CELEBRATING FIFTY YEARS OF MAX CREEK
In those rare instances that a band reaches its fifth decade, it’s usually a result of stardom. It’s easy enough to keep things together when each member has a jet and techs on retainer and the world tour rolls around every few years. But that’s not how Max Creek has done it. In 40+ years Max Creek has been small, big, regionally-huge, medium, and any other size one can think of; they’ve never graced the cover of Rolling Stone, but you’d be hard pressed to find a music fan in the Northeast that hadn’t heard of them.
Well then, how’d they do it?
If you knew Max Creek you’d answer simply, “they just did.” Creek lacks pretense; there is no hip style or genre-title that can define them. From the beginning they’ve mixed anything they liked—rock, country, reggae, soul, jazz, calypso—in with their own great songs and it’s all just come out sounding like Creek. As such they’ve never been the hot item in the flavor-of-the-year club yet they’ve also never gone out of style. Moreover, Creek exudes confidence but lacks ego; each member is an incredible musician but that’s never been what it was about.
But that is all things Creek is not, and what Creek is is far more important. The band is certainly joyous, and their stage is full of smiles and laughter, both during and between songs. All one has to do is glance into the crowd to see that the feeling is contagious. Creek is also much more engaging than the average band, sculpting lengthy shows on-the-fly from their 200+ song catalog with rockers, ballads, deep jams and crowd sing-alongs all tucked into their perfect places. And Creek is, most definitely, a family. 40-odd years in, the audience is a multi-generational stew; it’s not uncommon to witness old-school Creek Freeks getting down with their teenage (or older!) kids.
Creek itself is multigenerational. Though the “front line” of guitarist Scott Murawski, keyboardist Mark Mercier and bassist John Rider has remained intact since the mid-70s, the current drums and percussion team of Bill Carbone and Jamemurrell Stanley weren’t even born when Max Creek was founded.
The History of Max Creek
Excerpts From an Interview with Mark Mercier
Max Creek was formed in 1971 as a quartet with, believe it or not, an accordion player, and went to a trio almost immediately – guitar – Dave Reed, fellow Hartt School student bass- John Rider, and drummer Bob Gosselin. Their first big show was at Arlo Guthrie’s Mapleview Ballroom in Washington, MA (later to become “Woody’s”) and they settled into a steady series of shows at the Rocking Horse in Hartford at a time when the social consciousness scene was taking hold pretty much everywhere, and Woodstock was fresh in everyone’s minds. They latched on to that idea, and stylistically adopted the Country/Folk/Rock genre as their own, both from a cover tune aspect as well as within their original tunes. They also discovered almost immediately that “jamming” – taking tunes into unplanned directions, was more fun than doing them the same way every night.
A 15 year old trumpet student of Dave’s, Scott Murawski, who was also a guitar whiz, was asked to join, and lasted a few months, when he was kicked out of the Rocking Horse for drinking a beer onstage while underage. They went on as a trio, and over the following Christmas break Dave became ill with appendicitis. Coming from a family of Christian Scientists, he could not go to the hospital until it had burst and it was almost too late. To play an upcoming series of shows, John asked former roommate at Hartt (the first person he met at school) keyboardist Mark Mercier, on Christmas break at home in Maine with his family, to fill in. He came back early, and after a couple of very intense rehearsals, played the shows. Dave recovered, Mark stayed on, and shortly thereafter Scott rejoined (his age was never discussed with the club owners). Dave then left to pursue a solo career, and the basic band as it is known today was formed. They discovered female singer Amy Fazzano as a waitress in Hartford (she was singing while cleaning the bathrooms after a gig), and later asked percussionist Rob Fried to join as well.
The band toured extensively, playing as many as 200 shows a year and were known to play to as many as 1300 fans every week at two venues, the Living Room and Lupo’s, both in Providence. When Max Creek went on tour, Phish would occasionally fill in at the Living Room until their return. On a couple of their forays down to Georgia they co-billed with and were taught about the secrets of Jagermeister by Widespread Panic.
In 1992, Scott, having recently been married and starting a family, decided to take a step back from touring, and the rest of the band did likewise. As time went on, the playing schedule picked up, and the band decided that two-week long trips to places like the West Coast and Colorado were better than a steady regimen of touring.
Amy left to get married, and Rob Fried, on hiatus from the Band, sadly passed away in 2007. Bob Gosselin left in the early ‘80s and was replaced by Boston drummer Greg DeGuglielmo who stayed until 1992. He was replaced by CT drummer Greg Vasso who stayed until 1996 when he departed and then another CT drummer, Scott Allshouse, took over. In 2012 drummer Bill Carbone and percussionist Jamemurrell Stanley took charge of the batterie.
One of the highlights of every year from its inception is Camp Creek – a weekend-long camping festival that has happened, with interruptions, every year since 1983. The concept was new to the East Coast back then, and that year we did two of them – the first being August 6 and 7 in Granby CT, and the second was in Bowdoinham, ME in a field in back of a salt water farm right on the marshes of the bay. We have, since then, taken it to several places including the Arrowhead Ranch in New York, the Stepping Stone Ranch in Rhode Island, the Indian Lookout Country Club in Duanesburg NY, and, after a few years without one back to ILCC in 2014.
I think that the reason we are still together is that we spared ourselves the rigors of the road later when it would be more physically taxing, and each show at that point became something to look forward to. We never lost musical freshness, gave ourselves the room to be individually creative with new ideas with as little judgment as we could muster, and, honestly, we sublimated like crazy. A policy of non-confrontation, a la Robert Hunter’s rules of Rock and Roll (to paraphrase: “don’t confront – talk about all absent parties when not there“) became the rule of the day, and it became understood that although this went on, it was temporary and we all still love(d) each other. It sure gave us an outlet, though. Dr. Phil would never approve.
The band has become like the home that we return to when we need to feel comfortable, creative, and can be ourselves – like going home for Thanksgiving or the holidays. I believe that one great attraction that our audience feels is this precise thing, and the band has become more than a musical entity – but a way of life for literally thousands. One of John Rider’s stated reasons for starting the band was to “give people that might not be accepted anywhere else (kind of like ourselves) a place to be. For any one of us to stop now would be like cutting off a needed limb – it’s unimaginable.