Muddy Belle: Texas Blues With A Heart and A Groove

M. J.

Muddy Belle has made a name for themselves, and their heavy blues music. But who is Muddy Belle?  What motivates them?  Red Publication asked me to talk to the band to find out a bit more about these local blues rockers. I love music. No problem.

Muddy Belle started back in 2012 when Jerry Gonzales and his cousin Ben Rowe decided to make music.  Jerry tells us, “After many years of playing in different projects together, we decided to take a different approach to not just writing, but the whole band aspect completely.”  This different approach came because the two founders were tired of the stress that comes with the pressure of ''success'' or doing things ''the right way''.

Jerry explains the motivation and discusses some initial challenges, “We wanted to have fun again. We began writing songs  as a pair at my house, we both decided I would sing which would present a new challenge for me that was exciting because I’ve always been a lyricist but only played drums in previous bands.” Jerry had a clear vision for their patented look early on, “... slacks, dress shirt and tie, suspenders, black sunglasses. I wanted us to look sharp, play sharp and look professional.”

They practiced and created as a pair for six months then invited friend Ivan Garcia to play bass. Jerry speaks about those early days as a three piece and how they came up with the name, “We started playing a monthly show at Avant Garden with the name Muddy Belle. I thought of the name one night as we were taking a break from rehearsing - drinking beer, and throwing darts, I wanted something that said the blues which is what we are all musically rooted in, as well as something about a woman. Visually I pictured a  beautiful woman whose heart had been dragged through the mud, who was at the end of her rope. Because to me, there is nothing more fragile, poetic and beautiful as a woman’s struggle to find her place in an unforgiving world, to break the mold, to free herself.”

The band has evolved a bit since those early days,  “We are now playing with Phil peterson, our third bass player, a horn section, Rochelle Sloan on trumpet, Charles Thomas plays Saxaphone, and Moskie on percussion.”  

Jerry reflects on the scene and his work ethic, “This city’s growth in the music/arts scene in the last 5 years has been huge. Bands like The Suffers really motivate me, artist like Daniel Anguilu, Luke Poteete and Lee Carrier motivate me. Mario Rodriguez of Wonky Power Records and Mark C Austin of the Convoy Group motivate me and so many more.. I know I have some of the best musicians in my band, and with my 15 years of experience, I really feel it’s our time to make some noise. I’m up early and to bed late, always working, striving to make this a more fulfilling experience.” 

When asked about favorite local acts, these came to the fore , The Suffers, Handsomebeast, Sik Mule, Robert Ellis and band, Gio Chamba, and Blue Healer (San Marcos). Jerry recognizes local talent but looks to play with more national acts. “We'd love to play with lots of national acts but to name a few off my head I'd say, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Black Keys and Gary Clark Jr. Hopefully sometime soon!”  

Interesting and diverse venues were mentioned amongst Muddy Belle’s favorite venues, “We've always loved Last Concert Cafe, Bohemeos - and Avant Garden for the intimacy it provides between audience and the band. Fitzgerald’s and Warehouse Live are great as well. One of our favorites is Moon Tower Saloon AND Stubbs in Austin.”

I decided to dig a bit deeper into the music asking Jerry to distinguish ‘Texas Blues’. He starts with a humble, “I’ll try my best.” then proceeds, “Some blues have a nice clean sound to it, tone wise and vocally, a Chicago sound. Some blues can be dry and twangy like an old acoustic sound or steel guitar, more delta sounding. Texas blues is the result of being hot and pissed off when you already got the blues, guitar, bass , drums, vocals all come running at ya like a bat out of hell, it screams and soars above anything else, but also possesses the ability to melt your heart with a single note played with just the right amount of imperfection and touch. It’s an attitude that can only be described and quite possibly understood by a Texan.”

The band has a fun video out for their song “Won’t Be No More” the video is great and we wanted to know more about it. Jerry says the video was filmed in Conroe, Tx and, “The idea was to throw a big party with all of our friends and Muddy Belle the entertainment. I got a couple beer sponsors, some models and a car club with amazing old school cars to post up in different places. Fast cars, beautiful women, rock n roll, beer, and good people. That’s what we wanted to capture. It was about bringing people together with music and celebrating each other.” They certainly did a good job because that is exactly what the video communicates. When asked for a memorable event from the video shoot that did not make it to the video a bit of good time fun is mentioned, “after all the hard work in preparation and filming, the band stood on the edge of the pool after the last take, exhausted but full of love and appreciation, jumped in the pool fully dressed like a bunch of 10 yr olds with arms locked and eyes closed!”

Jerry tells a that the new record has its own character, “Still rooted in blues and rock n roll, this record also has some more Soul and Pop elements to it. When we approached the idea of writing new songs and recording, I wanted to push myself and this band to explore and to pull out those specific sounds. I was already thinking and hearing these melodies that were more Pop, Soul, R&B and accepted the challenge of merging what we already do with that. I wanted to record at Sugar Hill Studios because of all the vintage equipment and the energy from all these musicians that pour their hearts out in those walls. I also reached out to the amazing and talented Kam Franklin, singer of The Suffers to collaborate with me on the single for the record ''Come On In''. John Allen Stephens, a real pro engineer/producer is recording and mixing this album and we couldn’t be in better hands. So far, everything has been moving coming together so smoothly and almost effortlessly.”

The next record sounds exciting! Some are curious as to what is on the Muddy Belle agenda after the release. Jerry lets us know, “A gulf coast tour and an east coast tour are on the agenda as well as the many festivals that we hope to be a part of. We also will be shooting a few more music videos so lots to be excited about!”

Jerry provides some veteran advice for new upcoming acts, “ HAVE FUN. Think big, never cut yourself short and say you don’t belong. Work at your craft, especially if you find yourself complaining about nobody coming to your shows. Don’t just get up there and play your instrument, stand out, provide the audience with something they aren’t getting from the other bands you play with. And lastly, be professional. Promote your event, show up early, play on time, watch the other bands, be respectful of everyone involved.”

Jerry had given an informative interview, about Muddy Belle, other acts, venues, advice for newbies, and of course discussion of the Blues. I was intrigued with the heart, drive, and candor of the responses. I asked was there anything else he would like to speak about. It turns out that he had some thoughts to leave us with, “The last thing I’d like to say is as Houston continues to grow, it would be nice to see the following happen: More coverage on the many different acts this city has from the several media sources. More pay from venues for those bands that work to promote shows and are professional.  An effort to centralize a music district where people can walk venue to venue and catch many different bands, just like all the other music cities have. It’s time we do what we need to do to make Houston known for the amazing music it creates that any local is well aware of.”

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Located In The Independence Heights, Houston, TX.