SCOTTIE BLINN: The Making of a Mudshark
Scottie “Mad Dog” Blinn: 20 Years of Tenacity
In the mid-1990s, no one ruled the San Diego electric Blues scene like the Mississippi Mudsharks. They won SDMA’s Best Blues Band in ‘95, ’96, and ’97. They opened for Willie Nelson, Buddy Guy, George Clinton, Dick Dale, and almost every big name blues band that rolled through San Diego. They cut two #1-selling CDs on the CrossCut blues charts in Europe. They held weekly court at some of the hippest clubs up and down the county’s coast, and were joined on stage by the likes of Brian Setzer and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. They built a solid following in Europe and the southwestern U.S.
Twenty years later, Blinn has found new life and passion with Black Market III. BMIII, in its two year history, has received two SDMA nominations (Best Blues Band and Best Rock Album), is releasing their second CD, Black Roses, and is getting ready to tour Europe, which marks Blinn’s 13th trip to the continent.
Born in Victorville, which stands on the shoulder of old Route 66 in San Bernardino County, Blinn moved several times around California before settling in San Diego at age 15.
Scottie remembers always being fascinated by the guitar. Growing up in the 1970s, he was surrounded by the country’s ’50s nostalgia and heard “Rock Around the Clock” on the TV show Happy Days at an early age. He received his first acoustic guitar as a birthday present from his parents when he was 13.
Blinn soon bought an electric guitar with money he had saved mowing lawns. He soon learned one of the most important lessons of his musical career. “My guitar teacher asked me why I made a G chord with the first, second, and third finger. He said if you do it like this, second, third, and pinky finger, the change to C is simple! I learned there’s always more than one way to do something and to find the way that works best for me. He also taught me how to play ‘Tush’ by ZZ Top. I was hooked.”
Scottie was raised musically on a combination of a big moving box of his dad’s 45s and Rolling Stones albums, and his mom’s piano. He began accompanying his mom, a trained pianist, in the family living room. These early jam sessions would last throughout Blinn’s teenage years.
Then, MTV went on the air, which provided an eclectic mix of music spanning pop, rock, and R&B. Scottie’s ears, however, honed in on the blusier songs such as those from ZZ Top’s Eliminator and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Cold Shot.” He also joined the Columbia Record Club and discovered Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, the Clash, and the Ramones, which all influenced his development and sound. But the blues always spoke loudest.
“After buying the Eliminator tape, I bought The Best of ZZ Top. I quickly heard the difference between the early, raw ZZ Top and the commercial, MTV ZZ Top. The old stuff didn’t sound anything like the new stuff. I started learning about the blues and where it came from, reading articles by Billy Gibbons and the history of blues and rock ’n’ roll.”
While attending Torrey Pines High, Blinn took guitar lessons from Peter Pupping, who introduced him to classical music and sight reading. “Peter is amazing. He turned me on to neoclassical guitarists such as Yngwie Malmsteen and Phil Keaggy.”
Blinn formed his first band, the Wholly Rollers in 1986, with friend Bendan Kremer on drums. The band included older guys like Fred Kokaska on guitar and Brendan’s brother Aaron on bass. A band friend, Patrick Strole, taught him another important musical lesson. “When I couldn’t do a guitar lead at my 16th birthday jam, Pat showed me how to run a pentatonic scale.”
At the same time, he attended a Stevie Ray Vaughan/Beat Farmers concert at SDSU’s Open Air. He and his parents commonly went to concerts together. “We had an agreement: they’d see a concert with me, then I’d see one with them. I got to see Neil Diamond and John Denver with them. I still love John Denver to this day.”
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers was in fine form that night, shocking his mom and energizing Scottie. Scottie was also amazed by Joey Harris’ guitar and vocal prowess. Later, Dick would sit in at Croce’s with the Mudsharks and fellow-Beat Farmer Joey Harris would become a mentor and friend.
Graduating high school, Scottie formed Bare Bones with Wholly Roller guitarist Fred Kokaska and drummer Dave “Frank Beard” Clark. “These guys were true big brothers to me. We were into ZZ Top, older blues, and classic rock.” The band was soon gigging at Casey’s Pub, the Trojan Horse, and various biker bars around town.
In Bare Bones, the older guys taught Scottie the ropes. “These guys taught me about old rock ‘n’ roll, old blues, surf music. I learned a lot playing with this older crowd, and they are still some of my closest friends.”
Graduating high school in 1987, Scottie went right into college at USD where he later graduated with a degree in psychology. At USD, Scottie also took a few music and ear training classes and played for the USD pep band at Torero basketball games.
One night at the Grill, a venue on the USD campus, Scottie saw Tomcat Courtney. “He became my biggest influence at the time. I still go and play with him whenever I get the chance. Through Tomcat, I discovered Lightnin’ Hopkins.” Scottie played with Tomcat for two years. Playing behind Tomcat, he learned how to lay out and the importance of playing rhythm. “Tomcat gave me two solos a night! “
Wanting to start his own band, Scottie formed the famed Mississippi Mudsharks in 1992. Unfortunately this meant leaving his brothers in Bare Bones. “I even put an ad in the Reader looking for musicians.” Ultimately, he got together with Tom Essa, formerly of Natasha’s Ghost, on drums; Donny Forsyth on guitar; and Mike “Sandlewood Haze” Jones on bass. Later, the band included piano great Tom Mahon and sax man Jonny Viau.
Befriended by guitarist Eric Lieberman, Scottie would sit in during Juke Stomper shows at Croce’s Top Hat and at the Belly Up. “Eric has been a true brother to me. He taught me all about the blues, the players, the history… and just how to be. He was the best man at my wedding.”
The Mudsharks found their first steady gig at Scottie’s dad’s Shakey’s Pizza franchise in Chula Vista, where they played Thursday nights for pizza and $60. But they were also strapped down by their day jobs. Tom worked at Padre Pub and Scottie worked in a group home for teenagers. One day, while looking at some mock ups of the band’s new logo, they realized they had a choice to make. Were they going all in on the Mississippi Mudsharks? That day, they decided to quit their day jobs. The Mudsharks were now their only livelihood. “I learned the grind of booking gigs. Tom handled the merchandise.”
Working themselves into the local scene, they landed gigs at Casey’s Pub in Pacific Beach, the Sandbar in Carlsbad, Full Moon Saloon in Encinitas, and their favorite — the Tiki House in Pacific Beach. “Dave Miller, owner of the Tiki, used to split his tips with us because he believed in the band so much!”
From there, they set their sights on nearby Blind Melons, then the premier blues club in San Diego. “Joel Sanchez, owner of Casey’s Pub, had a few drinks one night. Knowing how badly we wanted to play at Blind Melon’s, he took his .38 revolver next door and put it on the bar and had a conversation with the owner. Next thing I know, we are booked at the Melon! Of course, these guys were good friends… it was more funny than serious.”
Soon, they were opening for every national name that came through town: James Cotton, Duke Robillard, the Paladins, Coco Montoya, and Little Charlie and the Nightcats. They were starting to gain momentum. “Dave Gonzalez of the Paladins became a good friend. He taught us the ropes about the road, running shows and our business, and he helped us install a hidden vault in our van to hide our equipment.”
By early ’94, they had a gig every night. In fact, they “played seven nights a week for four years” until 1997. In addition to Blind Melons, they now were gigging regularly at Croce’s Top Hat, the Belly Up, and within a year they’d nailed down weekly gigs at a handful of the coolest venues in town.
Once established on the local club scene, the Mississippi Mudsharks began touring the Southwest — California, Nevada, Arizona — every four to six weeks. “We had a ‘route’ with friends in each town,” Scottie explains. The formula was clear: traditional blues with a “hard edge.” They played 50/50 covers and originals. “The phone was ringing every day. We’d share our contacts with out-of-town bands and they’d help us. I still employ this model today with bands like the Mofo Party Band from Fresno, whom we met at a festival in Belgium in 2006. They’re a West Coast jump blues band that’s been together 25 years. They quickly became our close friends.”
Besides their busy schedule, the Mudsharks put out three albums between 1994 and ’99: Workin’ for Nickels and Dimes (1994), Traditional Heavy (1996), and Live: Watcha Hear Is Watcha Get (1999). These would be the only three albums released by the Mudsharks during this time, and it would be nearly a decade before they recorded again.
Scottie learned an important lesson during these recording years. In ’94, while attending the Greater Southwest Guitar Show in Dallas, Scottie was fortunate enough to play in front of and meet his musical hero Billy Gibbons. While hanging out, the topic of songwriting came up. “Billy told me that writing good songs involves telling stories and usually from personal experiences. He gave the example of ‘Lowdown in the Street’ off of ZZ Top’s Deguello album. It was all about Monday nights at the Rome Inn in Austin back in the ’70s when the Fabulous Thunderbirds played there regularly. ‘There’s Jimmie and Jo Jo, Kim and Keith, way outside the eyes of cool.’ The last line was a great play on the word “Rome/roam”: “So roam on in, it ain’t no sin, to get lowdown in the street.”
He also talked about “Master of Sparks” off of the Tres Hombres album. He said the song was about a cage they made of metal with a harnessed seat in the middle, and how they would drive down a desert highway and push a guy sitting in the cage out the back of the truck. The result was tons of sparks flying around as the cage rolled down the asphalt highway! I was 24 and gullible, but somehow I think this was a true story.”
The Mudsharks’ hard work paid off. As stated earlier, they won San Diego’s Best Blues Band three years in a row. They also garnered 10 SDMA nominations over the years. In 1997, they opted to play fewer but bigger shows, appearing in larger venues with the likes of the Paladins and Buddy Guy. They did Street Scene for several years. And, they played Super Fest at the 1998 Super Bowl. By this time, they had also added harp shark Billy Watson to the lineup.
However, by 1999, the band was splintering. The music was drifting away from its original sound. Pop clashed with dirty blues. So, Scottie elected to “fire myself” versus tangling with the direction the band was taking. “I did two bands for a year, even toured Europe with the Mudsharks. I wanted to keep all of our commitments and not let anyone down. Soon, however, the Mississippi Mudsharks broke up before the new millennium. Billy formed his own unit, and Tom and Chris teamed up as a great rhythm section for several bands in town.
Scottie formed the Tiki Torchers in 1999, and founded Double Barrel Records to distribute the band’s music. The band name was an homage to the Tiki House in Pacific Beach. Scottie recorded the CD Hoodoo Charm with local heroes Greg Willis (Iron Butterfly and Candye Kane) on bass and Brian “Nucci” Cantrell on drums. The band ultimately ended up with Dave Uosikkinen (of the Hooters fame) on drums and Tim Bulter (Hot Rod Lincoln and the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash) on bass.
The CD did very well in Europe, charting #4 on the CrossCut blues charts behind Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert King, Luther Allison, and Rory Gallagher. Scottie had always tried to set himself apart from all of the Stevie Ray Vaughan clones, while still not denying the influence SRV had on him. “I learned about so many different blues players through Stevie. At this time, everyone was trying to copy his style. I have always wanted to be different, so I chose to do all I could to not buy into this fad. One of my favorite reviews of the Tiki Torcher CD stated ‘For those who love their blues raw, and aren’t looking for the 10,000th SRV clone….’”
“It has always been my belief that the greatest guitar players have all started off emulating their heroes, but ultimately found their own true and unique voice. T-Bone Walker was really the start of it with electric guitar. BB King was trying to be T-Bone. Buddy Guy was trying to be BB King, trying to be T-Bone. Jimi Hendrix was trying to be Buddy down the line. SRV was trying to be Hendrix on down as well. But the biggest importance of all of this is that each guitar player broke away from being a copy of their influence, and became musical influences that spoke to their generations.”
In 2006, Scottie and Tom Essa decided to try a second go-round with the Mississippi Mudsharks, this time enlisting bassist Mike Lars. This time the band was much harder and darker than before. The new sound was based on a style coined “Grease Punk”: traditional blues with a huge attitude. Blinn likens it to his ’52 Chevy: “Flat black and stock on the outside, with a souped up 350 and lakepipes rumblin’ off the sides.”
The style was all about big tone, great stories, and taking old blues to a wider, younger audience while still appealing to the older audiences. “It’s about tone and emotion, heart, soul, gut… and fingers!”
They released two edgy CDs, ’06’s Train Rolls On and ’09’s Voodoo Doll, all original compositions. Both CDs charted in the top 10 on the CrossCut blues charts in Europe. Scottie and Tom hit the road with various bass and harmonica players for four European tours before Blinn put the Mudsharks to rest again in ’09.
During a two-year hiatus, Scottie delved deeper into his “Grease Punk Studio” and co-produced and recorded several CDs for local greats Ken Schoppmeyer with Delta Heat, Joey Harris and the Mentals with Behind the Wagon, Hard Fall Hearts, Steve Burns (The Burnsville Band), the Zombie Cartel, and Chet and the Committee to name a few. He also played sideman to keep his chops up with Chet Cannon and Steve Burns, and played regularly at the House of Blues and the Downtown CafÃ©, rediscovering his true blues roots. Currently, he’s teamed up with Legend Records’ founder Joe Luciano and recording some outstanding new bands such as Lucky Lucifer, Dani Bell ‘The Tarantist’, and Cult Vegas.
Scottie also pursued another thing of great importance to him: teaching kids. He formed Rock Academy of San Diego, and taught after school music programs to kids from kindergarten through 8th grade. He also became a leader for the Blues in the Schools (BITS) program run by Blues Lovers United of San Diego (BLUSD), and put on presentations for 150 kids at a time.
In addition, Scottie put on all-ages workshops that featured local greats such as Joey Harris, Rolle Love (Beat Farmer’s bassist), and Robin Henkel, as well as two big workshops that featured blues giant Coco Montoya (John Mayall, Albert Collins), and one of his personal heroes, Texas blues guitar legend Anson Funderburgh.
In 2010, Scottie along with former BITS leader Rand DiMattei and former BLUSD president Mike Kinsman created the Blues Music Summer Camp. “There was a crack team of local blues greats.” Even Fabulous Thunderbird frontman Kim Wilson and Anson Funderburgh headlined the camp concert in 2011 with Big Al Schneider (Everly Brothers, Bel Airs, currently with Chet Cannon) on drums, and Scottie on the bass.
Today, Scottie still finds time to mentor younger players. In the early days local greats Todd Stedman and Taryn Donath used to sit in regularly with Scottie and the Mudsharks and subsequently went on to form their own successful bands.
He still has a handful of young students and, most important, mentors his son Jackson’s band Wyatt Lowe and the Youngbloods. “I came across Wyatt a couple years back. He reminded me of Todd Stedman. All the tools were there, and the taste for blues too. I worked with him for a few months, then helped him make a list of goals. He formed a band and participated in the International Blues Challenge held in Memphis every year. My son, Jackson, is a helluva drummer and they joined forces! They’re really serious, adding a great bass player named Connor Patlan.”
The most important piece of the puzzle for Scottie came into place in 2010. He and his wife put a band together. “Initially, Roxanne and I played as a duo in small coffee houses and restaurants for fun. Before we were married, we would get a bottle of wine and a pack of smokes and I’d teach her how to play bass. Roxanne has watched me play since the early Mudsharks and knows my style better than anyone. Her bass and my guitar are like one. Turns out, her voice is great too!”
After nine months, Scottie and Roxy decided to get a drummer and start playing shows. They found 22-year-old drummer Haley Allen. “From the first rehearsal it became obvious that what we had was beyond a hobby. It sounded so good.”
Black Market III was formed. “We rehearsed for four months, two, three days a week, and had our first ‘preview set’ in August 2011. It was 102 degrees at the Downtown CafÃ© in El Cajon! Our first showcase was a month later. Roxy and I have created a family business.” (Black Market III has a serious anointment as well. Roxy and Scott were married by Dr. John in Antwerp, Belgium, in 2004.)
The BMIII sound is hard driving and has accomplished what Blinn has been trying to do since day one: real blues for a wider rock audience. “Our sound is a combination of Tom Waits, Howlin’ Wolf, Social Distortion, Magic Sam, the Clash, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Dead Weather, and even 19th-century spirituals. The common thread is the deep blues and roots foundation.”
When it comes to the original material, “Fellow San Diegan Tom Waits is my guy. He’s been one of the biggest influences on me for many years. Most recently a local musician and artist of the highest caliber, Roy Ruiz Clayton, has become a huge influence on me. Turns out Roy knew Tom Waits back in the early days at the Heritage in Mission Beach. They’re both about the lyrics and stories.”
BMIII started booking shows locally and throughout California and Nevada and recorded their first CD Songs that Shake the Cage before embarking on a European tour in September 2012. That year, they received their first SDMA nomination for Best Blues Band. Songs that Shake the Cage received an SDMA nomination for in the Best Rock Album.
After the tour, Haley decided to leave the band. Scottie and Roxy asked old friend and highly respected drummer Gavin Glenn to join. “I learned from day one not to relay MY trip on anyone. Life happens and people come and go. But if Roxy left the band, I’d be devastated! Seriously though, she’s the one with all the great ideas. I’m the one with the experience in getting them done. We’re a great team.”
BMIII started writing and recording before hitting the road again. “We’ve been touring California and Nevada: LA, San Francisco, Fresno, Reno, Virginia City, and Sacramento. The fan bases are growing again!”
The band’s second CD Black Roses is set for release this month just in time for their next five-week European tour. “We’re not just playing music, we’re creating it with our hearts and souls, telling new stories. We are completely excited about what we’ve done on this new CD! I can’t wait to discover what lies ahead in this adventure.”