Fri, Nov 02, 2007 - Page 14 News List

The Muddy Basin blues

By Ron Brownlow

David Chen and The Muddy Basin Ramblers draw on a long tradition of improvising instruments.


Like many blues fans, David Chen vividly remembers when he first heard Muddy Waters, the Mississippi guitar man whose raw and gritty sound paved the way for rock 'n' roll.

"I'd never heard anything like it," Chen says. "I didn't know what to make of it. I just liked it."

The song that got him was Long Distance Call. It took him a while to understand the reference to a "mule kickin' in your stall," but he was mesmerized.

"It was his delivery. I could feel the tone of every word he sang and spoke," Chen says. "It was the way he carried emotion in the song. It has this force to it. It's not aggressive. But it's this big voice."

Chen came to Waters backwards, through rock bands like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. Recently he's gone back even further, to the ragtime sounds of jug music with his band the Muddy Basin Ramblers, who play tomorrow evening at Huashan Culture Park (華山文化園).

The Muddy Basin Ramblers - "Muddy Basin" is for Taipei, which formerly was a muddy basin - formed from a group of friends who used to hang out and jam on a mountain between Muzha and Sindian.

Says Rambler Sandy Murray, who plays the saxophone, ukulele, guitar and mandolin: "David got us together as a band rather than just a bunch of semi-drunk foreigners."

Jug music, which has influenced artists like the Grateful Dead, started in the 1920s as "spasm" jazz in the American south. It was played by people who couldn't always afford real instruments. Guitars and mandolins were made from discarded guitar necks and gourds, combs and wax paper made kazoos, and the beat came from a washtub with a wooden neck.

The washtub bass usually has a single string and is played by standing on one foot with the other on the tub's rim. (Rambler T.C. Lin uses a plastic orange tub, a wooden stick from a hardware store and camping rope.) To get different notes, the staff is pulled back, changing the tension on the string.

Performance notes

What: David Chen and The Muddy Basin Ramblers CD release party and concert

When: The party, with free food from Alley Cats and Sababa, starts at 6:30pm. The concert starts at 8:30pm

Where: Second floor of the Administrative Building at Huashan Culture Park, at 1 Bade Rd Sec 1, Taipei (台北市八德路一段1號)

On the Net:

At it's essence, jug music is street music, which is one of the attractions for the Ramblers.

In 2002, the Ramblers played one of their first live performances at Taipei's Migration Music Festival. They're regulars at the Hoping for Hoping peace concert and blues festivals in Taipei and Taichung and have a repertoire of more than 70 originals and covers. Seventeen songs are on their eponymous CD, which can be purchased at Bobwundaye (26, Ln 38 Chongde St, Taipei, 台北市崇德街38巷26號).

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