Michigan Street Blues Band celebrates 15 years
In a city where most bands are lucky to make it to the five-year mark without breaking up, this weekend the Michigan Street Blues band will be celebrating 15 years of bringing its gritty sound to Indianapolis. -“Harmonica Mike” Gatto leads MSBB through another number.- Founded in 1989 by local music legend Chubby Wadsworth, the MSBB today features original members “Harmonica” Mike Gatto and bassist Walter “Wild Dog” Hatfield, augmented by music-scene veterans Mark Cutsinger on drums and Eric Grimmitt on guitar.
The band started with a weekly blues jam at Chubby’s club. After a while, the players from the jam decided to start a permanent group. “Chubby asked me what we should call the band and I said I didn’t know. He looked out onto Michigan Street, where we were, and that’s how the band got its name,” Gatto says.
The group prefers to go by its initials these days, though. Gatto says, “After 15 years, you just need to change directions and switch things up a bit. That’s the reason we’ve been around for 15 years, because we’ve kept changing. There’s something special about this band. We just keep going.”
Another reason for the change is the fact that MSBB isn’t just a blues band these days, at least in the traditional sense of the term. The addition of Cutsinger and Grimmitt make MSBB more of a rock band than before. “I’d think of us as more of an early British, Yardbirds-sort of version of rock and roll,” Cutsinger says. “We’re definitely not an Elmore James cover band.”
“We’re a progressive, country, blues, rock psychobilly band,” Gatto says. “We planted a seed 15 years ago and kept watering it. After a while, a flower started to grow.”
Cutsinger joined the group about 10 years ago; Grimmitt about five. Although the band has gone through a lot of personnel changes, Gatto says the current lineup is the band’s best ever. “A lot of people have kept this band going. But we’ve been energizing people, because we still have some of the same people who’ve been coming to see us for 15 years,” he says.
Keeping a band together isn’t easy, especially in this era. “You’ve got to work really hard to hustle gigs and keep the band around,” Gatto says. “You change musicians a lot. Some of them are only in it for the money, so you’ve got to keep their pockets filled to keep them happy. Some dudes just want to go out and meet the first rock and roll chick they can and then quit the band. But this band has what it takes.”
Cutsinger agrees. “It’s very hard to keep four fellows happy and in a legit job playing music in this town. It’s very difficult,” he says. “The city is obviously not the best market for a lot of venues.” The group is proud that they’ve set records for bar sales at many of the places they’ve played over the years, because it shows people come to their shows to have a good time.
The members have a long history together. Gatto was a friend of Grimmitt’s father and has known him since the guitarist was 3 or 4. Cutsinger was just in his teens when he first met Gatto. That long-term bond keeps the group together. “We’ve been friends the whole time and the music has just gotten better and better,” Grimmitt says.
Recently, the group recorded Miles of Smiles, only the band’s second album ever and its first since 1997. Produced by Eric Klee Johnson at the renowned Pop Machine studios, it’s a crisp and funky collection of songs that have been worked out live over the years. Cutsinger arranged all of the songs on the disc, which was recorded in eight days of studio time. “I wasn’t used to recording in such a nice studio,” Gatto says. “That was kind of strange. But since we’d played all of those songs so many times, recording the album was fairly easy.”
Highlights include the ball-breaking “Desire’s On Fire” and “Head Full of Pill” to some slightly more mellow songs. The band is excited about the project and grateful for the assistance of Johnson, their longtime friend. “He’s also a musician, of course, so that makes it an easier process,” Cutsinger says.
To celebrate their anniversary, MSBB is playing a show this Saturday night at Rayzr’s Pub, 7210 Pendleton Pike. You can obtain their new album at the show or through www.indie500records.com.
WHO: Michigan Street Blues Band
WHERE: Rayzr’s Pub, 7210 Pendleton Pike
WHEN: Saturday, March 6