The Muskadine Blues Band is (clockwise from left) Scott Rogers, Joe Diehl, Tom Stamper, Mark Adams and John Hauschild. - Photo by Bob Pennell

A new face for The Muskadine Blues Band

The Muskadine Blues Band advances the legacy of blues predecessors, such as Michael Bloomfield, Muddy Waters and Paul Butterfield, with its fresh approach to electric Chicago blues.

The Ashland-based band will play at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, May 21, at Alex's Plaza Restaurant, 35 N. Main St., Ashland.

Although its lineup is new, The Muskadine Blues Band dates to 1969 when it was formed in Mark Adams' family's barn in Mill Valley, Calif. At that time, Adams, a harmonica player, and his bandmates were fresh out of high school.

"We were just 18-year-olds with an ear for the blues and R&B," says Adams.

As a lad, says Adams, he was flipping through some records at the store when he stumbled upon one of Little Walter's earliest records. One of the songs on the album was called "Muskadine Blues." And that's how we got the name, says Adams.

The group was constantly evolving as musicians came and went. One of its regular gigs was at a greasy, little barbecue joint, called Mr. Lee's, where the young, white-boy band played to a predominantly black audience, recalls Adams.

One of the young band's competitors, and one of the only other white blues bands at the time, was The Dan Hayes Blues Band, featuring a young drummer named Tom Stamper. For a short time, the two bands merged into one before The Muskadine Blues Band disbanded altogether.

Before its members dispersed, the group was asked to open for Mike Bloomfield & Friends, who were playing at Adams' high school. Adams was invited to sit in with Bloomfield.

"I went up onstage and performed admirably, and (later) I got phone calls from Michael to start playing with him and also from Nick (Gravenites) to play with him," says Adams, who went on to play with Bloomfield from 1970 to 1980 and with Gravenites and his band, Blue Gravy, from 1972 to 1975-ish.

After about a 16-year hiatus, during which he played with various other California collaborations, Adams rejoined Gravenites and his band, Animal Mind, and continued to play the California blues circuit for the next decade.

In 2001, Adams ran into Stamper at Standing Stone Brewing Co. during one of the latter musician's gigs.

"I didn't recognize him at first but remarked to myself, 'Wow, that guy can play drums. He's one of the best drummers I've seen, and he kinda looks familiar,' " says Adams.

After Adams moved permanently to the area in 2005, Stamper helped him find the right musicians for a new blues project. The "right" musicians turned out to be guitarists Joe Diehl and Scott Rogers and bassist John Hauschild. The band dredged up the name The Muskadine Blues Band and began playing locally in 2009.

"I think that we have one of the best sets of musicians that could be brought together anywhere," says Adams.

The group plays electric Chicago blues, both originals and "re-interpretations" of songs by Butterfield, Bloomfield, Muddy Waters and Little Walter, as well as a sampling of obscure songs unknown to anyone but the "most rabid blues fans," says Adams.

"We're doing Muddy songs (that) we heard the Butterfield way, and we're bringing it over to the Muskadine side," he says.

The Muskadine Blues Band does not adhere to the mainstream blues-band style but incorporates a lot of improvisation and plays longer songs (seven minutes on average).

"We're not pretending to be someone we're not or make it, quote, 'just like the record,' " says Adams.

Diehl's sophisticated guitar stylings and Adam's harmonica musicianship, magnified by a '60s Blackface Fender amplifier, come to the forefront of the music.

"It's not that down-dirty tone, but it's more raw and hot, and there's a certain clarity to the tone," says Adams.

Keyboardist Allen Crutcher will be joining the band for its show at Alex's. Diehl will not be present. Cover to the show is $3. For more information, call 541-482-8818.

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