by Ron Williams
The Austin, Texas-based soul/funk band Mingo Fishtrap performed in Florence, Alabama last Thursday night (April 14th). The 7-piece funkmasters are well known in Texas and with the thousands of cruisers who often trek across the Gulf waters annually with Delbert McClinton’s ‘Sandy Beaches Cruise’, which has sailed every January for the past 17 years. The band had been booked for an annual ‘Muscle Shoals To Music Row’ program that combines a radio broadcast with a live online performance each year to highlight Muscle Shoals type music to continue a tradition started in Muscle Shoals in the 60’s (Muscle Shoals, home to the famous Muscle Shoals Sounds & Fame studios, is known as the ‘Hit Recording Capital of the World’. RW) The event is held in the Conference Center of the Florence Marriott Hotel & Spa, which sits on the banks of the Tennessee River!
Five Columbus area musicians made the trip up to Muscle Shoals for the concert. We rode up in Mike McCoy’s (drummer/guitarist/vocalist) GMC Denali. Along for the trip with Mike and myself were local musicians Mike Cooper and She (Shelia) Heatherly and drummer Keith Shaddix. I had ben introduced to the music of Mingo Fishtrap by Jay Curlee, a Producer/Director Videographer who had filmed the musical documentary ‘Rocking The Boat’ on Sandy Beaches Cruise 12, though this was my first time hearing them live. We were all prepared to be ‘Funktified’! And Mingo Fishtrap did not fail us!
Mingo Fishtrap was formed in the early 90’s by lead vocal/guitarist Roger Blevins Jr. His dad (they call him Big Rog, or ‘Pops’) Roger Blevins Sr., is the bands bassist. Big Rog is quoted on their website telling of his first performance of his musical career. He writes, “It was the spring of 1963 at The Buckhorn Saloon in Melville, La. with a band called The Knights – later it became The Midnighters. It was a smokey little dive with animal heads, horns, even whole critters mounted all over the walls and ceiling along with every type of firearm ever invented to kill man or beast. I received $13 plus an invitation to the parking lot by an assortment ofl drunken ‘ladies’ who thought a tall, skinny thirteen year old might be entertaining.”
Blevins Jr. tells of his inspiration to play music in Mingo. “While the music in college at UNT (University of North Texas) was amazing and inspiring, I found I really wanted to listen to some of the R&B and soul standards that I grew up listening to Pops play. It was a bit therapeutic to play something that wasn’t being critiqued (not for a grade, at least)! So I asked a few guys I knew from school (Bruce Hall folks, mainly) to put together a group for a dorm concert called ‘The Bruce Jam’. It grew from there, very naturally and for the love of the thing. I feel very lucky to have found it that way, and not to have been looking to make a living off of it from the get-go. Nobody puts together an eight (and at times ten piece) band with the hopes of making money! I feel that we’ve grown – with each performance and each album – and that comes in part, I think, from the way the band got started; with the goal of making music we felt and little else.”
In attendance at the Muscle Shoals concert was singer/songwriter Donnie Fritts (also appeared in several Sam Peckinpah westerns). Fritts, nicknamed ‘The Leanin’ Man’, ‘Skillet’ and ‘Funky Donnie Fritts’ by his friends over the years, is a Muscle Shoals legend. He’s written songs with Kris Kristofferson (as well as appearing in the aforementioned western movies, ‘Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid’, ‘Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia’ and ‘Convoy’) and has written with Dan Penn and many others ( I had been introduced to Fritts by Penn earlier). Fritts performed on the last January ‘Sandy Beaches Cruise’ along with Mingo Fishtrap, Jimmy Hall, Spooner Oldham, Paul Thorn and many others.
Also in attendance was Kim Stovall, who some locals may remember made the trip to Columbus with the Paul Thorn Band when they performed at the 2009 Market Street Festival. Kim helps Paul by selling his merchandise at events. She also is an avid Muscle Shoals musical historian.
For those who missed the Muscle Shoals two hour performance by Mingo Fishtrap, never fear…you can catch the archived performance by visiting http://ms2mr.com/ and you can learn more about Mingo Fishtrap by visiting their website at http://www.mingofishtrap.com/mingofishtrap_flash.htm0