On April 15, 2015

Rockin’ the Region with Max Creek

This Saturday, April 18, do not miss the first annual Dazed and Defrosted concert outside the Umbrella Bars at Killington Resort featuring Max Creek, who are celebrating their 44th year in the music business.

I first saw Creek in 1985 at Trinity College and I’ve been a fan ever since. Mark Mercier plays keyboard and sings vocals. He has been with the band since 1973, two years after the band was established

“I miss the 80s, the 80s were great,” said Mercier.

Creek frequently played at the Wobbly Barn in the 80s and Mercier remembers it well. “I have very fond memories of being there. First of all, the food was terrific but secondly, it was just so much fun. It was fun playing there and it was fun being there. Bob ‘Tuna’ Evans made it a lot of fun.”

Becoming a band member

How Mercier initially got to play with Creek, he credits with luck. Mercier hails from Maine and was on track to be a math teacher. He applied to Hartt School of Music in West Hartford, Conn., on a whim because a friend of his visited it and like it. Well, he got accepted and decided to go. On his very first day, he met John Rider.

“That turned out to be a very cool and very serendipitous moment,” he reflected. What happened after that was John Rider got together with a fellow trumpet major Dave Reed who played acoustic guitar and started a band with drummer Bob Gosselin. “It was 1971 and everyone was doing it [forming a band] back in those days so he did, too,” Mercier remembered. “He used to rehearse in the basement of a fraternity house and I was so incredibly jealous. I thought that was the coolest thing. Here I was a church organ major and I was playing in a church but I really wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll.”

Mercier would listen in on their rehearsals.

Bad luck struck next. Reed got appendicitis and the band couldn’t fulfill their gigs. That’s when Rider gave Mercier a call. It was over Christmas break in 1973. The band had a bar gig and didn’t want to lose the opportunity. Mercier jumped at the change to play.

“It wasn’t really very good but we got through it,” he remembered. They played three more gigs there and it got better, he said, but so did Reed’s health and he rejoined the band. It worked out for Mercier, however, as the band decided he could become a permanent member.

Scott Murawski was in the band for a short while before Mercier joined. He was taking lessons from the band’s guitar player and who saw his unique ability to play. Murawski would come in as a ringer to play a few songs and then sit down. He was only 15 years old, however, and after he was caught drinking a beer in the bar he was kicked out — of the bar and the band, since he couldn’t play the bar gigs. A year or so after Mercier joined they asked Murawski to sit in on guitar for one of the rehearsals.

“He was so good that we thought he should be a permanent member,” Mercier recounted. “By then he was 17 and we just lied about his age. He started playing lead guitar and he was great. He had a natural guitar ability and it was incredible the way that he played.”

In 1979 they added percussionist Rob Fried who was in the band until 2004. He was a friend of Rider’s and was asked to jam with them. “We really liked the idea of a percussionist because it really filled everything out with the rhythmic aspect … and really helped propel everything. Rob was a great addition and known for his elaborate stage setup, often with dozens of drums and percussion pieces. He could always be easily identified in a club, thanks to his trademark Panama hat, Hawaiian shirt and dark glasses. Rob passed away in 2006 from cancer,” he said.

There have been other members along the years but the band’s core is Rider, Mercier and Murawski and now they’re joined by Bill Carbone and Jamemurrell Stanley, both on drums. “They found us and it was a symbiotic thing. Kind of the way it’s been for everyone that we’ve had. It’s been serendipitous, always falling into place,” Mercier said of the band members.

What’s in a name?

Max Creek got their name from a little village near Pulaski, Va. called Max Creek. Rider, who grew up in Virginia, had relatives in Max Creek and thought that would be a cool name.

“Nowadays you can drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway and when you get to South Western, Va. you’ll cross over Max Creek. There’s a sign there that’s been stolen several times. We all made a pilgrimage one time when we played Virginia and visited Max Creek. There’s a Boy Scout camp there and we tried to rent it and hold a concert but they wouldn’t let us do it. We all bathed in Max Creek and drank from Max Creek,” Mercier said.

The first gig they played as Max Creek was Rider, Murawski and Reed at the Maple View Ballroom in Washington, Mass., which eventually became Woody’s Roadhouse owned in part by Woody Guthrie. That became a staple gig of Creek’s. The first gig that Mercier saw them play after seeing them rehearse was at St. Joseph’s College in Conn.

“There comes a point when you listen to Max Creek where you either catch the magic or you don’t. That was the night where I caught it and realized what a magical ensemble this was,” said Mercier. “I’ve been hooked ever since. Once a week I would be dancing to their shows at the Rocking Horse in Hartford.”

Taking off

The band started playing regularly throughout New England.

“It was a long slow ride,” Mercier decribed. “We never really had the feeling that it had totally taken off. It was interesting. We started touring down South and played bars that were similar to bars back home so we never really felt like we were doing anything outstanding. But it was taking off and we didn’t even know it. One time down South we opened up for a band called Widespread Panic. We were going to get together with Panic, Phish and Blues Traveler and trade gigs. They would open up for us and us for them. This was before Phish was big,” he said.

In 1992, after Scott Murawski had a few kids he decided that he needed to stop touring and get a “real” job. Creek backed out of the whole thing yet Panic, Phish and Blues Traveler continued on with it… the rest is history.

“All of a sudden we just stopped. It was a crucial moment,” he said. “But we have always loved what we do. Not going out and making it huge has helped us really appreciate what we do on stage. One beauty of not having a hit song is you’re not expected to play that freaking hit. Your world and identity doesn’t revolve around that hit and it really revolves around what everything that everyone does on stage. It’s constantly changing and morphing into something else all the time.”

There’s no expectations of what Creek will play. They don’t have a greatest hit and Mercier is happy about that. “It fostered a lot more freedom for us to be creative with what you’re doing. Of course the payoff is someone like Don McLean will die rich from ‘American Pie’ and we won’t. I think we will die creative.”

When you go to a Creek show, you never know what they’re going to bust out and neither do they.

“It either works for you or against you. All our shows are a stream of consciousness which makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Sometimes between songs you’ll hear us grind down to nothing while we figure out what to play next. The crowd is wondering what’s happening and if they should go use the bathroom but we’re just like ‘well we’re just figuring it out.’ Sometimes things just follow each other like clockwork and those shows are outstanding,” he said.

They never write a song list, ever. “Sometimes I like to go into a song of mine but start it differently. I don’t do it consciously but it changes the whole song. Rider will walk over to Scott and question what I’m doing,” he said with a laugh.

Over four decades of music

Forty-four years in the business is really impressive to keep it going that long. An agent told them recently that they’re an amazing band because they’re like the phoenix that rises from the ashes continually. He said that every time he thinks they’re gone, he turns around and there they are, stronger than ever.

“This becomes so much a part of our lives that we can’t imagine living without it,” Mercier said. “I think of the music, family, the people that we know, the people we’ve met it’s just a huge lifestyle that we’ve become accustomed to. To try and give that up would be like cutting off your arm. The very cool thing is the people that saw us in the 70s and 80s still are coming back to this day. For them it’s like coming back to the old hometown for Christmas. It’s the music and the community. It’s that magic thing that I discovered at St Joe’s. There’s something there that has a life of its own. It just moves you. It’s really a place to be. If music can ever be a place, this would be it.”

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