The Mannish Boys
An interview with Jesse Steinberg, Guitarist for Mannish Boys
by Mike Huberty
Jesse Steinberg, the guitarist from THE MANNISH BOYS is on a mission to dispel the myth of Blues music as a genre for sad sacks whining about wayward women, downtrodden men, and lives lived too hard. They call themselves “booty-shakin’ blues” and Steinberg, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, has even authored a book on Blues Music and Philosophy. The rest of the band is Andy Smith on vocals, Paul Schwoerer on harmonica, Jesse Olson on piano, Tim Payne on bass, and Johnny Watson on drums. We talked with Steinberg about THE MANNISH BOYS and their upcoming show at Capital Brewery on May 2nd.
MI:What is it about the Blues that drew you guys to playing it?
JS: Blues is compelling for quite a few reasons. In a way, it’s raw and primal. Blues songs tend to have a simple, driving beat, just three or four chords, etc. At the same time, it’s dynamic and an intensely emotional form of music. Another thing we find so gripping about the Blues is its rich history and its social relevance. The Blues gave birth to just about every form of contemporary music and it’s tied to very serious social issues involving slavery, race, gender, and class.
We tend to play Chicago-style Blues which basically means that it’s electrified (as opposed to acoustic) and has a certain flavor or feel which is hard to describe. You have to listen to Delta Blues and then hear what happened after the “Great Migration” to Chicago and other cities in the North/Midwest to get a full sense of how the Blues developed into the Chicago-style Blues. Anyway, that’s the kind of Blues which resonates with us the most. But some of our stuff is more stripped-down, roots music and some of it is more rock.
MI: Who are your biggest influences?
JS: I was into all kinds of music—Chicago Blues, Delta Blues, Texas Blues, West Coast Blues, Rhythm and Blues, etc… I loved the Blues from an early age and it wasn’t until my late teens that I started listening to other stuff—and, even then, the music that appealed to me still had similar elements as the Blues. I liked Reggae and Soul, but I listened more to bluesy rock bands like Cream and Led Zeppelin. And, of course, there’s Hendrix. Don’t get me started about Hendrix!
But my real love has always been Blues. I couldn’t get enough of the “three kings”–B.B. King, Albert King, and Freddie King. I listened to just about any Blues I could get my hands on though. I was especially into Chicago-style Blues from folks like Little Walter, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Muddy Waters, “Big Mama” Thornton, Otis Spann, Howlin’ Wolf, and Magic Sam. Later on, I devoured Stevie Ray Vaughan and some other more contemporary Blues artists, but there’s something raw and pure about the older stuff which spoke to me more than what’s been produced in the last few decades.
MI: What inspired the band name?
JS: It’s from a Muddy Waters song–“I am a Man” which is sometimes called “Mannish Boy.” It’s a song about coming of age (and, really, Muddy just brags about being ready to make love to all the ladies). The hook is a driving rhythm that’s impossible to resist and the band plays a quintessential riff which repeats throughout the song and builds in intensity as it progresses. That is one serious boogie!
MI: What do you think is the perfect song for people to listen to the MADTOWN MANNISH BOYS for the first time?
JS: We’re working on a new album and our title track is going to be called “Old Dog.” We hope to release the album in early fall. It’s a song about needing to learn some new tricks to get through life. This is something which resonates with everyone, no matter how old you are.
MI: What’s unique about your live show for people that think they’ve already seen plenty of blues bands?
JS: We want to be sure to distance ourselves from the negative stereotypes that some people have with the Blues. Some people think it’s all depressing, droning tunes about someone’s wife leaving him (and taking their dog!). They think Blues artists are a bunch of old dudes sitting on stools who don’t put on a good show. But we mostly play booty shakin’ grooves—with the occasional slower, get-nasty-close-with-your-partner tune sprinkled in for good measure. The main thing is that we perform with exuberance and tenacity and this gets the crowd to boogie. We dance around and have good time and this is, we think, infectious. The crowd feeds off us just as weed feed off them.
MI: What are some of your favorite places to play in town?
JS: The Knuckle Down Saloon is a fantastic place to play! The joint was packed the last few times we’ve played there. The last show there was on March 31 and I danced with the crowd as I walked around the bar playing guitar. We ended up playing for an extra hour after we were supposed to end since the place was still jumping! There are some really great places for Blues in Madison and the surrounding areas.