Sunday - Sep 18, 2022 7:30PM
Sitting behind the wheel of his pickup truck, James H. Jimbo Mathus was crisscrossing America in search of something. Not for anything he could put his hands on, necessarily, and not for anything he could see. But he thought he would recognize it when he found it. At 19 years old, he was looking for a place to begin.
His life to that pointhis youth spent in Corinth and Clarksdale; his brief stay at Mississippi State University, where he dabbled in philosophy; and his stint traveling Old Man River with the Merchant Marineswere all preamble to the real Jimbo Mathus, the person he began looking for sometime between thumbing a borrowed paperback of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and dropping out of college.
The ingredients were all there, thanks in part to Mathuss father, who taught him the ropes of bluegrass, honky-tonk and gospel music. Not to mention the blues he absorbed on visits to Clarksdale where his grandfather, Tony Malvezzi, ran the Conerly shoe store chain. He motored through California, New York and Alaska, using his time off from the river barges to find a place where he fit in. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was funky and Southern enough, he thought, and it had a real music scene supported by local record labels and the University of North Carolina student body.
Built around an unlikely but infectious melding of American music styles, Squirrel Nut Zippers drew from be-bop jazz, bluegrass, Dixieland, swing and rock n roll and became a surprise hit in the mid-1990s. The bands 1996 album, Hot, sold more than a million copies in the U.S. alone, and the 1997 follow-up, Perennial Favorites, posted another half a million in sales. The Zippers played the White House, made the late-night television circuit and toured the world.
Since those days in the early 2000s, Mathus has released more than a dozen solo albums and reactivated Squirrel Nut Zippers, which has become a popular draw across the U.S. His latest release, These 13 , is a collaboration with former Zippers bandmate-turned-solo artist Andrew Bird.