Modesto hopes to take its first step toward its place at the music history table at this year’s Modesto Area Music Association Awards.
On Wednesday, the 2013 MAMA Lifetime Achievement Award will go to Don Maddox, the last living member of the legendary country western band Maddox Brothers and Rose. The 90-year-old played fiddle in what was billed as “America’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band” and will appear in person to perform and pick up his award at the show in downtown Modesto’s State Theatre.
MAMA co-founder Chris Murphy said Maddox and the group created the slapping-bass sound when it formed in Modesto in 1937. Maddox’s older brother Fred developed the fast, driving bass style, which became the boogie-woogie backbeat for rockabilly and eventually much of rock ’n’ roll.
In a September 2012 interview on the website SavingCountryMusic.com, Don Maddox talked about Fred’s sound. “The reason he did a slap bass is because he didn’t know how to play the bass,” he said, “and all he was doing was playing rhythm anyhow, but he didn’t know the notes, so he’d just slap the bass for the rhythm part and everybody thought he put on a great show and thought he was the best bass player there was.”
“I am shocked more people don’t know our music history,” Murphy said. “People know of Maddox Brothers and Rose, but don’t know the significance of them. Fred Maddox changed the history of music in 1937 with that slapping bass. That’s what he invented and those are the first notes of rock ’n’ roll, and that happened here in our town.”
At the awards show, Mayor Garrad Marsh will read a proclamation declaring rockabilly the original music of Modesto and the Maddoxes as the original family of rockabilly. Country legend and Grammy winner Marty Stuart, who performed at the Gallo Center for the Arts last weekend, taped a special video presentation for Maddox, which will be played at the MAMA Awards.
The Maddox family members were Alabama sharecroppers before moving to Modesto in 1933. The siblings worked in the fields picking fruits and vegetables at first, but then decided to try making it in music. Maddox Brothers and Rose was known for rousing shows and colorful costumes through much of the 1940s and into the ’50s. The group disbanded in the mid-1950s when Rose left to pursue a solo career. All of the other remaining siblings have since passed away.
But Don Maddox, who has lived as a cattle rancher in Ashland, Ore., for the past 50 years, has experienced a career resurgence of late. In 2011, he began performing again and has since headlined festivals and played at the Grand Ole Opry. He will fly to Modesto for the MAMA Awards to perform, backed by a local all-star roster of rockabilly performers.
“We have an amazing rockabilly scene here in Modesto,” Murphy said. “An amazing subculture is here and we haven’t captured it yet. I think it’s just starting to come out.”
Maddox will also play a special free concert Thursday evening in downtown Modesto with the same local all-star band at 7 p.m. at The Brewhouse, 821 L St., for those who could not attend the invitation-only MAMA Awards.
Besides Maddox’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the14th annual MAMA Awards will hand out trophies in 20 categories to local performers, promoters, venues and events. Awards are voted on entirely online (one vote per person). This year’s 200-plus nominees are up for honors in everything from metal to pop, hip-hop to Americana and – yes – even rockabilly.
The show also will feature live performances by nominees including Stop Motion Poetry, Breaking Chainz, The Resistance, Jeramy Norris & the Dangerous Mood, Tom VandenAvond, Cobalt45, Darlin’ Clementine, Clockwork Hero and A’ La Lune.
Murphy said this year’s nominees are as strong as ever. “The challenging economy has made it tough and we’ve lost venues in the last few years,” he said. “The fact that we still have so many bands is a testament to the talent here.”