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Seminal local band regroups better than ever
SOMETIME AROUND 1984, I BECAME AWARE THAT ORIGInal music actually existed in Chattanooga. Yeah, I know it existed well before that, but I’d only seen the cover bands playing marathon sets at places like Yesterday’s, and being an aspiring musician myself, I had met many of the musicians who plied that trade.
So while I respected these bands’ talents, I knew that scene was not for me. I had become influenced by the punk/new wave/underground movements and in 1984, in the South, especially in Chattanooga, there wasn’t much evidence such things existed. Nevertheless, that was the year I made a crucial friendship in my musical education, and I was introduced to a very special bunch of eccentrics who called themselves Musical Moose.
Believe it or not, that first introduction came at, of all places, The Pickle Barrel. Tucked away in the corner, an abbreviated version of the Moose ran through a selection of the funkiest, jazziest, wildest, and most verbally intriguing songs I had ever heard in a local bar.
After that, I was hooked. The Musical Moose regularly packed the old Brass Register on Georgia Avenue on many a weekend, and I’m pretty sure they were the only all-original band to do such a thing. The music was fun, danceable, yet also challenging and sophisticated. The band, made up of Tommy Cotter on guitar, the enigmatically-named Zeno, and the rhythm section of brothers Bob and Mike Courter, had by this point already been together for some time, even having taken up residence in New York City in the late ’70s, and of course played the famous CBGB’s. So to me, these guys were rock stars!
A band that actually wrote and performed their own material? And talk about musicianship! All members of the Moose were virtuosos, both instrumentally and vocally, and everyone sang and wrote the material. Truly exceptional!
So—flash forward 30 years to the present and guess who’s back? Musical Moose has made a return to Chattanooga stages, now as a three-piece (unfortunately Zeno, whose given name was Bob Wilkerson, passed away a few years ago) and they are arguably even stronger as a band.
They’ve tucked away a brace of local gigs, including the Riverbend Festival, but have also invaded hipster meccas JJ’s Bohemia and Sluggo’s North, thus introducing their still-unique music to kids who weren’t even born yet when I first heard them, and by all accounts, they are falling right back into it as effortlessly as slipping into a favorite pair of jeans.
Yes, the band is older and grayer perhaps, but like drummer Bob Courter told me at some length recently, full of excitement about their reunion, “The new Moose is the best Moose ever.” Naturally, that’s just the way he should feel about it.
And that’s one of the coolest things about this band. They still sound fresh, alive, and still very iconoclastic. Periphery comparisons abound. They play funk, but it’s not the hyper-macho, white-boy funk of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They play jazz rock, but again, that label is misleading.
Eh, sorta. There just isn’t a band quite like them. Their website calls it progressive funk rock, and I guess that will have to do until you can get to a show and figure it out for yourself.
Musical Moose are currently in the midst of something of a creative renaissance. They are working on a new release of brand new Moose songs, more live performances are looming, and their new website at www.musicalmooseband.com contains loads of cool pictures, videos, and a selection of past songs from culled from their two albums Moose on a Hot Tin Roof (1985) and Gone with the Moose (1996) available for download including the infamous Moose on the Loose at CBGBs 1979.
I’d like to also make clear the point that Musical Moose are important from another aspect. Chattanooga today enjoys a diverse and exciting live music community with a lot of truly interesting all-original music being produced by a wealth of bands and performers, and in a certain respect, we owe this current proliferation of acts to the bands like the Moose who pioneered a music scene here in the first place.
Without their efforts to show the club owners there could be a market for bands performing all-original material, there wouldn’t even be a JJ’s Bohemia. And by equal turns, there wouldn’t be a current crop of bands with the guts to play original music if there hadn’t been someone to show us it could be done.
Long may you wave, Musical Moose. We’re all the better for your existence.