VIDEO — Mill Valley, Calif., was home to many blues and rock stars in the '60s. Ideally located between Stinson Beach, Mount Tamalpais and Muir Beach, it became a magnet for such bands and musicians as Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Grateful Dead, Van Morrison, Maria Muldaur and countless others.
Mill Valley, Calif., was home to many blues and rock stars in the '60s. Ideally located between Stinson Beach, Mount Tamalpais and Muir Beach, it became a magnet for such bands and musicians as Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Grateful Dead, Van Morrison, Maria Muldaur and countless others.
It is where harmonica player Mark Adams was raised and where he honed his craft. Influenced by Little Walter, Paul Butterfield and Sonny Boy Williamson, Adams formed his own band in 1968, the Muskadine Blues Band. It opened shows for rock and blues acts at the Fillmore Auditorium and Avalon Ballroom.
After opening for blues artists Michael Bloomfield and Nick Gravenites, Adams was asked to join Michael Bloomfield and Friends and appeared with the group in clubs and concert venues throughout the '70s, as well as on recordings and live broadcasts.
When Gravenites formed Blue Gravy in 1972, Adams became a featured member. He also joined blues and folk singer, songwriter and guitarist Alice Stuart and her band Snake and collaborated with San Francisco Bay Area musicians Mark Naftalin, Dan Hayes and Jules Broussard. Again with Gravenites, he toured overseas with Animal Mind.
Adams moved to Williams in July 2005, settling on a farm with his family to tend his horses and motorcycles, but never leaving the blues.
In 2014, he formed the Muskadine Blues Quartet with guitarist Justin Wade, electric and stand-up bassist Jeff Addicott and myself on drums. The band is his current vehicle to further polish the blues, which he has become so adept at playing. Paying tribute to fathers and sons of the blues genre — Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Otis Spann, Willie Horton, Butterfield, Bloomfield and the rest — Adams is a living embodiment of this great American sound. He's a treasure trove of blues history with an uncanny ability to play all forms of blues effortlessly. He's also a teacher, at one time helping a young wannabe harp player named Huey Lewis.
The same year Adams formed the new band, he released a new CD, "Gypsy Good Time," recorded at Thomas Hartkop Studio in Central Point. The album gives nods to Bloomfield, Gravenites and Charlie Musselwhite with "Mellow Down Easy," "Christo Redentor" and the title cut, along with excursions into sounds such as "Canadian Sunset." It contains harmonica expressions we don't often get to hear.
Playing with Adams is an educational experience. There are standards to approaching 12-bar blues, but he's always toying with that standard and improvising it. Gig after gig, I've seen the extent of his ability and creativity. He's constantly coming up with amazing twists or new ideas and stretching the band's limits.
The Muskadine Blues Quartet hews closely to Chicago-style blues and at times dips into a blues-soul-jazz bag that leads to other corners of the blues tradition. When the music goes outside of the standard, it's an exciting, almost mesmerizing, thing that is new and magical.
Tom Stamper is a freelance musician who lives in Ashland.