Mudhoney: Living history

by Rodney Lotter

If you have never heard of a band called Mudhoney, then you probably have no grasp of Pacific Northwest music history. While the band has not received huge commercial success, there is no doubt the influence they have had on numerous bands and their impact on a music scene that spawned out of Seattle in the 90s. That music scene, of course, was coined “grunge,” and while much of the music and the bands from that era have long since faded into obscurity, Mudhoney remains.Mudhoney 2013 Band Photo

Mudhoney was the flagship band for a then tiny, unknown record label based out of Seattle, known as Sub Pop Records, in the late 80s. On the Sub Pop website it states of Mudhoney “no other group has consistently kicked as much ass as Mudhoney, nor has anyone come close.” While this is obviously “record label hyperbole,” as Mudhoney guitarist Steve Turner called it, it is still true.

Indeed, the shelf life for snotty, Stooges-obsessed bands that started when all the band members were in the early 20s tends to usually not last very long. It is not typical for a band used to playing in dingy, moldy bars and not selling many records to stick around for more than 25 years now. It is even more atypical for such a band to still sound as brash and rowdy as they did when they first began – despite all of the members being in their 40s now and having kids and actual adult jobs. The release of Vanishing Point last year – the band’s ninth studio album to date – sees Mudhoney still sticking to their guns and rocking out in much the same way they did when their first album was released in 1988, the glorious SuperFuzz BigMuff debut ep, that in many ways began a new era in American popular music.

Guitarist Steve Turner is one of the founding members of Mudhoney, along with vocalist Mark Arm and drummer Dan Peters. Bassist Guy Maddison joined the group in 2001. Before Mudhoney, Turner and Arm worked together in various bands, most notable Green River, which is generally considered one of the first “grunge” bands ever – before the genre label became a catch-all for any band from Seattle or any heavy band on the radio or MTV in the early 90s.

“It feels great that we can still get away with being in a band,” Turner said. “Even though our band is nowhere near being a full-time job, we feel very lucky to have not been completely forgotten. Way back when we started, I don’t think any of us ever thought we would still be making music together more than two decades later.”

Turner said Mudhoney stopped being a “full-time” gig right after they released their first album and soon realized that they would not make enough money to actually save up and live comfortably. Sure, the band toured constantly in the early days and even signed with major label Reprise Records in 1992 (and remained with the label until 1999), but they never did reach the massive commercial success of their peers like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and Nirvana. There weren’t many royalty checks coming in, that’s for sure.

“In some way, it is nice that we never got that famous, because we get to pick-and-choose where we want to play and when we want to play,” Turner said. “And don’t have the pressure of constantly putting out records and all that.”

Turner famously quit playing guitar with Green River in 1984 because he felt fellow band members, bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard, were obsessed with becoming a famous band. Turner referred to them as “careerists” at the time. After Green River disbanded, Ament and Gossard went on to form Mother Love Bone, and then Pearl Jam. Ament, Gossard and Pearl Jam would go on to sell more than 60 million albums worldwide and become one of the most famous – if not the most famous – band of the 90s.

“Yeah, at the time I thought [Ament and Gossard] were totally deluded and setting themselves up for major disappointment,” Turner said. “I thought the type of music we were playing would never make it to the mainstream. Clearly, I was wrong. Pearl Jam is a band I really admire, Jeff and I still skate sometimes and I hang out with Stone every now and then. But, still there is no way I’d trade my place in Mudhoney for a place in Pearl Jam.”

Mudhoney will be bringing their scuzzed-out garage punk to Bellingham on Nov. 21 at the Wild Buffalo, with opening band The Dt’s. Tickets are $15 each.

The band has some history in Bellingham. Turner lived here and attended Western Washington University for a short time in 1987 and 1988, right when Mudhoney was just getting its start. Turner would also regularly play with other bands for the legendary Garage Shock festival that would take place at the 3B Tavern here in town up until 1999. Most interesting, however, Mudhoney played a show at WWU’s Sam Carver Gymnasium on Oct. 3 1992, with a surprise opening band called “Nirvana.” Needless to say, the crowd of college students went apeshit crazy and the rest is history – and that history arguably starts with Mudhoney.

For more about the band, see www.mudhoneysite.com.

Published in the November 2014 issue of What’s Up! Magazine