Mama Juke — proud of their recipe for New York gumbo

Mama Juke

Mama Juke’s website bio says it all, as it describes the band’s sound as “A gumbo of New Orleans influenced blues, blue-eyed soul, funk, and folk.”

That should be enough to get anyone in the door at Rockwood Music Hall’s Stage 2 on October 20, and once you hear their first album, Live at Unit J, you’ll be in for the long haul, which is music to the ears of the New York four-piece, whose origin was pure luck.

After meeting as longtime members of the NYC music scene, Elijah Bridges, Amos Rose, Pete O’Neill and Jon Wert were asked to help another band out by filling in for them at the East Village Social back in 2015. That one-off Tuesday night gig turned into a residency, and Mama Juke was born.

“They ended up keeping us on, and we still play it two years later,” said O’Neill. “And since then, the number of gigs and type of gigs has just exploded. Before the band started, I was playing around 80 shows a year, and that number, after the first year with the band, jumped by a hundred shows.”

“It felt great playing with these guys from the get-go,” added Wert. “I think it started out just as sort of a jobbing band, just doing some gigs and making some music together and playing for fun.”

Now it’s something a lot bigger, with the potential for the quartet to go even further.

“The crowd response has been great,” O’Neill said. “I joked to the guys before, I don’t think we’ve ever played a bad show. (Laughs) The crowds always seem to get into it and always give us so much love and it keeps us wanting to throw another log on the fire.”

And if they needed any more convincing, an opportunity to go to France while multi-instrumentalist Rose played a residency there showed them that wherever they go, music and the arts are still needed and appreciated, a reminder that is sometimes lost in the hustle for the next gig in the Big Apple.

“We were different from a lot of bands there, so they liked it and we got a very enthusiastic response,” said Wert of their European jaunt. “We actually ended up selling a lot of albums there.”

“Our experience of playing in France was that it was different from playing in New York City,” O’Neill added. “You could go out into the streets and play and not get anybody to tell you to stop. (Laughs) The people really loved it and there was this thirst for art. Here, just trying to get your hustle to make sure you can pay the bills, sometimes it’s easy to forget about the arts. Sometimes it’s easy to just think of them as something that’s going to hurt your bottom line if you go out and check out a show rather than keeping your nose to the grindstone. Over there it was a little bit more relaxed, so it was easy to win people over. And that was a refreshing thing. We love New York City, it’s the greatest city in the world, but sometimes it’s tough to get an audience and get people to pay attention. So it makes you work that much harder at it.”

Working hard is the default setting for each member of Mama Juke. This week alone saw them scheduled for four gigs before they get on stage at Rockwood. But as far as O’Neill is concerned, that’s just the start.

“It makes me want to work even more,” he said. “Every time we get one of these little successes or one new milestone, it’s like, ‘All right guys, we met three times a week this week and look at all the great stuff we’ve done. Let’s meet five times a week moving forward so we can get even more.’ The more we seem to be putting into it, the more we’re getting out. It’s encouraging and is pushing us to get even further ahead. Hopefully, this album is going to catapult us to the next rung of the ladder.”

Mama Juke plays Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 on Friday, October 20. For more information, click here or here

For more information on Mama Juke, click here

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