By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – Bar bands know the surest way to get someone in the audience to sing along is to play somebody else’s songs.
“We’ve hit our share of bars over the years, everywhere you can imagine around here,” said Charlie Smart, a bass player who’s spent the past 20 years or so making music with his friends.
Smart and his musical buddies have played together and apart in a number of bands, including The Leftovers, Easy Chair, Resident Alien, Mr. Jack, Jimi Pearl and Dirty Side Down.
Now, they’ve come together as Mississippi Stomp, and they’re traveling new territory. The band members are focused on making original music that’s distilled from a mix of country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll with gospel harmonies thrown in for good measure.
“We decided to make a shift from playing a lot of covers to doing our own stuff,” said Gid Stuckey, the band’s lead vocalist.
“We took all this music that we’ve had for years and years and years, and we took it into the studio and it came out as a whole project,” said Matt Jones, lead guitarist.
The result is “Chickasaw Lodge,” an album named after a Tupelo bar that burned down. Released on March 21, it features 20-year-old songs, as well as recently penned numbers, and it’s already gathered a following.
Music lovers from Canada, France and Russia have found Mississippi’s Stomp’s debut on iTunes, while people from England, Spain and Taiwan have discovered the album on the band’s website, www.mississippistomp.com.
“It blows my mind that you can put something on the Web and people across the world will find it and like it,” Jones said.
The album comes with an injection of Magnolia State prestige thanks to Grammy winner Jimbo Mathus. He produced the record with Ryan “Rando” Rogers,” and by all accounts, both producers used light touches.
“They allowed us to do what we wanted to do,” Gid Stuckey said. “They let us kind of do our thing, then they added ideas that made the songs that much better.”
“The cool thing about recording is the sound we got out of the studio now became our live sound,” Jones said.
Mississippi Stomp members live in Tupelo, Pontotoc and Olive Branch. There are three bankers, a lawyer, a small business owner and a GED instructor. Except for Jones, who joined about five years ago, the group has been making music together for two decades.
“If we weren’t playing a show, we’d just play at people’s homes,” said guitarist Bryan McCutchen. “We always get together with each other and our families. The guitars are always going to come out. We do everything as a family.”
“Just about every year, we try to get together for New Year’s Eve and we play into the wee hours of the morning,” Gid Stuckey said. “We’ve always been loyal, like old dogs.
“The gravity of music keeps pulling us back together,” said Kenny Burroughs, the drummer.
And an unexpected event as irrefutable as gravity caused the band members to rethink their goals.
Burroughs’ brother, Dan “The Man” Burroughs, died three years ago on July 4.
“He was our No. 1 fan,” said Sunny Stuckey, keyboardist and vocalist.
“He had this quote: ‘Don’t just talk about it, do it,’” McCutchen said.
After his death, the band took about six months to regroup, then came a year of gathering and polishing material, followed by recording time at Mathus’ Sand Dog Studios.
“It’s in Sardis, out in the middle of nowhere,” Smart said.
“A fish camp,” Jones said.
“It’s a great place to record,” Gid Stuckey said.
“Mojo,” McCutchen said.
“It’s got its own vibe to it,” Gid Stuckey said.
What’s in a name?
“Chickasaw Lodge” ended up with its own vibe, too, and Sunny Stuckey decided the band needed a new name to go with its new direction. As she thought about the possibilities, she kept returning to Mississippi’s rich musical and cultural roots.
Dirty Side Down was done, and Mississippi Stomp was born.
“I think we’re infused with many influences,” she said. “All of us have so many different influences, and we bring it all to the table.”
“We’ve got north Mississippi and we’ve got south Mississippi,” Smart said. “It’s a lot of different feels.”
“I grew up with blues, bluegrass, anything that’s good music. We don’t have to label it,” Gid Stuckey said. “I grew up with a big gospel background, singing as a kid, and I have a love for harmonies.”
“Yeah, harmonies,” Burroughs said. “We’ve always been that sing-along kind of group.”
The band members were hesitant to define their sound or pin it down, but Mississippi Stomp has its own channel at Jango.com music streaming service, and the mix includes The Black Crowes and The Derek Trucks Band.
People can hear for themselves when Mississippi Stomp performs at 2 p.m. Saturday at the WROX Radio Museum during the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale. That’ll be followed by a headlining gig at 4 p.m. April 26 at Tunica Riverfest.
A cover song or two might get thrown in, but the clear purpose of the shows will be to introduce listeners to Mississippi Stomp’s original music and new direction.
“The No. 1 thing has been the interest by music lovers and their reactions,” Burroughs said. “I really want to see how other people see what we’ve done.”
“We’ve worked a long time to get to this point,” McCutchen said. ““We want to get out there and share it.”