Mojo Stew Steps Out One More Time

Apr 6, 2017

Mojo Stew (L-R) John Maier, Monica Morris, Michael Hill, Bill Porter, Garard Montague.
Credit Paul Beaty

Blues, R&B, and rock were stamped on Mojo Stew's calling card from the mid 1980's through the early 90's. The central Illinois quintet that toured the Midwest extensively and appeared on Natalie Cole's "Big Break" show reunites for a show with The Mechanics and The Something Brothers April 8 at The Castle Theater in Bloomington. Guitarist Bill Porter said the reunion show has jogged fond memories from the band's heyday some 30 years ago.

"Being able to see Nashville, that was such a music city," said Porter. "Then we went out to Los Angeles, that's got a different scene.  We played a lot in St. Louis.  You know the blues has a whole different kind of sound there. It was just neat traveling around and meeting different people and finding out the way they did things."

He chuckled recalling how bass player Michael Hill and saxophonist Garard Montague would listen to Frank Sinatra while laughing in the back seat.

"And our drummer John Maier, we called him 'Kingpin' because he was the leader, he had a bag phone and we thought that was really cool because he could talk to our manager when we were on the phone," said Porter.

All five original members will be at the reunion show. Porter, Hill, Montague, and Maier will be joined by vocalist Monica Morris, who came in from her home in Indiana. Maier flew in from California, while Porter, Hill, and Montague still live in central Illinois. Porter said rehearsals and swapping old stories has been fun.

"Hearing that sound that only five unique individuals can make, and having (sound man) Don there to help with the engineering and mixing ... it was really a nice flashback," said Porter. "And that's what we think this whole evening is going to be - almost like a big high school reunion where we're going to see all our old friends from the 80's."

Not unlike fellow performers The Something Brothers, Mojo Stew's arrow pointed up at the time, and they came close to signing with a few record labels. Porter said the band's inability to settle on a sound probably kept them from reaching that final step, though Alligator Records put them on bills with many of their blues artists including Joanna Connor, the late Lonnie Brooks, and Big Daddy Kinsey & The Kinsey Report.

"It was so neat to be part of the whole Chicago music scene. But what was lacking? They couldn't categorize us. We had the funk thing going on and we had the blues thing going on. But we didn't want to be limited to one format or style. Ultimately we couldn't decide which direction to go.  Just be a blues band, which was working, or try to aspire bigger now that we had a taste of L.A. and the Natalie Cole show. Ironically, after we broke up, Dave Matthews comes on the scene with a saxophone player and funky ahh ... doggone it," laughed Porter.

Mojo Stew, The Mechanics, and The Something Brothers all reunite April 8 at The Castle Theater in a show that will also serve as a benefit for Denny De Bourbon, who managed and/or booked all three bands. Doors will open at 7:00 p.m. with music starting at 8:00 p.m.

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