Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition: Ridin’ the White Buffalo
“Satellite” is a great example of the band at work: Eric’s cheesy-toned organ is just right; Terrence and Ryan are driving the beat, but they’re not in your face about it; Matt’s Esquire has got that nasty bite, but he’s keeping it on a short leash – and everybody’s in on those cool doo-wop vocals. When you came up with the original tune, how were you hearing it in your head?
Just like that – just exactly like that. And that’s Roscoe playing the second guitar – the baritone guitar. On some of the songs Roscoe said, “I’m going to sit over here by Matt … you just worry about singing.” And he’d basically sit about four feet away from Matt and just stare at him. (laughter)
The song itself was just one of those things that comes out of the blue, man. I had that, “Doo-bee dom dom … dom dom bee-doo-bee dom … I wanna be your satellite …” you know? And I thought, “Wow – what a ridiculous song. I bet Roscoe might like this.” (laughter) He liked it immediately when he heard the demo I made. It sounded pretty much like that right from the beginning.
It’s just a simple song – and not the normal kind of song that pops into my head. I knew that it was unusual and I knew it was going to have some touches of pure, clean … pop rock, I guess you’d call it. It just materialized and presented itself to me. I think it gets the biggest response – that and “White Buffalo” – at the shows so far.
I don’t know as you wrote it as a love song, but I’ve adopted it as one.
(laughs) Well, it is. But see, it’s also about the unknown. It’s about loving the alien in a way … we’re moving through satellites right now, you and me … and we don’t know how they work or if they’re looking down at us from somewhere up there. (laughs) So it’s almost like a new type of God, you know? (laughs)
I hear you. I’m looking up in the sky as we speak. (laughter) “Tennessee Walking Mare” is a lovely story and lovely lyrics – but the harmony guitar break with Matt is the real heartbreaker as far as I’m concerned.
Yeah – it’s very understated … and elegant.
Yes: that’s a good word for it. What were you playing for a guitar on that one?
I was playing my sweet ’67 Gibson 330 that I bought back in the ‘90s. I was born in ’67, so I’ve always gravitated toward ’67 guitars. I don’t take it on the road anymore – it’s too nice to be on the road.
I’m glad you enjoyed that song. The story’s about my mom – she’s the Tennessee Walking Mare – and everything in there’s true. My father was a great outdoorsman; I grew up with walkers and hunting dogs and stuff … and that all ties in with my mother.
It’s a great tribute to her.
Thank you – I was glad to do it while she was still living, you know?
Oh, she’s still alive. She’s probably listening to it in her truck right now. (laughter)
Good, good! I was worried there for a second.
No, no – she’s doing great. (laughter)
I knew a little bit ahead of time that the song “White Buffalo” was going to be about Tukota, a rare white buffalo calf who died. I was prepared for it to be mystical and powerful – which it is – but I wasn’t prepared for this band of Hendrix Delta gypsies thing …
(laughs) I know! Everyone that knew what I was writing the song about thought, “It’s going to be kind of folkie …” (laughs) It does have a Mississippi Fred McDowell guitar lick in there, so it’s folk in that regard, I guess.
But no, I’m sure you were surprised – I was pretty surprised when we first played it and I heard what it sounded like.
Over the years I’ve heard people debate about how limited a Telecaster is in tone – Matt Pierce’s picking on “White Buffalo” is living proof about how wrong that statement is. He may even be on his single-pickup Esquire on that one, right?
(laughs) Yeah, it’s either his Esquire or his Nash Telecaster … I think it’s his Nash. Oh, man – Matt can do anything. On that song, Roscoe brought in a pedal for Matt to use to get that swampy waaawomp sound. Roscoe sat there and worked the pedal while Matt played the guitar. And then I played the other side – the Mississippi Fred lick – and it’s all purely live.
(laughs) It just felt like it had to be something … something like a charging herd of American bison, you know? And vengeful, too – thinking about how capitalism works; how America works; and how whatever you can bankroll is legitimate … whether it incurs genocide or whatever, you can do it, by God, ‘cause it’s America.
You’re right – nobody likes to hear it, but …
Oh, yeah. You gotta talk about it. Money’s a religion, and if we can embrace that, maybe we can talk about it and do something about it, you know? That’s what I wanted to express in the song: just because that’s the way it is doesn’t mean we have to fuckin’ like it. (laughter) But I didn’t want to overdo it with too many verses, either.
Right on. It’s like a guerrilla attack the way it gets in and out of there –
Ha! I love it! A guerrilla attack! All right! (laughs)
When I first listened to the album, I remember thinking you had the Holy Trinity of rock ‘n’ roll: “White Buffalo” was the song with the Jimi vibe, followed by one of your Hank Sr.-style tunes, “Hatchie Bottoms”.
A Hank tune – yessir.
“Hatchie Bottoms” sounds like a place that’s both beautiful and scary at the same time.
You’re reading my mail, buddy. (laughs) It is that kind of place. If you say the name, the first words out of the mouths of people that know are, “Oh, hell – you don’t want to be down in_ there _ after dark …” Uh-uh. I know that and it is true to this day. But it’s a real place up in northeast Mississippi – it’s the big drainage coming off the Appalachians. And those are all real people in the song – Uncle Will, Aunt Viola – everybody.
And that part about your Uncle Will having Jesse James’ pistol?
Yessir – that’s what he claimed. Now, some people didn’t believe him, so that’s why I say “claimed” … it was hotly disputed. (laughter) But I get a lot from the family stories – the truth, the lies, the half-truths … all of it.
Are you playing harp on that one?
Yep – that’s me. I had it on a rack and playing my Martin acoustic. Roscoe and Matt played behind me.
And then we have the third part of the rock n’ roll Holy Trinity with your Keith Richards tune: “Fake Hex”. That’s some fine Some Girls -era Stones right there.
Oh yeah! (laughs) You know, it’s funny, ‘cause several people have mentioned those three in a row and how it kinda fills the bill for them. But yeah – “Fake Hex” definitely has some attitude.
The credit has to go to the band to be able to keep up with all these different styles and play them with such accuracy and conviction, you know? Nobody’s phoning it in – we’ve got this thing by the neck. (laughs)