Artist Spotlight  
Mac Arnold
By Robert John, correspondent to
© 2006 - All Rights Reserved
Photograph by Stephen Stinson

With  a musical career that spans decades and includes spending more than a year in the Muddy Waters Band, Mac Arnold helped to shape the electric blues sound that inspired the rock and roll movement of the late 60's and early 70's.

The Muddy Waters Band, with Mac on board, shared the stage with Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed, Junior Wells, Big Joe Williams and Big Mama Thornton, among others. Mac has also played on albums with John Lee Hooker and Otis Spann.

Mac now resides in Pelzer, South Carolina, and fronts his own band, Plate Full O' Blues.

Barrelhouse Blues ("BB") has been privileged to interview one of the last surviving members of the Muddy Waters era, Mac Arnold. Read on...

BB: How did you get your start in music and what attracted you to the Blues?

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 guitars?

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 1969.

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, Theresa’s—that 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 Gardner too.

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 the studio.

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 sound.

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 music?

MA: That I’m for real, honest and I’ll do almost anything to see that my fans are happy.

© 2006 - All Rights Reserved

You may contact Mac Arnold at:
Business Manager and Bookings:
Belinda Humphries
Phone: (864) 921-4576