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Published: 1999/07/15
by Dean Budnick

Music Is Nothing that Everything Else Isn’t: An Interview with Max Creek’s Scott Murawski

On the weekend of July 30th Max Creek will be hosting yet another installment of its annual summer ritual, Camp Creek (for more information visit www.maxcreek.com). The band has plenty to celebrate nowadays, aside from its longevity (the group has remained together for nearly thirty years). This past spring the quintet released a new album, Spring Water. Meanwhile, the band is stepping up its touring efforts, plunging into markets it hasn’t visited in a while (New York City, for instance). Guitarist Scott Murawski took a few moment to reflect on the band’s storied history as well as his own performance style.

DB: I know you were rather young when you joined Max Creek, so why don’t we go back to the start. How did you come to play the guitar and who were your early influences?

SM: I started on the piano when was eight, then I moved to the trumpet when I was ten. A year later I went over this kid’s house after school, we went into his room, he said “check this out” and he pulled out an electric guitar. I had never been that close to one before. He had this monster amp in his room and he plugged in the guitar. He couldn’t play, he basically poked at it with his thumb but I was just spellbound. So I went home and said “Mom, I need an electric guitar for my twelfth birthday,” and my mom said, “No way,” but she ended up getting me one anyway. When I first got it I played it for three weeks, and drove my parents insane. Probably a year later I hooked up with this other kid who was a good player and he showed me around, the basics of chords and leads. I was playing a lot of blues stuff.

DB: And then you started playing with Max Creek a few years after this, right? How old were you when you joined the band?

SM: I was fifteen.

DB: So in those three years you became pretty proficient I would imagine. How did you hook up with the group?

SM: I was still playing trumpet in school, and my trumpet teacher came over to give me a lesson. I was down in the basement cranking the blues on the guitar and he told me I should come over to a rehearsal and sit in with this band he was playing in, which was Max Creek. They were strictly country rock. He {Dave Reed} played acoustic guitar, and there was an electric bass [John Rider], and drums [Bob Gosselin]. That first night I went over they played some stuff and I just started playing blues over it, and they told me, “No, no. This is country, you have to play it in a major key, you can’t do that bluesy stuff.” That was pretty much my initiation into bluegrass-type picking. When I first joined I only played on about ten songs.

DB: Since you were so young did you have any trouble getting into the bars to play?

SM: No, because at the time the drinking age was eighteen, and I was an older-looking fifteen. Actually there was one problem that occurred. Usually the band never mentioned my age but they used to play this one bar on Saturday nights, and the owner of this bar was a friend of theirs so they told him I was only fifteen and he said it was cool. The first night I was there I was sucking down beers, the owner found out about it and I was banned from the bar. Then because that was their regular gig they stopped calling me and I was out of the band for a while.

DB: When did they invite you back?

SM: What happened was that a few months later Dave came down with appendicitis, so they brought in Mark Mercier [still the group’s keyboard player] as a replacement and he just stayed. Then they felt as though they still needed a guitar player so they had me come back to play some leads because Mark was a monster but they realized that still wanted some guitar in the mix. When I came back that’s when everyone in the band but me had gone to see the Grateful Dead at Watkins Glen (editors note- two legendary show with the Allman Brothers Band and The Band on July 27th and 28th 1973 but you knew that already). They wanted to jam a bit more, incorporate more improvisation and get a bit more electrified. Eventually Dave went his separate way because he wanted to stick with the country rock, and acoustic ragtime music, so then I took over as the lone guitar player. I had to learn quite a bit and it became serious at that point.

DB: And you’ve been doing it for a while now. I’m curious, from your perspective, how have the audiences changed?

SM: They haven’t (laughs) . The audiences have been basically eighteen to twenty-five year olds ever since I was fifteen. When I first started doing it, I was looking up at these older hippies saying “I’m out of my league.” Then I was the same age as everyone at the bars and it just kind of stayed there for a while. Then slowly but surely I started noticing that these kids were getting younger and younger. Now I’m playing to kids who could be my kids, it’s kind of weird (laughs).

When we started out with the country-rock a lot of college kids came out. Then when we started going more electric, and we started doing more Grateful Dead stuff we developed our own cult audience. I mean we would always have original material in our set, we would never a play set of Grateful Dead but we did quite a few Grateful Dead tunes and that helped to create a tight-knit group of listeners. At that time we were really doing something that no one else was doing because there were some rhythm- and blues based bands, and there were a number of clone bands, strict cover bands- I can think of three Rolling Stones bands and four Springsteen bands, and it was tough for us. We weren’t really a cover band but that’s what the bars were selling. So they’d bill us as “Tribute to the Grateful Dead.” We were like “Stop, please.” but at least it was bringing the right clientele, in, people who could appreciate what we were doing.

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