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Artist Stories

Bridging history and future with the blues

Muddy Waters’ influence on Mac Arnold

July 2019 — With 13 siblings, Mac’s family couldn’t afford to buy a guitar. Plus they were Southern Baptist, and in those days, a guitar in the house was devils music. “May be right. Sometimes I get a little devil in me,” quips Mac. As a cotton farmer, his father would go to Florida in September to make ends meet picking oranges. One year while dad was gone, his older brother Leroy took one of his gasoline cans, strings from the broken screen door, some old busted wood, and nails, and made a guitar. He took it to school for show and tale and won first place. After that it was hidden in the barn and Mac would sneak out to play it.

Mac built his own and the rest is history. Today, you will find one of his gas can guitars in the Smithsonian and this coming July 18 you might get to hear one in the JAZZ ROOM.

Playing the music of Muddy Waters this month in the JAZZ ROOM is like old times for Mac Arnold. At the young age of 23, he was playing a club on the south side of Chicago and was found by scouts seeking a bass player for Muddy.

Muddy Waters handpicked all his musicians, and he cared for them individually. “Muddy was a great gentleman and he was one of the greatest blues entertainers ever. I am grateful to be part of that history,” says Mac. He was influenced by the way Muddy recognized other musicians at his events, giving audience members and even children an opportunity to join in. Given the chance to be at the ground of the blues movement, Mac Arnold is passionate about passing on opportunities to the next generation.

Mac Arnold developed the I Can Do Anything Foundation after he retired. The goal is to bridge the gap in public schools music education. He offers events in and out of the school, open to the public, and gives profits back to the school for their music programs. He collects and repairs instruments to give to gifted students who cannot afford one of their own. And he supports a scholarship fund. All of this because he knows what music gives you.

“For the children who need it, music offers a space in their life for a positive experience, for stability, and an opportunity to think.. Music gives us freedom.”

Enjoy Mac Arnold & Plate Full O’ Blues this month in the JAZZ ROOM.

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