Mayhem String Band
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Mayhem String Band

Oxford, Mississippi, United States

Oxford, Mississippi, United States
Band Folk Acoustic


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"String Band causes Mayhem everywhere it goes."

-by Adam Carder

This past Saturday, I went to Chris Steiner's house for a little get-together following the Last Waltz Ensemble's show at Proud Larry's.

When I walked through the front door, in the middle of a very crowded living room there stood about seven people, each playing a different acoustic instrument as loudly as could possibly be played, but in perfect harmony and time. This group of people was basically the Mayhem Waltz Ensemble, and it was total chaos.

They were huddled together so closely, it looked like they were trying to keep each other from catching hypothermia. The reality was that they were just jammin' out in the truest sense of the idea.

There were entirely too many people in that particular living room to even think about moving around, so nobody did - we all just watched.

My guess is that they set up in the living room, started playing and before long, their own audience surrounded them. Trapped.

Last Saturday was the night that I realized why everybody likes the Mayhem String Band so much. Whatever "it" is, they have it.

The following interview is with Chris Steiner of the Mayhem String Band. For more on the band, check out

Adam Carder: What's up?

Chris Steiner: Nothin' man.

AC: What's the status of Mayhem String Band as of today?

CS: As of today we're a little bit more than half way through recording our first record down at Tweed Studios here in Oxford, and we're in the midst of planning a Western tour for June and July.

AC: What tour?

CS: A Western tour. Colorado. Wyoming. Montana.

AC: Oh, Western!

CS: Yeah. We're playing in the Telluride Blues Festival band competition and we'll be out there probably till the end of July. So, if anybody reading this article knows a good place for us to play, give a holla.

AC: I would think that part of the country is a great market for you.

CS: Yeah, but it'll be our first time out there as a band. Kevin used to live in Boulder, so we'll be hittin' that. But we're real excited about the Telluride band competition. It's something that can really put us on the map if we do well.

AC: Especially since you'll have an album backing you. What's the vibe in the studio?

CS: It's going great. Everybody's really happy with what we've done so far. We've tracked all the songs and we're gonna put vocals on 'em next week, so that'll be interesting. But other than that, everything is going really smooth, really smooth.

AC: What else you got?

CS: We're also booking some stuff down on the Florida coast for spring break. We'll be at the Funky Blues Shack on March 9 and 10 in Destin.

AC: Are those the only two dates you have in Florida?

CS: Yeah, as of right now but we're working on some other stuff.

AC: So what about local dates?

CS: We're actually doing Memphis tomorrow at the Brookhaven Pub and then, let's see, we [did] Larry's [Friday] and Jackson Saturday.

AC: At Hal and Mal's?

CS: Nah, we're playing at Martin's. It's a dark and smoky bar, so it fits us very well; right across the street from Hal and Mal's.

Then we're at Two Stick on the first of February. We're pretty much using February to finish up the album, but we'll be on the road from the middle of May all the way till the end of July if things work out.

It's taken a good two years of hard work to get to where we are right now, but that's what we do. We play all day, everyday, you know? There's music going somewhere, thinking about it, working on it, making the calls, sending the emails - it's a job.

AC: Yeah, and that's the difference between bands that make it and bands that don't.

CS: You just gotta love what you do, and all five of us definitely do. And I know none of us want real jobs.

-Adam Carder - Daily Mississippian (January 29, 2007)

"CD Review (June 2007)"

If you already own a copy of Mayhem String Band’s Rapscallions and Ne’er-do-wells, chances are pretty good that you’ve seen them live (foot stomps, Jager and all) at least once. If that is indeed the case, you’ve probably figured out by this point that hearing them on a disc and seeing—no, experiencing!—them in concert are two very different things.

And while it is damned near impossible to live up to the live show, Mayhem certainly comes close on this, their debut full-length. Recorded live as an ensemble, the raucous band of pickers, thumpers, and strummers do a fine job of recreating their stage show, at least in the auditory sense.

Every bluegrass, blues, and country subject is covered here, from the leash-cutting “Long Time Comin’” to the hard-willed, cheap-living “Nickels and Dimes” to the lovesick (and possibly hung-over) ballad “Morning So Blue.” The guys pay tribute to outlaw music’s string bean of a godfather in “Hank,” and even honor bluegrass’ roots with two Celtic-tinged instrumentals, “Porterhouse Breakdown,” and “Extra Gold.”

With all five instruments going in the studio at once, fears may arise of muddled sound or one instrument overshadowing another. Thanks, however, to the fine mixers at Mississippi’s Tweed Studios, each of the five players come through in full force, lending separate individualities to the band’s cohesiveness.

Speaking of which…put simply, these guys can PLAY. I wish I had room to praise all of them, but listen out particularly for Kevin Larkin’s nimble mandolin and Jamison Hollister’s searing, and at times flat-out pissed-off, fiddle.

Mayhem certainly isn’t breaking any new lyrical ground; these subjects have been covered since the music came over from the British Isles over a century and a half ago. But they do it louder and faster, with more soul, energy, wit, and outright talent than 99% of other bluegrass bands on the road today. And that counts.

-Josh Ruffin
- Metro Spirit - Augusta, GA

"Mayhem String Band makes tour stop in Starkville Saturday"

One of the rowdiest bands out of North Mississippi will be in full-effect in Starkville Saturday night when renegade bluegrass outfit by-way-of Oxford the Mayhem String Band rides into town to play Mugshots.
Notorious for their on stage antics and penchant for raucous behavior, the Mayhem String Band has taken bluegrass to next level by infusing the darker elements of outlaw country, Southern rock and Delta blues. The raise Hell, and they raise it well.
Oxford's only true bluegrass group, the Mayhem are a five-piece made up of all Mississippi natives who adopt a "rip-it-up" mentality and tend to take things over the top when they play the rowdy honky-tonks and bars from South Mississippi to Memphis.
Beginning this month though, the Mayhem will be hitting the road for their very first month-long tour, playing 14 shows in 22 days.
The tour got started with a private party Thursday here in Starkville, followed by a run down to The Loft in Vicksburg tonight, then the boys will make a 2 p.m. appearance at the Leland Crawfish Boil Saturday afternoon before high-tailing it to Starkville for the show at Mugshots.
Then it's back to Oxford to regroup, and certainly refuel, with a private party on May 12.
On May 13, the band will embark on a treacherous two week run of performances that begins in Chattanooga and winds its way through Atlanta and Athens, GA, Black Mountain, Boone and Chapel Hill, N.C., Lexington, VA, and ending up in Hayden, AL for the Acoustic Cafe Festival on May 26.
"We're stoked about being able to play as far out as the Carolinas and Virginia, and we're just hoping that it won't be the last time we get to do something like this," said banjo player J.T. Lack.
"Who knows, the next stop might be Europe. This time though, it's either the North Carolina State Troopers or the Mayhem String Band - and may the best man win. And I also want to say that we love coming to Starkville, the fans down the are crazy, and they always treat us right," Lack added.
Lack is joined by guitarist Chris Steiner, bassist Ben Johnson, mandolin player Kevin Larkin and Starkville resident and Mississippi State student Jamison "Hollerin'" Hollister on fiddle. All five members of the Mayhem lend their own vocal prowess to the band's rich harmonies, and their mastery of string instruments is a sight to see."
-Ben Bounds - Starkville Daily New (May 2006)

"Mayhem goes legit with 'Rapscallions and Ne'erdowells' (April 2007)"

Mississippi has been recognized by many worldwide as the birthplace of several of America’s major music genres including blues, country, rock n’ roll and whatever it is that Jimmy Buffett does.
Before Howlin’ Wolf, Eric Clapton and B.B. King there was Son House and Robert Johnson. Before Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash there was Jimmy Rogers. Before 3 Doors Down and Blind Melon there was Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.
But bluegrass started in Kentucky, and the state of Mississippi is not by any means known for its bluegrass offerings, and never has been.
Until now.
Last weekend, the Mayhem String Band, officially from Oxford, but featuring Mississippi State University student and Starkville resident Jamison Hollister on fiddle, released their debut album “Rapscallions and Ne’erdowells” (Independent 2007). As of today, Clear Channel Radio isn’t exactly banging the door down of any bluegrass artists that I know of for major label sponsorship or heavy radio airplay, but the musical climate changes from time-to-time, and if there is a band in Mississippi that is poised for a breakout year, it has to be the Mayhem String Band.
Already a major touring force on the Southeastern club scene, the Mayhem has written their own folklore, full of myths and legendary performances throughout the Dirty South, playing the honky-tonks, juke joints and watering holes from Louisiana to Virginia, and leaving a wake of whiskey-drenched, bloodshot-eyed fans reeling in their satisfaction with smiles on their faces and a new addiction to an age-old art form.
Your typical bluegrass album from the Appalachians or the Rocky Mountains comes complete with love songs and work songs, subtle harmonies, and an “aw shucks” attitude that tends to be everything good, clean and wholesome.
“Rapscallions and Ne’erdowells” doesn’t quite fit into that category.
This album leans more to the debaucherous side of Southern roots music—the brash, yet honest side—and doesn’t hide behind the rules and regulations of Clear Channel and corporate America. “Rapscallions and Ne’erdowells” is full of stories, written almost exclusively by the Mayhem String Band, about characters that step out over the edge and come back with tales of guns and sex, blood and spit, liquor and prison, poverty and the Devil.
If you’re looking for a bluegrass album in the tradition of Bill Monroe, Merle Travis, Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt or Ralph Stanley, you might be a little surprised by what you hear on “Rapscallions and Ne’erdowells.” And if you’re looking for anything resembling Allison Krauss and Union Station, you are digging in the wrong crawdad hole.
The Mayhem String Band is a bluegrass band, don’t get me wrong, but their approach to music comes from somewhere darker, somewhere a little more edgy. You may have come looking for some good ole sweet tea here, but you’re going to be walking away from this one trying to choke down the moonshine, if you know what I mean. More accurate comparisons for the Mayhem String Band’s first studio release would be to put them up against some of the old renegades like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Jr., David Allan Coe, The Outlaws or the Charlie Daniels Band—it’s kind of like The Highwaymen on acid.
After just two listens, the tracks that stand out first are “Long Time Comin’,” “Life Ain’t Worth Livin’,” “Hank,” “Humphreys County Jail” and the fan favorite “Blowin’ Skirt.”
“Blowin’ Skirt” is unique in the fact that the song was co-written by Mayhem String Band front man Chris Steiner and Daybreakdown lead singer and lead guitarist Patrick McClary, and will also be released on that band’s forthcoming sophomore release “Shine Like Rust,” possibly under a different title.
Not many bluegrass albums incorporate as many different styles of music the way “Rapscallions and Ne’erdowells” entertwines the traditional form with Southern rock, classic and outlaw country, Americana, Delta blues and the North Mississippi Hill Country blues. Fans of Uncle Tupelo, the Drive-By Truckers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Southern Culture on the Skids, Little Feat, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Yonder Mountain String Band, Leftover Salmon or the Red Stick Ramblers should all find some common ground on this record.
Traditionally, Mississippi musicians are credited with inventing a new style or genre and then letting those from outside the state, and often overseas, take that new style and run with it. But maybe with this record, we’ll see a band from here take an art form that has been floundering for decades, mix it with Jagermeister, pour it over ice, put a spit shine on it and revitalize it with a fresh spin and a unique pesrpective—the North Mississippi perspective, that is.
Hollister and Steiner are joined here by partners-in-crime Ben “Papa” Johnson on bass and vocals, J.T. Lack on banjo and vocals, and Kevin Larkin on mandolin, harmonica and vocals. The album was recorded by producer Andrew Ratcliffe at Tweed Studios and mastered by Jeffrey Reed at Taproot Audio Design in Oxford, and features guest appearances by Rosemond Posey (Rocket 88, Honey Blonde) and Gin Gin Abraham (Daybreakdown, V3, Honey Blonde) on vocals.
The Mayhem Sting Band will hold their official Starkville CD release party this Saturday at Dave’s Dark Horse Tavern, right after they close out the Page Avenue Stage at the Cotton District Arts Festival with a set of their own and a special “Mayhem Breakdown” set alongside fellow Oxford-based band Daybreakdown.
And remember, in the immortal words of Papa Johnson, "you've got to rip it like heaven before you can rip it like Hell!"
Starkville Daily News - Starkville Daily New

"Sweet Soul Music (March 2007)"

OXFORD - A good time. Seems that's what everyone's looking for these days, whether it's in a song or a late night out or in the company of another.
Spin Magazine writers think they know what a good time is - they recently named Oxford's own group of rapscallions and ne'erdowellers as "the best time you'll have this month." Mayhem String Band has een together less than three years and is on the verge of releaseing its debut album, but they've already garndered national attention. A good time, indeed.
"There's a certain degree of wackiness involved," said the band's guitarist and vocalist, Chris Steiner. "But music is serious and we want to do it right."
The band - made up of Steiner; bassist and vocalist Ben Johnson; J.T. Lack on banjo and vocals; Jamison Hollister on fiddle; and Kevin larkin on mandolin, harmonica, and vocals - is passionate about bluegrass and country music. The guys are frustrated with what's on the current country charts - "we're sick of modern country," Larkin said, and that is what's driven them to create the music they love. Legends like Hank Williams, Doc Watson, the Stanley Brothers and Waylon Jennings are direct influences on the group.
"It's all about feeling," Lack said. "The feeling behind the Stanley Brothers is the same feeling behind each of us when we write a song."

Winning over fans
The band started in 2004 when Steiner and Johnson met. Lack was the next member added, then Larkin and Hollister threw in their talents. The band's name stems from late night parties and the band's rowdy live shows.
"There's definalyy a younger crowd tuning in to the music," Lack said. "We put it out in a way for people to accept it, let the old redneck shine."
The guys have been supreised at how well they've been recieved.
"Everybody treats us so well. We don't deserve to be treated so well," Steiner said.
But if there are any naysayers, they're often quieted when the band takes the stage. "People who don't even like it- when they hear it, they like it," Lack said.
Bluegrass and country are two kinds of music everyone can relate to, the guys said.
"It speaks to the soul, man," Lack said.

Up around the bend
The band's first album "Rapscallions and Ne'erdowells," weill be released in April. The guys said recording the album went well.
"They put some mics on us and we unleashed it," Larkin said.
After the album is released, the band will play some shows around the Southeast before heading out West the summer. The spring/summer tour will last three months, the longest yet for the band, Hollister said.
The band's eager for everyone to hear its debut album and will take about anything in return.
"We'll take trade on whiskey and hogs," Larkin joked. "And women," Lack added.

-Sheena Barnett - The Scene - North Mississippi's Entertainment Guide

"Mississippi's Fresh Cut Bluegrass Sound (Sept/Oct 2007)"

Oxford-based and largely Delta-bred, the Mayhem String Band is a five-piece acoustic alliance with a mission to make Mississippi dance. Pairing high-energy vocals with fast finger-picking and witty concert banter, the freshest band on the Southeastern circuit conjures the same good-time feelings as the bluegrass musicians of yesteryear. With a repertoire ranging from traditional folk songs such as "John Henry" and Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm" to intoxicating originals like "Hank," the Mayhem String Band is a cross-generational crowd pleaser.
"We wanted to play good old American music," said Ben Johnson, a Leland native and the band's uninhibited upright bassist. "The folks who come see us play are looking for a good time and they can't get anywhere else. They are looking for an experience that they know no other bands around here are offering."
Formed in 2006, the Mayhem String Band is composed of Johnson, Greenville natives J.T. Lack (banjo, vocals) and Jamison Hollister (fiddle, vocals), Memphian Chris Steiner (guitar, vocals) and Michigan-born Kevin Larkin (mandolin, vocals, harmonica, accordion). Since their first appearance on the Oxford Square, the quintet has performed on stages across the nation, most recently completing a 10-state summer tour for their debut album Rapscallions and Ne'dowells.
Fans flock to Mayhem String Band shows for the blistering banjo rolls, heart wrenching fiddle strokes, expressive mandolin chops, spellbinding bass lines and impassioned guitar pulls - but most often patrons come out for the band's parade of on-stage personality. Often dressed to the nines in three-piece suits and spit-polished boots, each member generates a sense of charming mischief. Practical jokers who have been reputed for covering fans in confetti filled gas-powered leaf blowers, the Mayhem String Band is irrefutably on the area's most genuinely entertaining and endearing bands.
"There are a whole lot of rock 'n' roll bands out of this area, but we are really lucky to be based out of Mississippi because there certainly isn't a lot of young bluegrass," said Lack. "The bluegrass scene in Mississippi is mostly older folks and they are not playing bars; they are playing in churches, which is wonderful. But it makes us a bit of a novelty. A lot of kids might even laugh at the notion of listening to bluegrass, but when they hear it, they can't help but dance a little because it is party music; it is dance music. And it always has been. It has been that way to 100 years."
In February 2007, Spin Magazine listed the Mayhem String Band's Wednesday night gig at Oxford's Two Stick Sushi Bar as "The Best Time You'll Have This Month."
The Mayhem String Band is garnering attention from more than the likes of college bar crowds, and catching the eye of national audiences. They've played the stages of the Double Decker Arts Festival in Oxford, the Mayhem on the Mountain Festival in Morgantown, West Virginia, and the Telluride BLuegrass Festival in Colorado.
If you like to dance and can't remember the last time you heard a group of talented musicians playing country music and bluegrass, then do yourself a favor and catch a Mayhem String Band performance this fall. The group has upcoming shows at the Tin Roof in Cleveland, the Walnut Street Blues Bar in Greenville, Martin's in Jackson and Proud Larry's in Oxford. - Delta Magazine (Sept/Oct 2007)

"Creating Chaos, Only To Tame It (Oct 2008)"

Band To Watch

Creating Chaos, Only To Tame It:
THE MAYHEM STRING BAND of Oxford, Mississippi

By Dave Higgs

Mayhem" is a fitting name for the Mayhem String Band—five "wild and crazy guys" dedicated to bringing irreverence, mischief, fun and general insanity back on stage where it rightfully belongs.

"We like to say that ‘MAYHEM' is an acronym for ‘May All Your Hangovers End Miraculously,'" "Captain" J.T. Lack, the band's irrepressible banjoist, laughs heartily. "We want to let the crowd know from the beginning that it's going to be a party."

And indeed, the band does party--with their frenetic playing, colorful banter, good-natured repartee and on-stage shenanigans that sometimes resemble old-time vaudeville. In the early days, the appearance of a leaf blower, manned by the band's intrepid bass player, Ben "Papa" Johnson, was a highlight of every Mayhem performance. "There was an era when Ben would carry various pieces of lawn equipment onstage," J.T. fondly reminisces. "His favorite was the leaf blower, which he loaded with different things each week and then shot out into the crowd. A lot of confetti was involved. And a lot of flour. Maybe some prophylactics."

"Various sorts of crackers and other kitchen items," adds guitarist Chris "Butterfield" Steiner. After a pause, he sighs nostalgically. "We need to bring back the leaf blower."

The band describes its sound as "countrified outlaw bluegrass," which J.T. asserts has its roots in the type of "mayhem" many of the early bluegrass and old-time pioneers dispensed on stage. "There was a bit of edge to their music, and some gravel in it as well. I'm talking about guys like Jimmy Martin, who knew how to burn a candle at both ends, work hard and have a good time, with no apologies whatsoever. We're trying to stick to that old rowdy, have-a-good-time-pickin'-and-grinnin' idea.

"We certainly don't want to give the impression we're more about getting up there and acting crazy than putting out legitimate quality country and bluegrass music," J.T. hastens to add. "But it's all right if everything's not perfect. As long as we get up there and give it our all, turn some heads and make people smile, we've done our job. We focus on making people have a good time, as opposed to standing up there and showing off."

Dancing has become a common phenomenon at most Mayhem concerts, and the band feeds off it. "There's no greater dancing music in the world [than bluegrass]," J.T. suggests. "Before the crowd leaves, if we do our job right, they're all going to be bouncing around a little bit."

"You look out at the dancers and wonder how it's humanly possible for a person to bend like that, but we're glad to see them do it," Chris grins with amazement. "The folks start dancing, and the energy they give us pumps us up more. That makes them dance harder, which, in turn, makes us play harder. It's a beautiful thing."

Members of the band liken their performance style to "creating chaos and then taming it," an interesting description that deserves an explanation. "Musically, that has to do with sheer dynamics," J.T. says. "We play songs like ‘Cherokee Shuffle,' where we'll start slow and build up [speed]. We keep that dynamic wave in effect, where you swell and then die down. It often sounds like we're about to go off the edge, and I think we do a fair job of keeping it right there on the line."

Jamison "Hollerin'" Hollister and Kevin "Detroit Red" Larkin round out the quintet on fiddle and mandolin, respectively. All the colorful nicknames beg for further elucidation and, in themselves, provide insight into the band's one-of-a-kind "personality," as revealed in the following exchange:

BN: Why do you call Ben "Papa?"
CHRIS: There was an incident involving Papa John's Pizza in Starkville, Mississippi, but everything past that gets a little blue.
BN: What about "Hollerin'" Hollister?
J.T.: The boy has got some vocal chords on him. I think I said that one night [onstage] because it sounded like "Hollister." We just covered both ends of the spectrum [in those two answers] with the absolutely disgusting and the mundane.
BN: "Detroit Red" Larkin?
CHRIS:He's from Detroit and he's got a giant red Afro.
BN: "Butterfield" Steiner?
CHRIS: I'm sort of the biggest of the boys and I like to eat a lot.
BN:Finally, why do you call J.T. "The Captain?"
CHRIS:The Captain is a land pirate and you just follow him. Because when he gets into something, it's usually pretty good.

Mayhem's debut disc is fittingly entitled Rapscallions and Ne'erdowells. The album cover sports a wild painting of a seemingly possessed raccoon, writhing snake in its mouth, crossing the road in front of a car amid smoldering fire and brimstone. The artwork is loosely based on real life, something Ben saw when he was on his way to Oxford to pick up the rest of the band for their first road trip. J.T. recounts the aftermath of the surreal episode: "Ben called his dad (whose nickname is The Coon, by the way) and said, ‘Coon, I just saw this phenomenon on the highway.' And The Coon said, ‘Ah... it's an omen.'"

Judging by the success of Rapscallions and Ne'erdowells, which reverberates with the unbridled energy of youth, the band's counterpart in that smoldering highway scene must have been the raccoon rather than the snake. The disc contains some striking original material--like Kevin's song, "Hank," which laments the demise of country music, and Chris' "Long Time Coming," which the boys use near the beginning of each set to stoke the crowd into a frenzy. "Extra Gold," penned by Kevin, is an elongated ride the band usually saves for later in the set when "everybody's up and a little bit rowdy." Jamison saws away on a blistering instrumental, "Porterhorse Breakdown." J.T.'s "Nickels and Dimes" is a song much in the mold of Bill Monroe's "true life" songs.

The Mayhem String Band is living the life: five guys totally in synch, traveling around the country, sometimes living on "nickels and dimes," playing music for the sheer unabashed enjoyment of it, and watching their brand of music weave its magic on bluegrass fans, hippies and bikers alike. "Everybody writes songs," Chris says, marveling at the quintet's unique chemistry. "Everybody helps load and unload. Everybody drives. Everybody books gigs. Everybody does promo stuff."

"No one even entertains the notion of being a leader," J.T. adds. "We're just five guys enjoying the ride and having fun. We count that as a blessing."
- Bluegrass Now

"Wild Rovers (Jan 2008)"

A traveling all-night gypsy partyrolls into Augusta, so be prepared for a riotous spectacle

AUGUSTA, GA - “Man, it’s all just been a blur!” says fiddler Jamison “Hollerin’” Hollister, exhaling wearily when asked about highlights and memorable performances from the Mayhem String Band’s latest batch of breakneck touring. He quickly catches himself, however, in case his mom is reading this: “I mean, not an alcohol blur or anything, but just a real whirlwind.”

Hollister is speaking from the band’s home base in Mississippi, where he’s joined by mandolin player Kevin Larkin and guitarist Chris Steiner. The band is in the midst of a touring gap that began Dec. 22 and runs into this weekend, and everyone is making the most of it, using the reprieve to polish up their obligatory jamming chops, as well as writing some new tunes and arranging some traditional standards to add to their already overflowing repertoire.

“It’s been about a year since we wrote [debut album] ‘Rapscallions and Ne’er-Do-Wells,’” Larkin says. “We were real happy with the finished product. We’re pretty excited about the new stuff we’re gonna bust out, but we still love playing those songs… and that album’s been good to us, selling really well on the road and in other outlets.”

One of those other outlets, surprisingly, is iTunes, where the album has sold relatively well, particularly the audience favorites “Blowin’ Skirt” and “Porterhouse Breakdown.” Steiner admits he still gets a bit taken aback by it.

“Yeah, the whole iTunes thing still surprises me,” he says, laughing. “To this day, I have no idea how the whole thing works, but we’ve had some great people get behind us and take care of that side of things, and we’re really grateful.”

Due to their incendiary and notoriously chaotic live shows, the group has amassed a respectable following, particularly in the old-time/bluegrass hotbeds of Colorado and most of the Southeast. As strings are broken, brews consumed and miles registered on the odometer, Mayhem’s street cred continues to rise: on Dec. 26, they were booked for Chattanooga’s Market Street Tavern, whose stage has been graced by genre stalwarts Old Crow Medicine Show and the Yonder Mountain String Band. They appear, however, to be taking any success in stride.

“We’re really just trying to get some name recognition out there,” Steiner replies, his Mississippi drawl doing nothing to contradict the band’s laid-back attitude. “As long as we can get the crowd into it, we’ll play anywhere.”

Mayhem embodies that near-century-old string-band ethos, never being prone to pass up a good old-fashioned spontaneous jam with an old friend or kindred spirit. Larkin recalls a gig directly following a Louisiana State University game this past month, when fiddler and Jesus Christ look-alike Ferd Moyse of Hackensaw Boys semi-fame came down to play the second half of the show with them.

“[Mayhem banjo player] JT and all the guys in the Delta, they grew up with Ferd, so anytime we’re in the same town, we end up playing together.”

Early bluegrass groups were definitely the original jam bands, though that term didn’t really begin to be associated with the genre until Jerry Garcia first hooked up with David Grisman in Old and in the Way. Larkin pauses for a moment to muse on why the string-band scene lends itself so prevalently to that type of camaraderie.

“In our case, it just has to do with the size of the scene right now,” he says. “Everything’s pretty localized. There aren’t a lot of string bands in Mississippi, so pretty much everybody who plays in one of those groups knows each other.”

That only leaves one issue unresolved: Has Ben officially retired his yard equipment? For readers playing the home game, “Papa” Johnson once had a penchant for sneaking into strangers’ houses at night and turning a leaf blower on his sleeping, unsuspecting victims.

We’re pretty sure he’s our hero.

“Man, I don’t really know!” Larkin says, snickering like someone just told him his first dirty joke. “We didn’t have room to take it with us to Colorado with the PA and ski equipment, but I’ll check into it; 2008 could definitely turn out to be the year of the leaf blower.”

One can only hope.
- Metro Spirit - Augusta, GA


'Land Pirates' (March 2009)
-Recorded at Delta Recording Service - Como, MS
-Produced by Jimbo Mathus and The Mayhem String Band
-Regular airplay on Outlaw Country (SIRIUS/XM)

'Rapscallions and Ne'erdowells' (April 2007)
-Recorded and Mixed at Tweed Studios - Oxford, MS
-Mastered at Taproot Audio Design - Oxford, MS
-Reached #19 on Roots Music Report "Folk" Radio Chart



Music has worked its way into nearly every aspect of today’s culture. Something in a song immediately sends the brain into a complex reaction involving impulse, memory, and emotion. This phenomenon has been the basis for everything from religious ceremonies to battle calls to jackpots on the slot machine. It’s no
surprise that many folks have attempted to exploit it just to make a few bucks.
Down in Mississippi music has a way of appearing as a near primitive expression – radiating directly from the soul. It is often found late at night coming from a sweaty bar or juke joint or porch swing, long after the day is done. There you’ll find the performers and audience entangled in a dancin’, playin’, hootin‘ and hollerin’ room of energy bursting at the seems.

It is this basis that sets the Mayhem String Band apart from many of their peers. Gone are the polished edges of contemporary taste and Nashville production. These distractions are replaced by the energy and emotion of performers who understand the unbridled force of live music. Their brand of outlaw bluegrass conjures up the ghosts of Bill, Jimmy, Hank and Waylon by creating chaos and taming it in the same performance. These men play string music, raw and aggressive, with the simple hope that people will listen up, catch the buzz and get to dancin’.

The Mayhem String Band has its roots in Oxford, Mississippi where 4 veteran musicians of the music scene got together and formed a bluegrass band in 2005. Ben Johnson (Bass), Chris Steiner (Guitar), Jamison Hollister (Fiddle, Mandolin) and J.T. Lack (Banjo) took on a weekly gig that eventually became known as “Wednesday Night Mayhem”, born out of the whiskey-soaked dance floor and general insanity that seemed to follow the band around. After months of numerous shows in the hills of North Mississippi they settled on the name Mayhem String Band, also an acronym for “May All Your Hangovers End Miraculously.” In February of 2006 Kevin Larkin, creator of the Spaghetti Western bluegrass band "Pineross," moved from Boulder, Colorado to join the band on mandolin, accordion and harmonica.

Just 3 years and hundreds of shows later, the Mayhem String Band has taken their bluegrass sound to a new level, incorporating Cajun two-steps, Irish jigs, and a chunk of Mississippi blues. Each member of the band writes songs, injecting familiar traditional sounds with the madness that defines the world today. The result is a live show balancing songcraft, instrumental virtuosity, heart-wrenching harmonies and a plain ole’ good time. They deliver this concoction in an all-out assault of music on whomever may be listening.

These 5 players have been taking their brand of Mississippi bluegrass all over the country playing over 170 shows a year. Their second album, Land Pirates, was released in March of 2009, co-produced with Jimbo Mathus (Squirrel Nut Zippers) and featuring Ferd Moyse (Hackensaw Boys) on fiddle.