’s Here” (Scott) is a blues inflected screaming rocker that Scott swears was inspired by putting new strings on his bass. When he recorded something to check it out…he found a gift.
“Sadie” is a delightful romp, half boogie-woogie and half bluegrass. Written by T. Michael Coleman and recorded by Doc Watson, it’s about a sweet daughter. Having been recently blessed with one, Mark fell in love with the tune.
“Devil’s Heart (John) is about four different folks John has known, and leads to a killer jam and groove.
“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” (Dylan) is sung by Bill, who took the arrangement from a Rolling Thunder Revue rehearsal. To my ears, it’s about half of a fifth of whiskey past Dylan’s original—rowdy and right.
“Emerald Eyes” (Scott) is a beautiful romantic shuffle that leads into a spectacular, fabulously stretched out jam. It was, Scott tells us, “inspired by a vision I had about a previous lifetime of a very good friend of mine who's since passed… the vision itself was rather elaborate and describes some sort of 18th or early 19th century small family attempting to settle in the wilderness while surviving multiple calamities and challenges of the times as well as not surviving some of them, and waiting for their impending reincarnation.”
“I Got My Mojo Workin’” (Mark) is a standard written by Preston Foster and made famous by Muddy Waters. Mark was looking for a voodoo song for a Halloween show, and he chose a winner. It’s got some incendiary guitar and a wonderful bass sound.
“Into the Ocean” (Jay) was written in Costa Rica at a Max Creek Jungle Jam after Jay witnessed a disturbing incident when a server at their hotel, a beautiful and kind woman, sat down to talk with him and was immediately fired. As a black man growing up in the U.S., Jay related not only to the struggles of people in the third world to find meaningful livelihoods in a beautiful land, but also the reality that beauty and suffering are not separate. As a melody, the emphasis is on the beauty—it’s gently exquisite; the lyrics drive the politics.
“Willow Tree” (Scott) is a reggae-influenced love song based, says Scott, “on a TV commercial for conservation that was promoting planting trees at certain milestones in your life, like having children, and watching the tree grow along side whatever it was. I thought that was a great idea and though I never planted a tree, I did write a song about it.” Sweet as hell, with lovely guitar and keyboard solos in the middle.
“Peaceful Warrior” (John). The tune feels more warrior than peaceful, with an opening reminiscent of late ‘60s Rolling Stones. John tells us that it was “written after reading Dan Millman’s book Peaceful Warrior. The concept is that you have a peaceful heart but at times you are called on to be a warrior. Those values that have faded from your life will be ‘coming back again’ when you become that warrior.” The instrumental passage is definitely warrior quality, a rocking slash and burn attack that builds into a major musical statement.
“After Midnight” (J.J. Cale) is sung by Mark. It’s a classic song we’ve all heard a million times, but as Mark notes it’s “adapted to Max Creek’s style with a lively keyboard intro, a country/bluegrass inspired two beat, and an open R & B jam at the end.” Let me add that it features some seriously ripping guitar work running up inspired keyboards.
“Emotional Railroad” (Scott) is a terrific love song with a reggae bounce on top of a driving rock beat. It was written, Scott reports, “on one of our seven hour drives home from some shows in Rochester, NY, all in my head. I couldn't wait to get home and record it! It's my favorite melody to sing, too.” Bill and Jay deliver a highly danceable groove, Mark serves up a superb keyboard solo, with Scott wrapping the musical package.
“Said and Done” (Mark). This formidable musing about power and who really runs things in our lives echoes early Dylan in point of view. Mark tells us that “This is a song that hugely changes meaning with each passing year, ranging from extremely personal to a commentary on the state of things. The original idea came years ago, long before 9/11, when I ran into a friend outside of Lupo’s in Providence who was in the middle of a heated political discussion while waiting to get into our show there. I asked what was going on, and she angrily turned to me and shouted, “Don’t you know that this country is run by old white men.?!?” I started musing on this and pictured in my mind a secret gathering of heartless, powerful political and corporate giants that would take place annually in a mountain cave to determine, a la Vonnegut, the future course of mankind. And I wondered, while they would suspiciously celebrate their accomplishments with each other, if any of them ever had a heart or a love, or, as they grow old, a longing for what they might have been if not for their climb to power. Sadly, this has turned out to be truer that I could have imagined.”
“Midnight Special” (Traditional, associated with Lead Belly; Creedence Clearwater Revival had a hit with it). Sung by John. Max Creek, in its early days, had a Creedence/CSNY-inspired country/folk influence that exists to this day. This is one of the first songs that the band learned in 1971. Said Bill the drummer, “In my seven years with Creek, we’ve only played this song once, and here it is. They called the tune, turned to me and just said ‘you’ll hear it,’ counted the intro, and off we went.”
45 features a few songs from the 70s, but they’ve evolved, and they’re nestled comfortably amongst the contemporary selections, voices, and even raps, of the new guys. And the improvisations—of which there are plenty—reflect the deep history, shared language, and veteran sensibilities of the band while exhibiting a flavor and pop that isn’t at all like “back in the day.”
Ask Murawski how the band has lasted 48 years and he’ll tell you, “we ride to gigs in separate cars.” There’s something to that. But watch Creek in action and you’ll see a different truth—they’re a family with connections far too deep to uproot. Linda Cournoyer, the band’s lighting czarina and the designer of all its album covers and merchandise, has been with them since 1978. DJ the sound man has been with the group off and on since the 80s, Mike the tour manager since the mid 90s, and many of the traveling fan family look back to their first shows in the early 80s, or at least heard about those years from their parents. And truly nothing has seen more action than pianist Mark Mercier’s touring briefcase, which may or may not have lyrics and receipts from the band’s first gigs in it somewhere.
There’s a patina that art gets with the endless polishing of age, a richness of intuitive interaction that takes time to get to. You can hear it in 45 & Live.
Friday March 29
Friday April 5
Friday April 19
Friday May 10
Sat May 25