Artists You Should Know: Mojo Symphony

December 17, 2009 

The last time once-popular local band Mojo Symphony played a gig, the Wild Blue Yonder was the place to see shows.

It was 1986 then, and in its time the bluegrass-meets-reggae band would draw crowds to the Wild Blue and The Olympic Tavern.

Mojo Symphony returns for a special benefit show at 8 p.m. Saturday at Full Circle Brewing Co., 620 F St., with Dave Spencer on guitar and lead vocals, Don Landers on fiddle, Brad Mercier and Renee Caffee playing percussion, Roger Perry on bass and Point Anderson playing mandolin.

We chatted with Anderson to learn more about the band's history and its return.

What brought you guys out of hibernation? A friend of ours, Linda Johnson, a big fan and great human being, needs help. Her son Scott Johnson has an extremely serious case of West Nile virus. He's paralyzed and the bills are piling up. This is a benefit show for her. We talked about doing a reunion five or 10 years ago and it never happened. But Don Landers got us all together to actually do it this time.

How has the band's lineup changed? We have four of the five original players, so the lineup hasn't changed as much as the band has. We were a "newgrass" band back then, but played more and more reggae tunes as time went on. We've had five or six different bass players. We added Sandy Spencer on vocals and Renee on percussion. Later on there were versions with drums and electric guitar.

Describe your sound, for somebody who's never heard you guys. We're an acoustic group playing reggae tunes. It's kind of a blend of the bluegrass chop and the reggae skank. It's highly rhythmic and strangely danceable for a band without drums.

What were the band's shows like back in the day? Wow. We had an interesting mix of folkies and deadheads and political activists. And they all partied hard. The bars had to stock up when we played weekend nights. There'd be 50 or 60 people in a circle in front of the Oly, then we'd come in and start, "Smokin' my Ganja" and the dance floor would just fill up and go all night. Those were really fun days.

How do you think it will be different this time?

Well, we're all a lot older now, so I think the partying will be toned down a bit. But we were a big Tower District family and it'll be great to see the whole gang again. It's one of the best things about the doing the gig.

Is this a one-time thing? Or will we see the band around more often now? No, I think it's a one-time deal. We're spread all over the state, doing different things so I can't see us playing a show like this again.

Know a local musician that more people should be familiar with? Send the who and why to Mike Osegueda, mosegueda@fresnobee.com.

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