Barrelhouse Blues ("BB") has been privileged to interview
one of the last surviving members of the Muddy Waters era, Mac Arnold.
BB: How did you get your start in music and what attracted you to
MA: I got my start by stealing my brother’s home made gasoline
can guitar and playing around with it, and what really got me hooked
on blues is my brother was in a talent show in elementary school
(it was called middle school at that time), and he won first prize.
This was in 1947. Then by 1950, I was playing his gasoline can guitar;
I was 8 years old in 1950. I decided to keep playing through school
and by the time I got to high school, I bought a standard guitar
(hollow body guitar) from a department store called National Belihas
and I played that till I was in. Then I bought another guitar, a
Silvertone, from Sears in 1957.
BB: Times were tough back then, how did you get the money to buy
MA: I was playing with groups in Greenville, South Carolina. In
1955, I was playing with a group in Greenville called J Floyd and
the Shamrocks. James Brown used to come up from Macon Georgia every
weekend to play. He sang and played piano back then. In late 1956,
he did Please Please Please and we never saw James again. It must
have been 1979 when I heard about James Brown again.
In the meantime, in 1964 I went to Chicago to meet up with a bunch
of blues singers there and stayed for a month. I came back to Greenville,
bought myself a new automobile and went back to Chicago. I lived in
Chicago and played with all the blues singers I could meet. I was
living at 1715 West 65th Street, Inglewood District. I eventually
moved to the East Side 85th and Constance, where I lived until about
BB: Was there a defining moment for you in your career in terms
of your musical direction and development?
MA: Chicago, it set the tone.
BB: Were you a full time musician in Chicago?
MA: No, I worked a public job during the day. I played gigs every
weekend and a lot of times during the week I played….my
sleep was down to a bare minimum! When I first went there in 65-
66 I started playing with AC Reed, BB King, John Lee Hooker, Big
Mama Thornton, Bob Margolin was there also—he was real young—he
was sneaking in the clubs; James Cotton Blues Band, Otis Spann,
Mike Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield, Eric Clapton was there, Buddy
Guy, Big Joe Williams, Junior Wells, Tyron Davis, Denise LaSalle,
Elvin Bishop, Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf, ---we played
with all these guys. I’m tellin’ ya, Chicago was the
place to go back in those days, they had bands that were smoking!
If you wanted to hear some blues at its finest and cover all blues—Memphis
Blues, Delta Blues, NY style blues, and Chicago’s own style
of blues, every type of blues you wanted to hear was in Chicago.
And the clubs stayed open til 3:30am during the week and 4:30am
on weekends. We’d come out of the club sometimes it’d
be daylight. Clubs were everywhere: Rum Boogie, ChessMate, The
Burning Spear, Apollo13, Rush Up, Mother Blues, Big John’s
Grill, Zorba’s, The Green Bunnie Club, The High Chaperell,
was a landmark in Chicago. Man, there were some clubs around there
back then. E. Rodney Jones from WVOM Radio Station in Chicago
was a DJ and booked shows. That’s how I met Don Cornelius
of Soul Train, and Joe Cobb—those were the 3 main ones I
worked with. They had connections in clubs where we played, we
played 5 nights a week, with my group Soul Invaders—which
was made up of Tony Bassett, Eddie Nunn, Charles Twilley, Tyrone
Harris. I played bass.
BB: What was the pay like?
MA: oh, sh__t, you didn’t get paid! If you went home with $25,
you were doing something. You see what the line up was! All those
musicians, you couldn’t make any money.
BB: Who are some of the players, especially bass players and vocalists,
that influenced your style?
MA: Louis Johnson played bass mostly for Quincy Jones and he influenced
my style. As for vocalists, Albert King influences me a lot. Don
BB: What was it like to play with Muddy Waters in the sixties and
be part of the band that helped shape the sound of electric Blues?
MA: Muddy was one of the most influential gentlemen in the music
business, because he would help you understand what he was doing,
and if you were in trouble financially he would help you. If you were
in trouble with your family at home, he made sure you stayed in contact
with them when out on the road; he made sure your transportation was
in place, that you ate, and got paid. It was the most wonderful experience
for me at my age because I didn’t know ‘zip’ about
business back then at 24 years old.
BB: You’ve shared the stage with many of the greats in the
business. Is there any moment, show or recording that stands out in
your mind as being especially gratifying?
MA: Live at the Café Au Gogo, New York City with John Lee
Hooker. John Lee had a unique style and at the time there were other
bass players who couldn’t seem to get his style down well enough
to play it like he wanted it, and I happened to be there and he
liked how I played. That was in Greenwich Village NY, in 1967.
BB: Are there any remaining unfulfilled career goals that you would
like to achieve at this point in time?
MA: That’s a yes for sure! I’d like to become the number
one blues singer in the world. I’m still seeking to be the
number one blues singer in the world; help me somebody!! (Laughs!!)
BB: What do you value most about making music?
MA: Well, my biggest concern is to make sure that I can write, arrange
and present a product that is going to be marketable. Some of
the stuff you hear out there now wasn’t worth bringing out of
BB: Tell us about your new band, Plate Full O’ Blues.
MA: I would say this new band is far better than I expected. I was
seeking a very good band, but I think I got more than I bargained
for. They have great character and the ability to produce a unique
BB: Are there any new CDs or tours currently in the works?
MA: Yes there are. The CD is in the making; we’re looking for
a final product by the end of January or before and we have gigs booked
through the end of the year, including one at Ground Zero, Morgan’s
club in Clarksdale, MS.
BB: What would you most like your fans to know about you and your
MA: That I’m for real, honest and I’ll do almost anything
to see that my fans are happy.