Mathus brings 'catfish music' to Ybor City

mclear@bradenton.comMay 9, 2013 

Jimbo Mathus lives in what he considers the cultural epicenter of America. That's not New York or Los Angeles. It's Mississippi.

He's a little surprised that anyone might disagree with his assessment of his home state's cultural status, and he makes a good case. Sure, the state's reputation was tarnished by its opposition to civil rights reforms, but Mississippi is the birthplace of Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf and William Faulkner.

"Muddy Waters invented rock 'n' roll," Mathus said. "And Elvis invented Elvis. The blues and rock are original to this place."

And Memphis, where rock 'n' roll was hammered into shape by Sam Phillips and Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and others at Sun Studios, is nearby.

"Memphis is really Mississippi," Mathus insists. "It's in Tennessee, but its culture is Mississippi, not Tennessee."

For Mathus, it's the perfect place for a musician to live and work, surrounded by the ghosts and influences of the pioneers of blues, rock 'n' roll and American literature.

"I'm a Mississippi product," he said. "Mississippi gets punished for its past, and it's well deserved. But being here in the land of great writers and great musicians is inspirational. I couldn't make this music anywhere but Mississippi."

And all those Mississippi influences go into Mathus' music, an uncategorizable blend of country, blues, folk, Southern rock, Americana and psychedelia.

"It's genre-crossing Southern music," Mathus said. "I just call it 'catfish music,' because what's more Southern than catfish?"

Mathus and his four-piece band (drums, bass, keyboards and second guitar) will be at New World Brewery in Tampa's Ybor City May 9.

Although catfish music has been the main course of his solo career, Mathus came to prominence in the early 1990s with the retro swing band Squirrel Nut Zippers, which scored some mainstream hits and performed at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and at Bill Clinton's inauguration.

After the Zippers project ran its course, Mathus toured with blues legend Buddy Guy for three years, serving both as the opening act and as a guitarist in Guy's band. He also played on two of Guy's albums, including the Grammy-winning "Blues Singer."

For his Tampa show, Mathus and his band, the Tri-State Coalition, will draw from all phases of his career. They'll probably play pretty much all of their latest album, "White Buffalo," which came out earlier this year.

The only music from his past that Mathus won't be performing is the Squirrel Nut Zippers stuff.

"No, I don't tour with a horn section and costumes," he said.

Details: 8 p.m. May 9, New World Brewery, 1313 E. Eighth Ave., Tampa. Tickets: $8. Information: 813-248-1969, www.newworldbrewery.net.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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