Black Cat Mambo are a fast-paced, three-piece, fun-loving rock/ska/reggae band that has been delivering its own brand of live groove to the Fort Wayne area for nearly four years. Currently in the studio working on recording their debut album of original tunes, the band plays a somewhat eclectic mix of covers and original material at their live gigs, often putting their own spin on familiar tunes.The band formed in 2008 around the talents of Joe Arehart (guitar/vocals), Keith Wiles (bass guitar) and Mark Glanemann (drums). At one point the group also included a saxophone and trombone player to add to their ska-inflected effect, but at this point the band consists of the core trio of guitar, bass, and drums with vocals.
Guitarist/vocalist Joe Arehart jokes that the band formed in 2008 as a result of the newly elected Obama administration’s left-wing conspiracy – a claim that is obviously specious since Obama wasn’t even elected until November of that year while the band formed in February. The truth is that Arehart simply decided he wanted to start a band and subsequently placed a want ad for a bass player. Wiles responded to that ad. Then Glanemann, a friend of Arehart’s, filled out the lineup on drums, and the rest is history.
The name Black Cat Mambo is also Arehart’s brainchild. When the band was forming, he knew he wanted to use “black cat,” and “mambo” was a word that he liked from a lyric in a song by Candlelight Anthem. He put the two together and, voila, the moniker Black Cat Mambo was born.
The closest popular band that the trio would compare itself to is Sublime, although they hasten to add that they are not a clone of that late 90s ska-punk band. In particular, according to Arehart, the band tries to keep the music they play more fast and up-tempo than the tunes that ballyhooed 90s band is known for.
While the title of their in-progress debut recording is yet to be determined, many of the tunes that will appear on it have been around for quite some time. Some of the songs date back four or five years to the band’s early days, while others are more recent, having only been penned a few months ago.
Their live shows continue to be a mix of covers and originals. In a typical set the band starts out playing cover songs that are familiar to audience members. Once they’ve lured the crowd into their groove, they eventually change things up by throwing in some of their originals. While they start each show with a set list, the band typically deviates from it, depending on the mood of both the audience and the band members themselves. Black Cat Mambo have put their own stamp on some of the covers that they play by creating their own unique arrangements, Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” being a particular favorite amongst audience members.
“We’re not a band where you walk into the show and think you need to know the band’s songs to get into it,” says Arehart. “We play a lot of covers to get people in. We put a ska/reggae spin on them for sure, but they’re not unrecognizable.”
Black Cat Mambo usually play on the weekends anywhere from two to four times a month, mostly in and around Fort Wayne. In their nearly five years together, they’ve managed to line up some gigs out of town as well, however.
“We’ve been down to Tennessee and over to Ohio, just kinda the Midwest mostly. We’re always trying to get out anywhere, like to Indy. We’ve been down there to play punk rock night at the Melody Inn,” says Arehart. “We definitely love to get out of town.”
The band is planning to release their as-yet-untitled debut in July, two months after the impending birth of Arehart’s first child. Once the album launches, Black Cat Mambo hope to push it as much as possible, and hopefully to some far-flung audiences.
“Hopefully we’ll play a lot behind this album, and I’ve already got songs starting to bubble up for the next,” says Arehart. “We love Fort Wayne, but we’d like to get out beyond Fort Wayne. So, hopefully, more cities will be on our roster.”
As with many bands, generalized zaniness and mayhem can erupt at any time while they’re playing. In the case of Black Cat Mambo, the band members jokingly cite audience nudity as a primary selling point for their live shows. While actual nudity may have only happened twice (that they are aware of), those two incidents remain some of the more memorable recent experiences they’ve had of playing live.
“Recently we were in the middle of a set at O’Sullivan’s, and a man came through in a trench coat and actually streaked through our set,” says Arehart. “And then he put his clothes back on and came back in as if nothing had happened. He was just real cool with it. Another time, some chick was just hanging out and went into the bathroom and somehow lost her pants and came out and was just hanging out around the bar naked. Our shows involve a lot of naked people.
“What I’m trying to say is ‘Black Cat Mambo make you want to get naked.’ That’s a good slogan.”
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