Ben Reynolds

Mudd Slinger
Ben Reynolds
Ben Reynolds: Cecilia Reynolds.

If you’re into heavy, swampy rock and roll, the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies first album in decades, Fall Line, will satisfy your jones.

Discovered over 30 years ago by R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, singer Brant Slay and guitarist Ben Reynolds can still blast out Southern boogies all night long. Reynolds recently divulged the mojo behind their lo-fi attack.

“9 Volt” is reminiscent of Ram Jam, Blackfoot, ZZ Top, and the Georgia Satellites.
You probably won’t be surprised that I’ve watched Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” video countless times over the years. The bass player, the dancers, the Les Pauls and Marshalls – it may be the best rock video ever made! Brant and I both grew up on a healthy dose of country and rock and roll; Faron Young was the first concert I ever attended and he got in a fight with someone in the audience. It’s impossible to deny our Southern-rock influence, but I once played bass in a blues band and the guitar player turned me on to Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, and Chuck Berry.

Do you fingerpick on electric?
Yep. In past decade or so I’ve acknowledged that I’m not very precise when playing with a pick. In the old days, it was a great parlor trick to bleed all over the guitar; these days it hurts when I even think about doing that. Instead, I’m enjoying the power of playing with a little more dynamic and sonic control. When we play without a bass player, keeping a simple bass line going with the thumb is useful – I can do that much more effectively without a pick.

Which open tunings do you use for slide?
On this record, “Animals” and “9-Volt” are in open G and “Preacher” is open E. I don’t use anything fancy for a slide; just one of those pieces of pipe from the music store. I also want to point out that my dear friend William Tonks plays lap steel or Dobro on “Roadkill,” “Animals,” and “Birdsville.” He’s such a good player, as is Tom Baker, who plays banjo on a song or two.

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are on the album, and which do you play live?
When playing gigs, I like to have a lot of guitars onstage so I don’t have to change tunings so much. On Fall Line, I played a ’61 Epiphone Coronet as well as a couple of guitars I built. I’m really digging the sound of Epiphone’s P-90 for the way I’m currently playing. I used an Alamo Fiesta on “Preacher” – there are a lot of haters out there, but I love those “speed bump” pickups! I play a Danelectro baritone on “Navigate,” and I’ll bet there’s a Gibson acoustic in some of the songs, as well as an ’80s American Standard Strat.

The amps on Fall Line were a Traynor, an old Supro, a cigarette-pack amp, and a Lectrolab amp with the “widowmaker” circuit. It lit me up a few times, but after taking it to amp guru Steve Hunter, he convinced me the sound was worth the risk!

Your studio production is raw and punchy.
Thank you! As default engineer for the record, that means a lot – I worked really hard on it. Yes, you’re hearing real amps. The guitar on “Hands” was the Traynor and an old Supro mixed together; I miked each speaker but also had a room mic, and I sometimes ran real amp tracks back through amp plug-ins to see what happens. [Producer/engineer] John Keane did the final mix and I’m sure he sprinkled some of his magic dust on everything.

The Chickasaw Mudd Puppies sound nothing like R.E.M., but are there things you learned from them?
Yes and here’s one of ’em: Even if you have an idea in the studio that sounds crazy, try it! We recorded the album at my house, so that was easier to do, but it’s really important. Also, to paraphrase something Peter Buck once told me, “At every show, there are going to be a handful of guitar players watching you, thinking that they could do what you’re playing better than you. But none of them are on that stage – you are!” I’ve thought about that a lot over the years. These days, I embrace the imperfect; perfect is not what the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies are about.

Southern culture looms large in your music. There are few places in the U.S. that have a stronger identity than the South and its music.
It’s who we are. The South is a complex and nuanced place, and I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life trying to make sense of it. Though I’m no closer to any concrete conclusions, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity with my bandmates to explore, celebrate and question this region, one that we’re all so tied to.

This article originally appeared in VG’s August 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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