Mud and Rock 'n' Roll by Angus Lind
It's late afternoon or early evening at Southport Hall and
the crowd outside on the sun- drenched deck not far from the
Mississippi River levee is taking in some Southern rock which
means the Mudpies are in the house.
Mudpies are in the house, we bring the house," said lead singer
and group leader Steve Rucker, pointing to a small whimsical
ceramic house decorated with music notes and affixed to a
stand by a steel rod. Not far away, on the top of a table
is a colorful ceramic slice of pie similarly displayed.
a motley crew, belt out mostly original songs named "Blackjackie
Sue" (about gambling returning to New Orleans), "Picasso Clyde",
"Redstick Blues", "Accept the Call", "Southern Rain", "Trucker
Fear" and "Not a Perfect Man", the latter a tune, Rucker tells
his audience, men can relate to: "It's time you understand/
I played my very best hand/ I'd do it all over again/ If I
think I can/ I'm not a perfect man."
native of Cleveland, Tenn., with a bandanna attempting to
control his long locks on this day, is a ceramics professor
at Loyola University, not far from completing two decades
of teaching sculpture at the Uptown institution. The ceramic
pie and house are creations from his Bohemian studio, which
is located where Carrollton Avenue meets River Road, above
Cooter Brown's, another famed New Orleans watering hole.
Artist lives over bar, plays music in bar. There's a message
interpretations of society and whatever else - many of which
adorn the walls and ceilings of Southport Hall - coupled with
his music, humor and lifestyle are yet more proof that New
Orleans continues to be a never-ending mother lode of unconventional
characters. And this complex character has had art shows and
exhibitions everywhere from the Contemporary Arts Center to
the Arthur Roger Gallery in New York City.
this day we're talking music."The
Mudpies are somewhat of a dream of mine", Rucker said over
a Bud Dry between sets. "Art was my gift - I was drawing from
day one but I always kept a guitar, I learn three chords and
listened to the country station. My dad didn't think too much
of my long hair but I wasn't a draft dodger. I always wrote
stuff and sometime back in the '80s, I sat down and wrote
myself a song."
that "a)it was fun and b) it wasn't that hard." He met lead
guitarist Charlie Reagin about 10 or so years ago at a picnic
and Reagin encouraged him to get a group going.
did. There have been different Mudpies configurations. The
current lineup includes, in addition to Rucker and Reagin,
the wonderfully named second lead guitarist, Skeet Stiller.
Then on the bass and slide guitar is Jason Scott and on drums,
name, Mudpies, isn't exactly a mystery when the leader is
a guy who plays with clay. "It comes from me being in ceramics
and us rehearsing in my studio above Cooter's," Rucker said.
As good as they sound and as much as they like to get it on,
"we all have day jobs," he joked.
are some interesting small-world ironies involved. Rucker
rents his studio from the owner of Cooter Brown's, Larry Berestitzky.
Bud Whalen, the owner of Southport Hall, and Berestitzky are
longtime friends who both went to Southern Illinois (the Fightin'
Salukis) University together, came to New Orleans for Mardi
Gras one year long ago, and never left.
Rucker's art produced in the studio over Cooter's, graces
the walls and ceilings of Southport Hall, which was once a
gambling hall named New Southport. Located barely on the Jefferson
Parish side of the Orleans-Jefferson line, it is right past
the railroad tracks at the end of Oak Street on Monticello
restored barroom greets the customer after he leaves the deck.
And lurking behind the barroom, where the illegal gambling
once was ignored by law officers, is a mammoth rental reception
and party hall with a stage for a band. On its walls, aside
from gambling paraphernalia from the past, there are paintings
- "gestural abstractions of my daily and weekly existence,"
said Rucker in his finest artspeak.
hanging from a partial roof over the deck are some interesting
creations "taken out of context" from a show of his called
"Hot House," which featured 49 upside-down terra cotta flower
pots. The "plants" hanging at Southport have steel rods for
stems with "blossoms" in the shape of dollar bills, red hot
chili peppers, guns, Tylenol and mirrors.
just say it keeps the crowd speculating about the artist and
artists in general. With artists, like songwriters and for
that matter columnists, you never know from what part of left
field something is going to come.
is right up Rucker's alley. "Here's one called 'My TV,' "
he said, introducing the song. "I was sitting around looking
at my little TV and its little rabbit ears and thinking about
the people who have 5,000 channels and apparently the time
to watch 'em all."
'80s, Rucker was known for torching his artwork. "I would
build things and set 'em on fire - not everything, of course.
It's like my take on fire - fire can fire ceramics but it
can also be a work of art." So he got a bunch of permits and
burned, in public, things he had created. He hasn't burned
any artwork in a while, but in the not-too-distant future,
he's going to have one of his burns -of a rather large ceramic
house on poles- in Oxford, Miss., in honor of Southern author
his other life, the Mudpies leader is getting ready for a
new CD. It's going to be named "By the Slice." Which is a
good thing. The whole pie "might be overwhelming.