The Southern Roots and Bed-Stuy Fruits of The Gold Magnolias: Southern Soul Band Hits the Stage at Louisiana Pig Roasts & NYC Ghetto Bars
When a couple of Southern musicians left Texas for New York City a couple of years ago, they opted for cheap rent in the mostly African American neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. Little did they know that they would develop a whole new sound thanks to a chance meeting with Mr. Jimmy, an impeccably tailored 70-year-old bar owner who kept us well-supplied in cheap tequila and tales of womanly exploits; and a Leslie Hammond cabinet they found in the trash at the church next door.
The style The Gold Magnolias hit upon for this mostly Black audience—in a bar that had Swagga Mondays and Biker’s Night—was actually based on an old sound they grew up with (from Otis Redding to Al Green) and heard on radios around their new neighborhood. They call it Southern soul. And for this first “residency” at a club called Soul2Soul every Tuesday for six months, the Magnolias were paid with fried chicken and a bottle of Tortilla Gold tequila every week. Customers were patted down on their way in, women would grind against the band in a show of acceptance, and stabbings and shootings at the club were not uncommon.
“We performed on this tall high rise with a stripper pole,” remembers Evan Felts, one of two singers and the keyboard-player for the band. “The club was decorated with laser lights, mirrors, and black couches. We’d go outside, pass around the bottle, and dodge these huge rats. The tequila was awful, but the experience was pivotal. We had to learn some kind of crowd-pleasers. Playing every week for an audience as outsiders helped us hone our sound fast.” The music was out backstage pass to a world that would invite us in and unlock our soulful calling. Next, Mr. Jimmy introduced them to the owner of a club “even deeper into the hood.” St. Lucian’s Paradise catered to islanders who grew up listening to American Country music, thanks to radio broadcasts that made it in from the South. After the Magnolias’ weekly Thursday night shows there, the audience would take over with karaoke of old Country songs. There the band also got paid in chicken wings, but this time made by the Chinese restaurant next door. The club inspired the song “Grounded,” because the electrical outlets were unpredictable and shocked the band members regularly. “You got to stay grounded. You got to have a three prong. You gotta build your house on a firm foundation.” St. Lucian’s led to a regular gig at a more upscale Jamaican bar where they finally got paid with money.
Before reaching New York, the band’s guitarist and singer Hudson Mueller led a band called The Hudsons for seven years in Austin, Texas, where he was fully immersed in the singer-songwriter and folk music scene. “When I came to New York, I wanted to allow this place to take me in a new direction,” Hudson explains. “And that’s kind of what happened. You get off the train and there is a guy selling hats on the corner always blasting soul music. I went to school in East Austin, the ‘Black part of Austin.’ and have always had a great love for the blues. So, it felt natural to move into the ghetto and pick up this music.”
Co-singer Evan grew up in Tallulah, Louisiana, a predominantly Black town of 10,000 people, ten miles from the Mississippi River. “It was a very small Southern, very racially divided town. Railroad tracks and all. Regardless, as a result, I’ve always loved Black music,” Evan explains. When many of his serious musician friends were moving from Austin to New York, “it felt like Brooklyn was the next step in my career as a musician.”
The two singers easily slide back to their Southern roots for inspiration as well. Evan has been going to Pigfest in his hometown every year, where musicians gather around a pig roast. He recently brought Hudson for the first time. “There was this guy who immediately comes up to us and says, ‘Hi, I’m Possum. Try some of my moonshine!’” remembers Hudson. “And he pulls out this clear liquor and initiated us into the Pigfest scene.” After a couple of shots of moonshine, and moving on to the locally-fermented “muscadine wine” aka:”musky vine”. Made from wild grapes, another character comes up to Hudson and tells him he’s going to bring him out that night to kill an alligator. Hudson had to talk himself out of that invitation. The band returns to Pigfest this October.
“Southern Man” shows the gentlemanly side of the band, which they attribute to their Southern heritage. The song says “What you need is a Southern Man, someone to open doors someone to hold your hand...” Other songs show the band drawing on their spiritual faith, like in “Got to Believe,” a short and sweet driving blues they use to start their live sets and seal their commitment to each other as a band. And there’s “I Feel a Change,” which Evan wrote after a visit from his mother when he lost his way. “I was just down and really felt a change,” Evan recalls. “I have had a lot of loss in my life. My sister passed away when I was 14. Then my father passed away two years ago. Death has been a big influence in the songs that I write. That was a very personal song. It’s a spiritual song.”
But they also kick out jams and humor. “The Dirty French Fry” emerged when an old roommate mimicked a wind-up French Fry toy. The song is performed with its respective dance. The James Brown-influenced “Get Sweaty” came out of an un-air-conditioned, late-night jam in which Evan recalled his mother’s dedication to Jane Fonda‘s workout videos when he was small. “Fonda’s a big part of my childhood,” says Evan. “So we name check her in the song. They always had really good ’80s synth lines and I even knew the moves.”
Bass player Daniel Foose, who writes all the horn charts, leads the band, queuing the players on stage. Dan and Hudson have known each other from the age of two, when they were next-door neighbors. Dan was the first to move to New York after getting a Master’s in Jazz. He plays in a variety of bands, mostly on upright, so The Gold Magnolias satisfies his need to play electric bass. North Carolina-born drummer Jeff Barton is “the youngest guy in the band, but sometimes he seems like the oldest,” says Hudson. “He’s our comic relief and keeps things interesting. Musically, he’s rock solid. If Jeff’s on drums and Dan’s on bass you don’t have to worry about anything back there.” The group is rounded out with tenor sax-player Ryan Anselmi, who is the band’s lead soloist. “Ryan is the running back. Hand him the ball and he will make something happen,” Hudson gushes. “He’s a very soulful player and any time he takes a solo people take notice.” For larger shows and on recordings, Ryan brings in his friends Rich Polatchek (trumpet), Malec Heermans (trombone), and Andrew Hadro (baritone sax).
The Gold Magnolias released a ten-song self-titled album in 2011. They plan to go back into the studio in early 2013. This fall they continue playing around New York City (including a CMJ showcase) and go on tour through Louisiana and Texas, stage-testing new material, but only this time without a stripper pole. But if you have a bottle of Tortilla Gold or a jar of muscadine wine, they may just stop in for a show.
Hudson Mueller - Vocal / Guitar
Even Felts - Vocals and keyboards
Ryan Anselmi - tenor sax and vocals
Daniel Foose - Bass and Vocals
Jeff Barton - Drums
Additional Horn - Malec Heirmans - Trombone
Additional Horn - Rich Poletchek - Trumpet
Additional Horn - Andrew Hadro - Bari
"The Gold Magnolias", 2011
The Gold Magnolias can perform two solid hrs of org. material.
The List provided below is our basic wedding reception list.
Gold Magnolias Wedding Set-list:
Can't Help Falling in Love - Elvis / UB40
Stand By Me, Ben E. King
Superstition, Stevie Wonder
Dixie Chicken, Little Feat
On the road again, Willie Nelson
Under the boardwalk, The Drifters
Soul Man, Sam& Dave
I Feel Good, James Brown
Bobby McGee, Janis Joplin
I'm a love man, Otis Redding
Sitting on top of the World, Doc Watson
Shaky Ground, The Temptations
My Girl, The Temptations
Down in Mexico, Coasters
Heard it Through the Grapevine, Marvin Gaye
Build Me Up Buttercup, the Foundations
Soul Man, Blues Bros. version
Home, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic 0s
Everybody Plays the Fool, the Main Ingredient
I Saw Her Standing There, the Beatles
Sexual Healing, Marvin Gaye
Get Down On It, Kool and the Gang
I Saw Her Standing There, the Beatles
Brown Eyed Girl, Van Morrison
Crazy, Gnarls Barkley
Respect, A. Franklin
Daylight, Bobby Womack
Ring of Fire, Johnny Cash/ray Charles
Friends in Low Places, Garth Brooks
I Wanna Be Your Lover, Prince
Let's Stay Together, Al Green
Raspberry Beret, Prince
Ramblin Man, The Allman Brothers
Sara Smile, Hall & Oates
Warren G medley
There are no upcoming dates at this time.