Its members have been playing this music since before there really was a name for it. But after four decades, Max Creek remains relevant as both a forerunner of the jamband scene, and a group that still hopes to bring its music to new and exciting places.
Only a handful of rock bands survive to celebrate their 43d birthdays, as the New England-based, jam-rock institution Max Creek will do this month with anniversary-themed shows in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. (It plays Church in Boston on April 12.) Nor do many endure that long with their creative cores more or less intact, and without long hiatuses from the stage.
But though Max Creek has remained in the category of respected elder while other, younger bands on the scene have risen to greater commercial prominence, its own scene remains very much intact. And with so many shows logged together, a community spirit endures between band members and fans alike.
“I liken it to coming home for Thanksgiving,” keyboardist Mark Mercier says of the vibe surrounding Creek shows. “You can go out and see the world for the rest of the year, but when you’re going to see your family at Thanksgiving you just turn around, pull into the driveway, and you walk in the door.”
The band’s style began with the country-tinged rock popular in the early 1970s. But influence from the Grateful Dead spurred Max Creek toward a jammier perspective on the material. Songs like “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” (also known as “Lonesome Road Blues”), which Creek was already playing in an arrangement reminiscent of Woody Guthrie, were rechristened for electric boogie.
“We glommed onto what they were doing but we were both influenced by the same type of roots,” Creek guitarist Scott Murawski says of the early Grateful Dead influence. But just as important was a shared sense of openness regarding any night’s show, and an emphasis on the relationship with the audience.
“There was always something special about every show. Even if there were portions of time where things got stale,” Mercier says, “for the most part something new happened every show, and I think it continues to be that way and it is what keeps us going.”
Murawski was first recruited to the band at age 15 by the band’s founding guitarist Dave Reed, who at the time was Murawski’s trumpet teacher. (When he arrived for an afterschool trumpet lesson one day, Reed overheard his student playing guitar and invited him to jam with the band.) Murawski, Mercier, and bassist John Rider are the longtime members still on-board. Founding drummer Bob Gosselin left in 1995. There’s been other changes around the drum and percussion chairs, but current drummer Bill Carbone (formerly of the Miracle Orchestra) joined in 2011.
After a few initial years as a part-time band, the members of Creek turned up the intensity around 1979, playing more than 200 shows a year and keeping things afloat as a full-time endeavor. After a dozen years in that mode, Murawski says, he proposed that the band shift back to part-time mode. It was the end of 1991, a time when the nascent jamband scene was finally stirring and would soon threaten to emerge as a commercial force. But he remembers turning on MTV and seeing no room for a band like Max Creek to ever make it big.
In a fateful decision, the band passed on an offer to join the inaugural H.O.R.D.E tour in 1992. Instead, they left bands like Blues Traveler, Phish, Widespread Panic, and the Spin Doctors to define the emerging musical movement for a new generation of fans.
Max Creek maintained its foothold in the Northeast, but has never transitioned from a regional to a national act the way some of its contemporaries have. It remains a familiar face on the festival circuit, authoring events like Camp Creek and the StrangeCreek Campout (scheduled this year for May 23-26 in Greenfield). After many years as the deans of the Northeast jamband scene, the members of Creek say they’re freshly inspired to kick away any musical cobwebs that might have gathered.
The newest arrivals, drummer Carbone and percussionist Jamemurrell Stanley, seem to have infused the group with a fresh dose of energy.
“One of the things that always blows me away about them is that [the group is] about to turn 43 and when you have a band meeting or are just hanging out talking, they only talk about the future,” Carbone says. “They may joke around or reminisce here or there, but usually it’s: We should do this, so this time next year we can be doing that. The energy is about forward motion.”
Murawski sounds like he's looking to open yet another new chapter in the band’s already lengthy history.
“Whatever the reasons are — mortality, impending death — I think we all are anxious to see what we can get away with and what we can do,” Murawski says, “and we’ve been kind of a status quo for a while now. I think everybody feels this can be more than it is. Instead of just kind of letting things be as they are, let’s do some rehearsing, let’s do some writing, let’s expand where we’re playing and what our musical capabilities are and just see what’s out there.”Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at jeremy@jeremyd
goodwin.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremydgoodwin.