Mississippi Stomp shines like a rough-cut diamond mined from the dark, rich Delta dirt.
Make that the Mississippi cotton fields and the ramshackle juke joints of Clarksdale, Grenada and points in between. The band is drawing national and even international attention as it launches its second EP Shine in late December.
In fact, Mississippi Stomp, which has its origins in the gritty, gospel and blues-infused house party circuit of Northwest Mississippi a quarter century ago, is now a full-fledged Southern rock band drawing rave reviews from across the pond.
No less than the London Daily Telegraph, with its audience of millions, took note of the rocking, bluesy sound of Mississippi Stomp and its first release Chickasaw Lodge. The Stomp's "Shine," is also being released on vinyl, CD and in digital format. It's been a long crazy trip that began when founding band members Gid Stuckey, Kenny Burroughs and Bryan McCutchen got together not long after Stuckey and McCutchen finished college. Stuckey, who hailed from the Piney Woods region of south Mississippi, was an Ole Miss Rebel. McCutchen, a Mississippi State Bulldog, calls the smoky blue hills around Pontotoc home.
The friends met in Tupelo, the birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll, drawn together by a love of music and good times. Stuckey and McCutchen had formed a band called Resident Alien.
"We were all living in Tupelo at that time," says McCutchen, who has been playing guitar since he was eight. He grew up listening to Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and Hubert Sumlin, a Chicago blues guitarist and singer who was ranked number 43 in Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time." Hubert, who? Someone might ask the same about Mississippi Stomp. But their time to shine in the spotlight is at hand if the rock gods agree. The band is talking about the possibility of a European tour. It's worked before. In reverse. No less than the Liverpool rock band "The Beatles" learned guitar licks from Mississippi Delta blues great Muddy Waters. That group traveled from the U.K. to the U.S. and the rest is history.
McCutchen believes the group's second album shows promise. "I believe the songs on this one are probably more well written and more mature than the ones on our first record. The songs have a lot of soul and passion."
Bandmate Gid Stuckey picks it up from there. Stuckey says the second album is a totally professional effort from top to bottom. Jimbo Mathus of the Squirrel Nut Zippers co-produced the new album at the
Dial Back Sound Studio in Water Valley. Dial Back Sound is the recording studio owned by Matt Patton of The Drive By Truckers and The Dexateens. The EP carries the Fat Possum Records label. Ryan Rogers mixed it. Bronson Tew was the sound engineer.
"We cut eight songs in five hours," Stuckey says. "It was crazy."
The new album has a vibrant, richer sound that captures the feeling and essence of a live performance, according to Stuckey.
"The difference in the new EP is that we have evolved," says Gid Stuckey, whose boyish looks belie the fact he has a half century of hard living poured into his soul. For Stuckey, his musical journey began in the Pentecostal and hardshell Baptist tent revivals of south Mississippi. Gospel, that constant companion to the blues, was his first musical influence.
"The Gospel Jubilee came on every Sunday morning on television with the Florida Boys, the Jordanaires, the Hintons and the Blackwood Brothers," Stuckey says. "My mama sang and played organ in the church. Obviously the gospel music early on shaped me.”
Not too many years later, Gid Stuckey, Bryan McCutchen and Kenny Burroughs began playing music together. Burroughs says it seems like yesterday.
"It's been really interesting to see how the band has evolved," says Burroughs. "Our last album, Chickasaw Lodge — we had developed a sound. I think we have cultivated that special sound. I think the more you do things together and get into the studio, you begin to understand the music that you make together. I think Gid and Sunny bring a couple of things to the band. They have similar taste. "It's the camaraderie when you make music with someone. It's like a chorus. We want to make music that is unique."
The sound of Mississippi Stomp can be traced back generations, adds Sunny Stuckey. "I grew up in Tupelo," says Sunny of the hamlet where a young Elvis Presley lived until age 13. "My family is mostly from Alabama and Itawamba County, Mississippi" she says of the rural northeast Mississippi hill country which produced such singers as Tammy Wynette and Bobbie Gentry.
"My family are musicians who are three generations deep on both sides," added Stuckey who sang in Pentecostal churches and learned how to play several instruments.
"My great-grandaddy was a music teacher," she says. "They would teach by shape notes. But I didn't learn harmony until Gid and I got married."
Almost every member of the band says the couple's harmony and collaborative efforts have helped shape the sound that has become Mississippi Stomp.
"Sunny brings a lot of energy," husband Gid adds. "We didn't have to go out and find a female singer. She plays keys. She plays drums. Sunny brings a lot to the band."
Sunny Stuckey's father, Larry Eads, plays keyboard. A professional musician and songwriter, Eads' grandfather was a music teacher. His mother sang and played music. Eads has played the smoke-filled bars and rowdy honky tonks of Mississippi and Tennessee. The road miles show on his weathered face.
"The music we play is ours," says Eads. "We don't copy what other people do. We do have a certain enthusiasm about it. It has a spiritual ring to it that is natural."
Eads says as the band's keyboard player, he tries to bring that spiritual feel to the band's music.
"I call it the Hammond B-3 sound," Eads says of the organ that was formerly relegated to urban black and rural white churches but soon became the staple of modern roots and rhythm and blues music. "I think it adds body to the music. It separates it from the screeching and screaming instruments."
Eads says the "special instruments" include the vocal harmonies of the band, including his daughter Sunny.
A younger cousin, Clayton Albrecht of Hamilton, Alabama, is one of the newer members of the band, along with Robert King of Brandon, Mississippi, who has been playing with the band for the past two years.
At 27, Albrecht can recall hearing his cousin Sunny and her husband Gid play gigs when he was just a few years older than a toddler. Growing up just north of Chicago, it’s that "family" atmosphere that permeates the band. Whether one is biologically kin or not, music is in the band's shared bloodline, according to Albrecht.
"When I hooked up with Gid and Sunny two years ago, it was really special," Albrecht says. "It's just magical to be a part of a big band like that. With eight of us, it's so cool to be a part of a big band sound. It's a big melting pot of influences."
Charlie Smartt of Tupelo echoes King in the respect that Shine will rock Stomp fans' world.
"The first album was a little more country and blues," says Smartt, who has been playing with the band for about 25 years. "This one is more straight up rock and roll. The really nice thing about what we have evolved into now is that we have found our own sound. We really enjoy making music together."
Mississippi Stomp’s kudzu-coated sound strikes a chord in sophomore album Shine
Story by Robert Lee Long | Photos Courtesy of Ryan Coon