By Michelle de Carion
Slip Mahoney has been playing rockabilly and American roots music for 15 years in South Florida, and he has no plans of stopping anytime soon. Although the Rockabilly music scene has struggled in popularity, veteran local band, Slip and the Spinouts with upright bassist Noah Hall and drummer Tony Tomei, isn't hurting for gigs. They are living the musician's dream of playing music full-time.
New clubs like the Vintage Tap in Delray Beach, as well as longstanding businesses like the 4:30 Boardroom Bar, continue to eagerly seek out Slip and the Spinouts for its incredible energy on stage and musical talent. Not only is the band's fan base growing in Florida, but it's also been picked up for shows around the country. This year, Slip and the Spinouts played a private event at the House of Blues in Boston with the Dropkick Murphy.
With an album coming out in January, we thought it was a good time to catch up with Slip Mahoney and ask him about the live music scene in Florida, what his plans are for the future, and why he just won't stop playing roots music. Slip's next performance will be at the Mai Kai on Halloween night. He'll be the dead Elvis on stage.
When we met him at Saltwater Brewery on a beautiful October afternoon, he'd left his canine companion, Saxon, at his home in Delray Beach. Slip would never leave Saxon longer than that, he stubbornly refuses to do a tour around the country. "How could I tour with a German Sheppard?" he asked. Though we never got that question answered, we did find out a bit about what the musician thinks about the future of rockabilly and touring with big instruments.
New Times: What is the state of the rockabilly music scene in Florida right now?
Slip Mahoney: When I first started, I would say that in the entire state of Florida it was a lot bigger, mostly in the Tampa area, a little bit in Orlando.
In South Florida there wasn't that much; it was basically just me, and that was 10 to 15 years ago. I knew in order for me to play consistently, I had to do cover songs that people would recognize, like Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Elvis. But honestly, down in South Florida, rockabilly isn't that big. Most of my fans are everyday-type people who just love my music and have fun at my shows. So if you talk about the rockabilly scene in general, it's gone down. But for me personally and my band, it has not gone down.
We are still playing all the time; I'm still getting new fans. People say they like us a lot. I have swing dancers that always come out and dance -- I call them the swing kids. When you play for a group of people who just want to dance, that's good for the musicians because we play better and we perform better. My whole goal behind this band was to get people to have fun and dance to all the songs.
What is it like for an American roots band to play in South Florida where the culture is more mainstream, pop, and club-oriented?
It's a little bit more difficult, but a lot of new clubs have actually been calling me because they've seen us by walking by and liked us. I've been lucky because I've been doing this for 15 years. I play every weekend, and I play where mainstream bands play at, but we're different and no one else down here is doing what we are doing. That's why I try to incorporate music that people identify with, like the Stray Cats, and then I throw my original songs into the mix of it.
What is the state of the live music scene in South Florida right now?
I would say it's very good. I know a lot of bands in different genres, and believe it or not we are lucky to have a lot of paying gigs down here. I know a guy out in Colorado, Chuck Hughes from the Hillbilly Hellcats, who has a very big rockabilly band. He's been doing the same thing I've been doing, and he can't get any work out in Colorado. He told me, "You guys are lucky. We can't do anything like that out here. We do gigs, but it's only like once a month now." So we are very fortunate to have a great live music scene down here.
You recently played at the House of Blues in Boston. How did you get that gig?
Over the years, we always get these people that like us a lot, and they say, "We love you guys! Give me your card and we'll do this for you, or give you that money," and nothing ever comes through. Well this Boston gig was the one time that something actually came through.
We were playing at the Tropic Cay Hotel on Fort Lauderdale beach on a Sunday afternoon, and these guys from Vegas were walking by and they heard us and walked into the hotel. One guy came up to us and said, "Hey you guys are awesome! Tell the whole bar we are going to buy everyone a round of drinks. We are here from Vegas and celebrating." We played an extra half hour long that day; it was a huge crowd. We got done playing and the guy, Tommy White, the head of the Vegas Laborers Union for the past 10 years, said we want you to play at the House of Blues in Boston.
We worked out a deal, but I still thought it was a spoof. Two weeks later, I got a call from his secretary. I said, "Wow this is real!" We also found out the Dropkick Murphys were going to do an acoustic set before us.
It was a private event to raise money for construction workers out of work. The Mayor of Boston was there, the Boston Police bagpipes were there. We did an hour and a half set, it was a mixed crowd, and they all loved us. People danced to every song we played. We got a lot of compliments. It was amazing. It was so good that they want to fly us out to Hawaii next year. The only thing is how are we going to get an upright bass to Hawaii?
You are producing a new album. What can we expect on it?
It has some of my best originals, but it also has songs on it that you'd think I wouldn't normally do. It's all roots music, but different styles. There is one song I wrote called "That's country" where I make fun of modern country music. I got that from reading an article about how to write a country song. So I wrote a country song with all the cliché words in it. But I also said some funny things in it too. It's on my website.
A couple of the songs on the CD have the banjo and the fiddle in it, which I don't normally do live but I did it in the studio. We are doing a couple cover songs that people will want to dance to live. It's all different styles, not just rockabilly.
"I'm Gone Down the Crossroads" is another new song I wrote a couple weeks ago. It's a country blues song. It has to do with the phrase "the devil made me do it" and all the bad things that happen in life. It came from some things that happened to me in my past. So it's about trying to avoid the devil and the things you try to get away from.
I'm going to try to get the CD done by January, but there are already some new songs you can download on my website.
Back in the '80s, you say you stopped playing rockabilly and American roots music because no one seemed interested. Why didn't you just give up at that point? Why did you pick it up again?
After I stopped playing in the rock 'n' roll band in the mid-'80s, I took a break, and then I started doing the hard rock Gothic scene, influenced by the Cult. I even grew out my hair real long. I did that for a few years, but then I stopped because I was tired of dealing with difficult band members.
Then one night, I went to the Poorhouse downtown and I saw the Retro Rockets. Back in 1998, they were doing rock 'n' roll songs, and even the Stray Cats. People were having a good time. And I thought, "Hey I can do that! I used to do that all the time." I was excited to see that people still like this music.
So two weeks later, I joined the Retro Rockets, and then two months later they kicked me out for offering too many suggestions. (Laughs) That's when I realized I should be my own band leader, and that's when I started Slip and the Spinouts.
What would you say to a beginning band in South Florida who is struggling?
I have noticed that a lot of young bands tend to go to the originals right away. Even though many of them may turn out to be talented songwriters, they tend to put down cover bands. Even though I used to do that when I was younger, later in life, I realized when you learn how to play cover songs from other artists, no matter what genre, it teaches you how to play better and it helps your songwriting also. You learn to play better, how to play different styles... it makes you grow.
Even to this day, after playing guitar my whole life since I was 10, I'm still growing just by learning new stuff and listening to different styles and trying something new. So don't be afraid to learn new things just because "it's not cool."
What do you want people to gain when they listen to your music and come to your shows?
I want them to have fun. I want them to dance, and enjoy us a lot and come back and see us again. I always tell people that we sound better live. The CD doesn't give us justice. We feed off the energy of the crowds.
Mai-Kai Annual Halloween Party with Slip and the Spinouts. Friday, October 31, at the Mai-Kai, 3599 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. No cover. Visit maikai.com.
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