Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Can the term supergroup be applied to a band that rarely gigged, whose records are impossible to find and no one’s ever heard of?
If so, meet Mudboy and the Neutrons: Lee Baker, Jim Dickinson, Sid Selvidge and Jimmy Croswait. Although they launched their careers in Memphis, Baker and Dickinson are Arkansas natives.
Dickinson found the band name no one ever wanted while working with Ry Cooder. Cooder was asked by his record label, Warner Brothers, to open for labelmates the Alice Cooper band. Alice Cooper’s theatrical shock-rock sold a lot more albums in the early 1970s, but was obviously not a good match with Cooder’s rootsy music. After the conversation, Cooder reportedly said in frustration, “They’ve got to know I’m not going on the road with no Mudboy and the Neutrons!”
Appropriately, the often wild Mudboy and the Neutrons debuted at a 1973 Memphis Halloween show. Dickinson got Mudboy a demo deal with Warners, but the recordings never went anywhere. Although all were songwriters, the group performed mostly aggressive blues and rock rave-ups. The four were also fairly seasoned performers. Dickinson and Lee Baker had both toured as members of the Mar-Keys.
Lead guitarist Baker played with such real-deal musicians as Gus Cannon, Mississippi Fred MacDowell, Bukka White, and — when Baker was still a teen-ager — Charlie Rich. Baker’s blues-rock band Moloch released an album on Stax and played concerts with MC5 and Iggy Pop.
Jimmy Croswait played washboard in Mudboy, but gained more acclaim as a puppeteer and artist.
Sid Selvidge has his own label, Peabody, which released Alex Chilton’s “Like Flies On Sherbet” — as well as Selvidge’s own solo records, some cut with fellow Mudboy members. He also co-hosts the syndicated radio program, “Beale Street Caravan.”
Little Rock native Dickinson has played on sessions with Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, as well as later producing the Replacements, Big Star and Little Rock’s own Magic Cropdusters. All four members of the band sang.
As the members of the band established themselves in individual pursuits, the legend of Mudboy grew. After more than a decade of sporadic existence, the Mudboy and the Neutrons debuted an album, “Known Felons in Drag,” in 1986 on a small French label.
Again, several years of word of mouth made for a follow-up, “Negro Streets At Dawn,” in 1993. It was recorded by Bob Kruzen at P. Wee’s Saloon, 315 Beale St. In 1995, a compilation of the two albums called “They Walk Among Us” was issued in the U.S., but it too is now out of print.
The Sept. 10, 1996, murder of Baker in Horseshoe Lake (Crittenden County), took away Mudboy’s force. In fact, Dickinson once said of Mudboy and the Neutrons, “All we really are is a backup band for Lee Baker.”
Author Robert Gordon called the music of Mudboy “the missing link between the Rolling Stones and Furry Lewis.” A documentary film of Gordon’s 1995 book “It Came From Memphis” has been in the works for years; a London Mudboy and the Neutrons reunion show was recently staged and filmed for the project.
With Mudboy and the Neutrons recordings so sparse and hard to find, the band’s best legacy may lie in its fruits. Dickinson’s sons, Luther and Cody, have been part of Memphis bands DDT and Gutbucket, and subsequently the North Mississippi All-Stars. Selvidge’s youngest son leads Big Ass Truck. At one point, the children of Dickinson and Selvidge, along with Baker’s, had a band called Three-Legged Puppy, also known as Son of Mudboy.
One of the band’s several retirement shows was held Oct. 1, 1978, at Memphis’ Orpheum Theatre. It was called “The Tennessee Waltz,” after Levon Helm and the Band’s farewell show, “The Last Waltz.” During intermission, Gurdon native Gus Nelson performed Leadbelly’s “Bourgeois Blues” — and then sawed his guitar in half with a chainsaw. Big Star’s Alex Chilton was in the audience, and was soon in Nelson’s band, the Panther Burns.
Stephen Koch is the host of “Arkansongs,” heard on Fridays at 6:40 a.m. and 6:20 p.m. on KUAR-FM, 89.1.
• Known Felons In Drag
• Negro Streets At Dawn
• They Walk Among Us (compilation)
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