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The Road To CukoRakko: An Interview With Captain Midnight September 30, 2016 12:43

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Photo by Butch Worrell
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Our latest segment, "The Road to CukoRakko," consists of a series of interviews leading up to CukoRakko Music & Arts Festival this weekend at Horse Pens 40 in Steele, AL.  We're continuing this segment by sitting down with Captain Midnight himself (aka Josh Cooker), who will be playing the late night set on Saturday, as well as a special tribute set on Sunday afternoon.  The Captain Midnight Band was born in New Orleans, LA in 2002 and relocated to East Nashville following Hurricane Katrina.  While various lineups have continued the band's legacy through 2002, The Captain has managed to solidify this band as a mainstay in the Southeast.  Get to know this wildly entertaining band and prepare yourself for what will certainly be two of the most discussed sets of the weekend.
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The Captain Midnight Band is scheduled to play the late night set on Saturday, October 8th under the pavilion at CukoRakko.  They will also play a special "Dead set" on Sunday at 1:00 PM on the main stage. Share this post from Live & Listen's Facebook page and tag a friend in the comments for a chance to win two weekend passes to the festival.
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Photo by Scott Shrader
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You started The Captain Midnight Band in New Orleans back in 2002.  Lets talk a little bit about your history down there.  What comes to mind when thinking back to your NOLA days?
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Midnight:  I was originally involved with a bigger band called Cronk, and the band was basically a supergroup of nobodies.  It was some of the guys that were in the band All That, a guy from Kermit Ruffin's band, a guy from Walter "Wolfman" Washington's band, UNO jazz guys who were sick of the doing the same old thing...oh, and me.  I had just moved down there, and bascially, we had this band where everyone was writing and singing.  I was writing a lot, and I wanted to do my songs, but there wasn't enough stage time to handle the amount of stuff I was writing.
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So, I started a side project that allowed me to focus on playing my stuff.  I was fortunate enough to enlist most of the people in that band.  When Cronk was playing, everyone would sing and write.  We would take turns, and I would maybe do three songs a night.  I was trying to create an outlet to play the rest of my material that the band couldn't accommodate.  I had the best people available to do it.  I played with some really heavy cats down there.  That's really where I really developed my style. Before I got down there, I was basically a rock player.  Playing with horn players and jazz guys, you learn a whole new way to approach things. 
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One of the many things that originally intrigued me about your band is the phrase "waterbed rock and roll."  I've definitely never heard that description before, but somehow it seems perfect for your music.  How did you guys end up coming up with this?
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Midnight: That's a good question.  So, this friend of mine and I used to joke around about country music in the late 70's...like Mickey Gilley, Razzy Bailey, and some of those guys.  We used to call it "waterbed country," because it was like, (sings) "Lookin' for love in all the wrong places!"  It was country music with over processed drums and almost a sleazy vibe to it.  Waterbed country was just how we described it, almost as a put-down.  So, when I started doing my solo band, people would talk about how we go through all the extra trouble of the costumery, the stage show, and some even thought it was a little sleazy.  I told them, "It's kind of like a waterbed.  There's motion. You go through a lot more trouble to set it up, but the pay off is a lot better down the road."  
There's also that implication that something is going to be done on that waterbed.  Something dirty and worth it. It's not just going to sit there.  It's also moving, you know?  It is a pain in the ass to set up.  Things can go wrong, but like a waterbed, if you want to go through the trouble, the payoff is grand. 
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Watch Captain Midnight Band perform "Common Law Hussy" here:
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Anyone who sees you play will quickly realize that there is a heavy influence from The Dead.  The first time I saw you guys, you busted out "Help On The Way" and "Dark Star."  How did you get turned on to the Dead, and how much of an influence has Jerry and Bobby's guitar playing had on you?
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Midnight:  Man...this could be an entire chapter.  I'm 43-years-old, so when I was an impressionable kid, that was in the hey day of the LA metal scene: Ratt, Motley Crue, Ozzy Osborne...and I'm not talking about the latter day stuff when it got real soft.  I'm talking about 1983 and 1984, before it become a huge pop thing.  As I got older, I started getting more into classic rock and my parents' records.  I was also simultaneously getting frustrated with creative output of some of the bands that were softening and kind of losing their edge to money and success. The Dead really piqued my interest.  Like a lot of people, I had my older brother's copy of Long Strange Trip, and the songs were just so different and weird to me.  Also, I didn't have a lot of friends who were listening to it yet, so I kind of got it into it by accident.  I stumbled upon it. 
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I was always intrigued with the fact that you can't go anywhere on the planet without seeing a "stealie" or some dancing skeletons or bears.  That was kind of always in my face, especially growing up in Oxford (MS) and going to Ole Miss.  Musically, I just found it to be so interesting, and I still do  There is so much of it, and it wasn't like anything that I'd been listening to.  I loved the idea later that you can go on stage, take a chance, and it may not work, but the audience was more excited about you taking that chance and it not working out than playing the same shit every night.  You know?  That really, really appealed to me.
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When I started seeing the Dead in the 90's, I saw a couple of hot Jerry shows, but a lot of the time, it would be Phil or Bobby that was really picking up the slack.  I don't want to say they were overcompensating, but when maybe Garcia was struggling a little bit, I would always gravitate towards Phil and Weir.  I would pay a lot of attention to how they operated.  That really gave me a great basis for when I moved to New Orleans and started playing with these horn guys, too. Phil and Bobby don't play like normal bass or guitar players. They used to get a lot of shit for it, too. Seems like folks are coming around though.  They really developed their own style based on what the band became and evolved into. My stuff is more structured, I think, but I love to take the GD approach when we're jamming on the improv sections.
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That was a big turn on for me.  Obviously, I love the poetry of Barlow, Hunter, and Phil's guy Petersen. Those guys are amazing.  I think the lyrical content is every bit as vital as the music.  Not a lot is discussed about that in musical realms.  What sealed the deal for me was seeing something that doesn't rely on pandering to anyone.  They were basically up there doing whatever they wanted to.  There is an unexpected thrill to it.  Some of those long breaks on "Bird Song," obviously "Dark Star," and songs like that really appeal to me.  Even just using different tones for songs that are played kind of straight.  I felt like it was limitless, and that's what I wanted to do in music as well. That's what I do in my life, too, come to think of it.
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Photo by Sundaze Media
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I would totally agree with that.  There's never been anyone like them, and there never will be again.  I was lucky to stumble onto them accidentally as well, largely in part to older siblings.  I got my first Dead album when I was nine or ten years old.  Their music is inspiring on another level.
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Midnight:  And as your picking up these CDs, the cool thing is that you meet other Deadheads who insist on giving you tapes.  "This CD is cool kid, but let me give you a sleeve of tapes."  I was working at this record store in Oxford, and my boss was an old Deadhead.  My other boss was a slightly younger Deadhead.  These guys would just lay these cassette tapes on me.  Back then, you had to know somebody to get that music.  There was no internet.  When someone gives you a sleeve of tapes from Barton Hall, Harper College, and Kezar Stadium, listening is all you're going to do (laughs).  Holy shit!  It was like gold, and it still is to me.  I still have a cassette player hooked up in my basement, and I have about 25% of my original tapes.  I lost most of them in Katrina.  I still throw those on.  Most of them sound like shit, but the music is there (laughs).
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That's priceless.  So, you mentioned Katrina.  I wanted to hear more about how you ultimately landed in Nashville.  I'm assuming this was shortly after Katrina?
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Midnight:  Oh yeah.  I bought a house in New Orleans in the Spring of 2005, and on September 1st, it has four feet of water in it.  A bunch of New Orleans people all moved to East Nashville, because they all worked in production.  My roommate was a tech for the Radiators.  My brother and a lot of us moved up here.  We wanted to stay in the south and didn't want to have to deal with snow.  Nashville was still a pretty small city back then.  It was very comparable to New Orleans, in terms of size.  We realized that we could probably do even more here.  We could stretch out and tour in places that we couldn't before.  You could go to Asheville, Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Chicago.  If you're in New Orleans, and you're not on a major label, you're either going to Florida, Texas, or Jackson, MS (laughs).
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Listen to "Witch's Tit" by Captain Midnight Band here:
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That makes sense.  Nashville is definitely a much more centrally located spot.
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Midnight:  Yeah...Katrina is what got me to Nashville.  I stayed at my folks' house in Oxford for about 10 months.  I had some insurance money, and I could have moved anywhere.  Then I blew the insurance money going to Hawaii to visit Lil Rae Rae, who is now our keyboard player and lives in Nashville with me.  So, it was a good investment (laughs).  Of course, you still can't get seafood here, but they're trying.
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I guess there are plenty of places having it shipped next-day, but you can't replicate the New Orleans cuisine.
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Midnight: Totally.  Getting it and cooking it properly are two entirely different things (laughs). Its actually getting a lot better. I'm probably bitching about too much. Nashville is cool. It ain't New Orleans.
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That's for sure.  So, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the Captain Midnight catalog.  First and foremost, we have to start with "Shady Box."  I am convinced that the right music video could turn that song into an international hit.  It has an explosive sound, and it makes people move.  The story line intrigues me even more.  Can you elaborate on that particular tune?
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Midnight:  Well, I have to confess, a lot of the songs that I write...there is a basis there.  I don't know how printable this is, but sometimes you have a song idea.  You have lyrics, and you have have a concept.  Sometimes something happens to you, and you want to write a song about it.  That's normally the case.  Something occurs, and you start writing it.  Regarding "Shady Box," I had that solo section that does all of the modulations.  I had been fooling around with that for years...the guitar solo.  I knew that I wanted to put it somewhere.  I knew it was a little "heady."  So at some point, I decided that I wanted to put it in the middle of a dance song and really fuck everything up, you know?  It's got kind of a jam/rock/dance thing going on.  After "waterbed rock and roll," we describe our music sometimes as "rock/jam/R&B."  I think that song is really a flagship for that.  
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As far as coming up with it lyrically, no shit, I was sitting on my couch with my dog.  I had eaten a bunch of mushrooms, and my girlfriend was out of town.  Those lyrics were almost entirely stream of consciousness.  So, sometimes you come up with a story that makes sense, and other times, you get these words that sound like that they need to be there.  I'd hate to make up some story about it being an elaborate thing, but the reality is that it's kind of syllables to go to a dance beat.  They just kind of came out on a psychedelic excursion on the couch with my dog.  I'd look at him and just play something.  When you're a litter "heightened" and there are animals around, you can get a vibe if they like it or not (laughs).  So, if you like how that one came out, you can thank Klaus for that one, because we was sitting there wagging his tail and giving me a thumbs up on most of it.  
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Listen to "Shady Box" by Captain Midnight Band here:
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That song has some really great one-liners.  "Hope I didn't disappoint ya.  Baby I just wanted to anoint ya" might be my favorite.  It makes me laugh everytime.
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Midnight:  (laughs) Thanks man!  That's the thing about that song.  It's just a collection of one liners, really.  I mean, "Beat the bible, holy roll.  Midnight Band 'bout to shave your soul."  I mean, there is no place for that in society, but it fits in that song.  Maybe there is, but for me, that was one that came to me in like 10-minutes.  That was after having the actual music for probably 10 years though.  
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I've noticed that there is a little bit of a common theme in your music.  There is the fun, energetic, dance groove to it, mixed with catchy lyrics with just the right amount of humor to it.  I'm talking about "Witch's Tit," "LaToya," "Jug of Wine"... I love listening to those songs.  They make me laugh for all of the right reasons.  
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Midnight:  Well thanks man.  I never set out to be wacky, you know?  You write what you know.  I like to have fun. I like to laugh. And I like strong R&B grooves.  
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Defintely.  "Jug of Wine" is another one that gets me every time.  It's a totally different vibe than the other tunes I mentioned, but damn, that is a funny song too.  
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Midnight:  That's an old one, man.  I wrote that song in like 1992, before I moved to New Orleans.  A lot of that stuff that I wrote with my old band in Oxford carried over.  "Witch's Tit" is from 1996.  A lot of these songs are really old, and many of them have been around more than half of my life.  Even though not that many people know them, they're a huge part of who I am.  I'll find myself on stage at SummerFest singing "Jug of Wine" in front of a ton of people, and it will just hit me like, "I can't believe that I'm saying this at age 43."  How many people are gonna be hip to the  Barney Miller Night Court musical reference in the center of it?  I'm glad you dig it though.  I try to make it real.  If you're mentioning songs like "Jug of Wine" that you really dig, then stuff like "Shady Box," you're dealing with about 20 year bookends of music.  That's crazy.  I'm really pleased to hear that you like the old stuff and the new stuff.  
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Listen to "Jug of Wine" by Captain Midnight Band here:
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You know how to kick off a song and get someone intrigued man.  With "Jug of Wine," those opening lines are epic.  "Well, the sun is getting hot, but you're girlfriend's even hotter."  That's incredible.  After seeing you guys that night, I kept hearing "Shady Box" and "Jug of Wine" in my head, and thanks to Spotify and Facebook, I was able to instantly connect.  
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Midnight:  That's so cool, because if you can hear our stuff live, it translates over, and you go home and listen to it...what more can a person ask for?
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It's funny how things work out sometimes man.  So, in terms of CukoRakko next weekend, you guys are scheduled for two sets: late night on Saturday and a day set on Sunday.
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Midnight:  For the late night set, we're really going to peacock around and put our best original feet forward.  We're playing with some great bands, and we're going to keep the dance vibe going.  The late night spot is a heavy responsibility.  We're going to play stuff that you can dance to, stuff that you can freak out to, and stuff that you can pump your fist to.  That's what we're trying to do.  I've talked with a couple of the Backup Planet dudes, as well as Kaitlin from Maradeen, and we may even take a segment to do a big collaboration for a song or two.  We're all friends, and we all like each others bands for the same reasons. 
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For Sunday, we've been asked to do a Dead set, which we are very excited about.  Sunday will be all Grateful Dead a la Captain Midnight Band.  I believe everyone is doing a Dead set on Sunday, from what I hear.  I hope that the bands communicate though.  People ask us to do it, and we love doing it. We did Jerry Day in Atlanta this year, and we also did a show with Dark Star Orchestra.  I hope the bands  get together on who's playing what.  The last thing we need is three Franklin's Towers to make you just hate the whole idea.  
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I like to mix it up, and I like diversity.  Being a mostly original band, we focus mostly on writing our own stuff.  We have a small, but ferocious Dead catalog. Like you mentioned earlier, "Help On The Way" > "Slipknot" takes a lot of work.  "Terrapin" takes a lot of work.  We've learned a lot of songs that we hope a lot of other bands aren't going to try to jump on, but you never know.  A Dead cover band should have 100 tunes in their pocket, if they're going to bill themselves as that.  If they don't, they should start learning them.
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A band like us, we're playing our own songs 90% of the time, so we can't just go and learn 50 Dead covers.  Maybe by the end of the Captain Midnight Band, we'll have 100 down.  So, we're excited about the Dead set on Sunday.  Hopefully, no repeats.  Saturday will be a late night, Captain Midnight buffet.
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Good lord.  I can't wait. 
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Click Here: Purchase Tickets to CukoRakko!

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The Road To CukoRakko: The Reunion of Mama's Love September 15, 2016 12:25

 
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Our latest segment, "The Road to CukoRakko," consists of a series of interviews leading up to CukoRakko Music & Arts Festival this weekend at Horse Pens 40 in Steele, AL.  We're kicking off the segment by taking a look into a special reunion set from one of our favorite bands of the past, Mama's Love.  Mama's Love was born in Athens, Georgia in 2007 and took the southeast by storm for many years.  While various lineups continued the band's legacy through 2014, the core lineup will perform at CukoRakko for the first time since December of 2011.  We recently sat down with Thomas Galloway (guitar/vocals) and Whit Murray (lead guitar/vocals) to relive some of the old memories and see what we can expect at Horse Pens 40 next month.
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Mama's Love is scheduled to play on Friday, October 7th at 8:15 on the Main Stage at CukoRakko.  Share this post from Live & Listen's Facebook page and tag a friend in the comments for a chance to win two weekend passes to the festival.
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-Interview by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
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Let's start off by talking a little bit about the beginning of Mama's Love back in Athens, GA.
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Thomas:  The band formed back in 2007 in Athens, Ga.  Most of us were in school there at the time.  I had been playing with William Boyd (keyboards) since high school, as well as Patrick Atwater, the original bassist.  So, there was already some chemistry going. Boyd looped in his cousin Ben Torbert who became the original drummer.  Then we hooked up with Taylor Knox, the original guitarist, who had played with some of us in another project called The Shady Boys.  We went through a few names while playing together and eventually became Mama's Love. Pretty soon after, we recorded our first studio album Willow Street Sessions, and we played around Athens and the southeast from 2007-2009 with that initial lineup.  

Knox left the band towards the end of '09 to pursue another career so we were searching for a new guitarist.  We had played with Whit's band, Perfect Colour, out of Raleigh, and he was friends with Knox and all of us.  I think Whit was in a position to make moves to Athens, and he was interested in making it work.  So, he came on board in 2009.  We also changed things up with Bo Nicholson as our new bassist around that time of transition. Patrick went on to study Jazz bass in Colorado.  Soon after, we went to Southern Tracks Studio in Atlanta and recorded the self-titled EP with Tom Tapley.  We toured in support of that for a while, and eventually followed that up with a full length LP with John Keane in 2011 called, The Great Divide.  

We toured around the southeast pretty heavily during that time.  I guess soon after The Great Divide, different factors cause the band to dissolve.  I was still living in Athens, and after some soul searching, I had the opportunity to get another really talented group of players together to keep the music going.  We recorded the single, "Beyond the Divide" with Keane and we actually have a shelved album "Stone Farm Redemption" that I hope will see the light of day at some point.  That lineup toured heavily between 2012-2014 and we still occasionally play a few shows from time to time

Listen to "Wake Up Woes" by Mama's Love here:

Very cool.  So Whit, as you guys were saying, it was right around 2009 when everyone was finishing school, and you ultimately came on board.  How did that come about in your eyes, and what drew you in to make the move down to Athens and take on this new venture?
 
Whit:  I think it was a football tailgate in 2007 when I first saw ML. I was down in Athens, and my one of my good friends from home was living with (Taylor) Knox.  I would visit Athens all the time from University of South Carolina, and I would stay with them. Knox and I would always play guitars, and he told me he was playing with his new band at the tailgate the next day and that I should sit in on a song.  I remember it was "Mama Lay Your Hair Down."  G Blues! He was telling me about Thomas, and how he had written all of these songs.  He kept raving about how Ben was the best drummer he had ever played with, too.  So, I met all of them and sat in.  Then, the following summer, I worked at a summer camp with (Patrick) Atwater, and they had just recorded Willow Street Sessions.  He played me the album and it was so good, especially compared to anything that anyone I knew was doing. Not many of our peers were writing their own music at the time. So, we got to be friends and they'd always let me sit in when I came to town and vice versa. 
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When I graduated from college in 2008, I moved home and nobody my age could get a job because of the crash. So I put a band together and really put my energy into that. Raleigh has a pretty cool, smaller music scene but I knew I'd have to move to a mecca if I really wanted to get involved and Athens at the time was buzzing. It was always in the back of my minds towards the end of college, then when I heard Taylor had left the band and they asked me to fill in temporarily, I went down for a week and checked it out. They had the open room all ready and the shows we played were so much fun, I just kind of stayed... for 2 and a half years. We toured and practiced a heavily and made two albums. It was a blast!  
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Mama's Love - Athens, GA - 2008
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So, like you said, you had about two-and-a-half years of consistent touring and playing a lot of music together.  You guys obviously got to play a lot of new cities and different venues.  When you look back on that time, what are some of the memories that stand out the most?
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Thomas: One of my favorites was going out west for the first time. Seeing and feeling the landscape change as you get further out. We got to open up for Mickey Hart (The Grateful Dead) and Keller Williams.  Actually, that was in Driggs, Idaho, and some Jackson Hole shows.  We did some Colorado and Texas dates too.

Whit: Yeah, I would say the same.  I think that run was about three weeks.  That was our first real tour.  We were typically doing two to four nights a week before that.  Going out west and playing for three weeks when we were fresh out of college was really cool.  We got to go to a lot of places we'd never been and probably haven't been to since.
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Thomas:  That was fun, and you would think being younger and on the road would be easier to do personally, but I almost feel like it's gotten easier with age.  I guess we're just more accustomed to it at this point?
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Whit: There's some conditioning to it, but we were just a lot younger.  We were probably partying a little harder than we can now (laughs).
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Thomas:  One of the really great memories I have was one night at the Georgia Theatre.  Knox was still playing at the time, but we had Whit sit in on "Catch a Feelin".  Almost a passing of the guitar pick foreshadowing moment, although none of us knew it at the time. It was pretty packed out, and we had a bunch of balloons drop during the peak of that song.  That was pretty fun.
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Whit: Oh yeah...that was so cool. The old Theatre, before the fire. 
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Was there any special occasion for the balloon drop that night?
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Thomas: We were just trying to do something cool and different, so we blew up a bunch of balloons ourselves.  They were stored at our house, and we snuck them into the theatre that night, and Big Mike our manager dropped them off the balcony at the right moment.
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Thomas Galloway: ATHFest 2013
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What else would you say was unique about both of your stints with the band?
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Whit: I would say what really stands out to me was how close we all were.  We were such good friends. For instance, if I had to partner off for lunch with someone, it didn't really matter who it was.  Individually, we were all just really tight.  In hindsight, that made the band special.  We got to hop around college towns from night to night and pretend to be rock stars (laughs).
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Thomas:  I would say the same.  We were very fortunate to have found each other.  It wasn't just like, "We're going to start a band.  Where can we find good musicians?"  I feel like, when I look back at it now, Mama's Love is just a big brotherhood of outstanding musicians and people. That's what it was always about.  We recently got to play again at Torbert's wedding, and it was very easy to get back up there and do it.  It felt really natural, you know?
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Whit: It's cool, because I've had a lot of people come up to me and say "Hey, you played our college formal" or some of my favorite memories were going to see you guys play, or something along those lines.  We played a lot of frat gigs back then.  Thomas and I pulled up to Hampden-Sydney last year, and these guys were blaring a Mama's Love album that we recorded 6-7 years ago.  There's a poster at Washington & Lee from a show we played there in 2009 and it's still there! Having people come up and realizing that our music is still being passed down is really cool.
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Listen to "Ragtime Rug" by Mama's Love here:
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Yeah I can imagine that you hear a lot of those stories.  Mama's Love played a major role in so many people's college experience.  I can certainly attest to that.  If you were at Auburn University from 2007-2009 and Mama's Love was in town, you made sure you were there.  If you had a test the next day, you got a doctor's note. 
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Thomas: Another experience from that lineup that really sticks out was one of our band retreats.  We all went up to Atlantic Beach for about a week.  We stayed at Bo's family beach house.  Most of that time was spent in the basement working on new music.  The rest of the time was spent on the beach just having a lot of fun.  
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Whit:  The band house was together for 3 years and it was everyday, you know. Not just playing music but trying to hone our vision and grow our business. I'd always wanted an experience like that and have really fond memories of that period. 
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Whit Murray of Mama's Love
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So, as you were saying, you guys got to return to the stage just a few weeks ago at Ben's wedding at Lake Burton.  That's a nice precursor to this reunion set coming up at CukoRakko in a few weeks.  What is it like for you guys to have this opportunity, and how do you go about preparing for a set at this point?
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Thomas:  Well, we've already been talking a lot about the set.  We're all working on re-familiarizing ourselves with certain songs again.  What's nice about it is that Whit and I are here in Nashville, so we can get together and work on the material.  Boyd and Torbert are in Atlanta, so they can get together. Bo might be the wild card (laughs) but I trust he'll kill it.  I hope we can find the time to get at least one full rehearsal in as a band, but like I was saying, everything was really easy when we just recently played together.  It was almost like time had not passed.
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Whit:  It's so engrained, you know.  It's been a while, but it's in there somewhere.  For it to be able to resurface is just really cool.  You don't full remember until it happens though. One thing about this that is really cool is that it's pretty much been five years since we played a show.  We were all at Taylor's wedding last December, and that was the first time that all of us have had a chance to hang out together since the last time we played.  We kind of just let this thing happen with the CukoRakko opportunity coming up.  We knew that we would do something like this again, but we wanted to let it happen organically.  When the time's right, it's right.  The wedding was such a cool precursor, because we haven't had a chance to play in such a long time. It's really cool how it's all unfolded.  
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Watch Mama's Love perform "Long Willie Jackson" > "Catch a Feelin" at Ben Torbert's wedding reception on August 20th, 2016 here:
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