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Mathus playing guitar with the Squirrel Nut Zippers in San Francisco, 2008
|Birth name||James H. Mathis Jr.|
|Also known as||Jim Mathus, Jas Mathus, James Mathus, Hambone Mathus|
Oxford, Mississippi, United States
|Genres||Jazz, Blues, Country|
|Occupation(s)||Entertainer, singer, instrumentalist, songwriter, tankerman|
|Instruments||Guitar, bass, drums, piano, trombone, mandolin, harmonica|
|Labels||Merge Records, Mammoth Records, Hollywood Records, Hill Country Records, Memphis International, Knockdown South, 219 Records|
|Associated acts||Johnny Vomit & The Dry Heaves, Squirrel Nut Zippers, North Mississippi Allstars, Jim Dickinson, Knockdown Society, Knockdown South, Buddy Guy, South Memphis String Band, Tri-State Coalition|
Early life and career
He was born in Oxford, Mississippi to Jimmy Mathis and Jeanella (Malvezzi) Mathis. His genealogy is of Scottish and Italian origin. His early life was filled with music, as his father and relatives were skilled instrumentalists and singers. He began joining the family musical circle at an early age and by age eight was proficient at mandolin. By 15, Mathus had been taught the rudiments of guitar, piano and harmony singing. The family's repertoire consisted of hundreds of folk, bluegrass, country blues and pre-recorded songs passed down through the Mathus and Byrd families. His father was an avid outdoorsman, traveler and also raised hunting dogs and horses. Thus, Mathus' early life consisted of hunting and fishing in the Corinth, Mississippi, area.
Mathus was involved in rock and roll in Corinth High School and was recorded first in 1983 at Sam Phillips Memphis Recording Service in Memphis, Tennessee, in a group called The End. He also helped found Johnny Vomit & The Dry Heaves, which was one of the first punk rock/experimental noise bands in the state of Mississippi.
He left home at age 17 to study philosophy at Mississippi State University and began writing songs and performing in the Starkville, Mississippi, area. He was recorded and records released in the mid-1980s under the name Cafe des Moines. In 1987, Mathus joined the Merchant Marines working as a deckhand and tankerman for the Canal Barge Company on the Mississippi, Illinois and Tennessee Rivers. He used his shore leave to travel the country, usually alone, camping and sleeping in his pickup truck. Upon a chance trip to North Carolina, he decided to move to the Chapel Hill area and began his music career in earnest.
Educating himself in the libraries of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Mathus learned Latin, studied theater, poetry, First Peoples culture, literature and medieval alchemy, as well as music. It was during this time that he changed the spelling of his last name from "Mathis" to "Mathus," to reflect his respect for his and his mother's Latin studies. He was first known in this area as a drummer, with his group - Metal Flake Mother.
Squirrel Nut Zippers
In 1993, Mathus met and soon married Katharine Whalen. Together they formed Squirrel Nut Zippers. This group utilized Mathus' knowledge of theater, early American music and leadership along with Whalen's fashion and vocal style. The group toured extensively throughout the 1990s, appearing at many prestigious events, including A Prairie Home Companion, the second inauguration of Bill Clinton, and the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Over the years they also performed on television programs, including The Tonight Show, Late Night with David Letterman, Conan O'Brien and Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve in 1998. Their albums have been awarded gold and platinum records by the Recording Industry Association of America, and Billboard chart history includes #18 for the album Perennial Favorites, and #27 for the album Hot.
Solo career and the Tri-State Coalition
In the mid-1990s, Mathus' frequent trips back to Mississippi led to his meeting Jim and Luther Dickinson, which resulted in Mathus writing and recording "(Jas. Mathus & His Knockdown Society) Play Songs for Rosetta". This was a benefit project to aid Mathus' childhood nanny, Rosetta Patton, daughter of Charley Patton. This rekindled Mathus' interest in Mississippi music and set him on a new path. During this time, Mathus also began recording and producing on his own.
The Squirrel Nut Zippers disbanded in 2000 amid disastrous lawsuits filed by ex-Zippers Tom Maxwell and Ken Mosher. Left penniless by these events and after a decade of relentless work, Mathus and Whalen divorced in 2003, at which time Mathus returned to his home state of Mississippi.
Simultaneously, Mathus was gaining recognition for his blues guitar knowledge through his work with Buddy Guy. Mathus toured with Guy off and on from 2001 to 2003. He also recorded with Guy on his album Sweet Tea, and the Grammy Award winning album Blues Singer.
Mathus started his first studio in his mother's hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 2003. Using antique ribbon microphones and tube pre-amp, Mathus set up Delta Recording Service in the abandoned Alcazar Hotel in downtown Clarksdale and recorded hundreds of artists there, including Elvis Costello. In 2007, Mathus relocated the studio to Como, Mississippi.
Through the mid- to late 2000s, Mathus performed hundreds of shows in the deep South, mostly in Mississippi. He became a regular and favorite performer at Morgan Freeman's Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and acted as bandleader for the National Public Radio broadcast of "Toast of the Nation" on New Year's Eve in 2004.
2010 was productive for Mathus. He wrote and produced a historical musical revue entitled "Mosquitoville," and he led the 11-person cast in performances for communities across the state of Mississippi. He also helped form the South Memphis String Band with long-time collaborators Luther Dickinson and Alvin Youngblood Hart and once again signing with a label - Memphis International Records. In this same year, Mathus married Jennifer White Pierce, an Arkansas actress and writer whose brother - guitarist for Mathus' Tri-State Coalition - had introduced the two.
Mathus and his current band, The Tri-State Coalition, released their album Confederate Buddha on Memphis International Records in May 2011. In 2012, alongside musician/producer Eric "Roscoe" Ambel, Mathus and Tri-State recorded the album White Buffalo at Delta Recording Services in February 2012. Mathus later dismantled and closed the studio in March.
Mathus released a six-song solo vinyl EP entitled Blue Light in July 2012 on Big Legal Mess Records. Mathus and Tri-State's White Buffalo was released on Fat Possum Records on January 22, 2013.
In 2014 Mathus released Dark Night Of The Soul, a southern rock album which he described as "less sepia tone, more ultrachrome."
In 2015 Mathus released Blue Healer, which he described as "pretty hard hitting" southern rock with elements of psychedelia. Mathus attributes the harder sound partly to his new drummer, Bronson Tew, as well as lead guitar appearances from Eric Ambel.
|Plays Songs for Rosetta||1997||Mammoth Records||Jas. Mathus and His Knock-Down Society|
|National Antiseptic||2001||Mammoth Records||James Mathus & His Knockdown Society|
|Stop and Let the Devil Ride||2003||Fast Horse/Ryko||James Mathus Knockdown Society|
|Knockdown South||2005||Knockdown South Records||Jimbo Mathus|
|Live at Ground Zero Blues Club||2005||Knockdown South Records||Jimbo Mathus & Friends|
|Old Scool Hot Wings||2006||219 Records||Jas. Mathus & Knockdown South|
|Jimmy the Kid||2009||Hill Country Records||Jimbo Mathus|
|Confederate Buddha||2011||Memphis International Records||Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition|
|Blue Light||2012||Big Legal Mess Records||Jimbo Mathus|
|White Buffalo||2013||Fat Possum Records||Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition|
|Dark Night of the Soul||2014||Fat Possum Records||Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition|
|Blue Healer||2015||Fat Possum Records||Jimbo Mathus|
|Wayward Sons||2016||Nugene Records||Ian Siegal & Jimbo Mathus|
|Band of Storms||2016||Big Legal Mess Records||Jimbo Mathus|
|Incinerator||2019||Big Legal Mess Records||Jimbo Mathus|
- Menconi, David (May 14, 2006). "A Squirrel Nut Zippers opera". The News & Observer. Retrieved May 14, 2006.
- Rovi Corporation. "Squirrel Nut Zippers Billboard Chart History". Retrieved 26 April 2012.
- Hal Horowitz, Mike Jordan &. "Charley's Daughter".
- Mark Gresser and Big Joe V. "Interview: James "Jimbo" Mathus". Retrieved 26 April 2012.
- Stolle, Roger. "Guide to Today's Delta Blues Musicians". Retrieved 26 April 2012.
- Hlavaty, Craig. "Jimbo Mathus". Retrieved 26 April 2012.
- "Jimbo Mathus to release Blue Light vinyl EP this July". HonestTune.com. May 2, 2012. Archived from the original on 17 June 2012. Retrieved 17 June 2012.
- from an interview on episode 188 of the Americana Music Show, released April 21, 2014.
- from an interview on Americana Music Show #249, published June 2, 2015.
- Official website
- Menconi, David (May 14, 2006). "A Squirrel Nut Zippers opera: It started with happy jazz in Triangle clubs. It ended with lawyers, divorce, egos and debt". The News & Observer.
- Mathus, Jimbo. "Rosetta and Me." The Oxford American. 46.