Mac Arnold’s humble musical beginnings were on a homemade guitar he made with his brother, which was built with a steel gas can, broomsticks, and screen wire. It’s a far cry from where he is today, enjoying a long and successful career as a leading light in blues music.
Arnold, who currently resides near Greenville, South Carolina, boasts an impressive resume - playing in bands with the great Muddy Waters and even starting out in a group alongside the legendary James Brown.
Arnold, who plays The Wormhole on April 5 with his band Plate Full O’ Blues, tells Connect that his upbringing influenced his path towards music immensely.
“My father was a cotton farmer. When he finished the farm in the fall of the year, he always went to Florida to pick oranges for the first part of the winter,” he says, adding that he was one of 13 siblings.
“One of my older brothers wanted to play guitar, but my father couldn’t afford a guitar. He was one of the deacons in the Southern Baptist church here, so they didn’t allow guitars in the house back in those days. My brother took one of his gasoline cans and built a gasoline can guitar. I remember it well but I was basically a toddler at that time, so I started playing his guitar and learned how to play on the gasoline can in 1946.”
Music quickly became a part of his life, and he later realized it was something that he could see himself doing for a living.
“Back then, we had to create all of our toys because of the situation. It was just a hobby. It was something that we did when all of us would get together with nieces and nephews, first cousins, and stuff like that,” he says.
Music would later take him to Chicago, where he ended up in Muddy Waters’ band.
“He was a very good musician, had a very great personality, was very kind to his musicians and was always concerned whether things were right for you,” he recalls.
“We played a lot of different venues around the country. We played the east coast all the way from Massachusetts down to Florida, and the west coast from Canada all the way down to San Diego. So it was a great ride, and some great memories.”
Arnold and Waters’ band at the time were later immortalized on the Authorized Bootleg album, recorded live in 1966 at the Fillmore in San Francisco but released decades later.
As for what keeps Arnold going after such a lengthy career, he says that music is just what he does.
“Blues is a part of me. I grew up listening to a radio station out of Nashville called WLAC, and all the blues entertainers were on that station. We used to listen to it all the way out in South Carolina, and that’s about seven hours from here,” he explains.
“I became a part of the blues. I went to Chicago and met a lot of entertainers there that were playing the blues that I’d heard on the radio. That was one of the reasons I went to Chicago - to try and meet these people and get a chance to play with them.”