It’s no coincidence that local hard rockers Mudbone named their recent release Evolution. After 15 years and innumerable lineup changes, Mudbone have evolved into a stable staple of the area music scene, cementing their reputation as one of northeastern Indiana and northwestern Ohio’s favorite party bands. “We’ve tried to play with other bands, but this is the group we’re happy with,” said frontman Jimi Wright. “We’re a professional band. There’s no drama, just good times. We love playing together. I guess you could say we’re soul mates.”
These soulmates – Wright on vocals, Brad Anderson on drums, Jeff Mower on bass and Brian Saylor and Pete Kogin on guitar – played 48 gigs last year and already have 34 shows slated for 2009. Known for their hybrid sets of roughly 30 covers to 10 originals, Mudbone are out almost every weekend rocking such local hot spots as Dupont Bar and Grill and Checkerz in Fort Wayne and Traxside in Garrett. On June 26 they’ll be at Piere’s helping celebrate Sirface’s CD release party, and on August 24 they’ll play the United States Patriot Motorcycle Festival in St. Mary’s, Ohio.
I met up with Mudbone in their new rehearsal space – the back room of New Traditions Tattoo Parlor on Broadway in downtown Fort Wayne. The room is large and covered in bright graffiti, fitting for a tattoo parlor, which likewise seems the perfect practice space for Mudbone. All of the men sport a little ink, some of it supplied by Wright, co-owner of New Traditions and a self-described “starving tattoo artist.” In fact, Mower is the only member whose skin doesn’t display a Wright design.
“I’m waiting for him to get better,” Mower joked.
“Good idea,” Wright said.
Mudbone got their start on Halloween night in 1995 in a garage in Woodburn. Back then they were called April’s Fool, and they were Saylor on guitar, Saylor’s brother, Tony, on bass, their cousin on drums and their friend, Brian Davidson, on vocals. Enter Wright, who, like most of the band at the time, worked at Auburn’s Guardian Industries.
“I was trying to be cool, and I told them I could play bass, but I couldn’t,” Wright said. “Then I noticed that the singer was trying to do ‘Man in a Box’ by Alice in Chains, and he was horrible. It was like, ‘Get the hell off that mic.’ And so I became the lead singer. I’d never really sung before, but that didn’t matter. I pretty much taught myself.”
With Wright on board they ditched the April’s Fool handle and secured their first gig together – at The Sportsmens Club in Albion – before they’d even had a chance to decide on a new name. While they were waiting to go on they saw Richard Pryor doing his famed Mudbone bit on TV, and the rest is, as they say, history.
“We decided that’s what we’d call ourselves,” Saylor said. “It stuck.”
The lineup, however, didn’t. Wright left the band in 1998, and in 2003 Mudbone basically went on hiatus for a while. Later, Saylor and Wright, longtime friends and fellow military men, reunited to form the all-original band, Undertow, with drummer Brandon Lee, and a year after that Mudbone regrouped with Tony Saylor again on bass. Then, in January 2005 Tony Saylor died unexpectedly, and that April – at the band’s first show after Tony’s death – Lee fell off the stage and broke his back.
It seemed that Mudbone could be done for good, but Chris Holt, a stagehand for Papa Roach, came on as bass player and Anderson, a drummer since the fourth grade and Saylor’s neighbor, picked up the sticks. Anderson’s first show with Mudbone was at Piere’s when they opened for Slave to the System.
“That was kind of a trial by fire,” Anderson said. “Sitting down in front of Scott Rockenfield’s drum kit was crazy.”
Mower and Kogin, who’d been in bands together since their days at Huntington North High School and played with Saylor in 80s hair metal act Plan B, joined Mudbone last year when Holt left to join the adult film industry.
It seems that after all the upheaval, drama and tragedy Mudbone finally have a lineup as solid as their rock. They celebrated this newfound stability with their first full-length CD, Evolution, which came out in February and was produced by Tom Tempel of Tempel Studios. Saylor penned most of the disc’s 11 tracks, but the album’s seventh track, “Come Down,” was a group effort, with all five members contributing something.
“We couldn’t have made this album before,” Saylor said. “I’d written a lot of these songs years ago, and we did release an LP back in ’97, but we weren’t ready for something like this. We are now. We’re a hardworking band. No one shows up late for rehearsal. We never cancel shows. We do our job and we do it well.”
Currently Mudbone are working on an acoustic set of hard rock covers of tunes by heavyweights like Killswitch Engage and Sevendust and are preparing for a summer of outdoor shows, something they’d really like to do more of.
That’s despite a particularly memorable outdoor gig at Ohio’s Bash in the Bush several years ago. Wright, who’d recently quit the band and was only there as a reluctant spectator, ended up (after a series of strange events) on an out-of-control horse speeding toward the stage.
“I thought, ‘Oh great, the guys are going to think I’m trying to ruin another gig for them again,’” Wright said.
“Notice he said ‘again,’” Saylor said, laughing.
“Yeah,” Wright agreed. “Luckily, a guy grabbed the bit and it was all over. It’s really funny now, and it turned out okay, but at the time, man, I thought that horse wasn’t going to stop for anything.”
After 15 years together it’s no wonder Mudbone have some stories to tell. To Saylor, that’s what’s it’s all about anyway – having fun, making memories and making their own kind of music.
“We’re not trying to be rock stars. We’re not in it for a record deal or fame. We just want to play our music for our fans and show people a good time,” he said.