Who’s your mama? Always fronted by the driving redheaded fireball Kendal Bush, everyone knows who their Mama is. Blues band Mama Love And The Motivators have been playing out around southern New Hampshire, northern Massachusetts, and wherever they can find gigs beyond that for about four years now. Initially calling themselves Mama Love And The Wicked Sons, the name changed as personnel shifts continued until their current line up was finalized.
Ms. Bush, a.k.a. Mama Love, took time out of her busy schedule to discuss the band as well as their opening slot at Barnful Of Blues Festival in New Boston, New Hampshire next month, on August 6th.
Bush’s musical alter ego came about as a way for her to distinguish her music career from her professional photography business. “It was just kind of a joke, really, but, it works,” Mama Love/Kendal Bush said.
In the years leading up to forming her own band, Bush could be seen singing and performing as a guest at area blues jams, from New Hampshire to Boston to North Shore to South Shore. Eventually, she felt it was time to put a band together.
“When you go to a jam, it can be a lot of fun, but, sometimes your creative needs aren’t really fulfilled,” she said. “I wanted an opportunity to hone in some songs that we all wanted to do well, wanted to play better than off the cuff, wanted to give songs our own spin. There’s a lot of songs that we do or that I do that I don’t necessarily do the straight up cover version of.”
For the Johnny Cash classic “Folsom Prison Blues” Bush has her Mama Love drummer Mat Marzola play a Bo Diddley beat to it. She cannot necessarily ask a drummer to do that at a jam, especially five minutes after she meets him. “The band is an opportunity to work with people that you can develop a comfort level with, that you can work on songs with, that you can have a certain quality of sound,” Bush said.
Bush said that her current lineup of Mama Love And The Motivators are blues musicians who stretch their sound into soul and R&B, as the band members have an affinity for that kind of music as well.
“There is a very strong blues presence in the band I play with,” she said. “I like all kinds of music. I would like to have a wider variety of music that we play. Of course, the blues sound that the band has would shape those songs into something that would fit with the rest of our set. Now that we’ve been together for a while, and we’re comfortable together, that’s the next phase for us, to bring some songs that aren’t traditional blues songs into our repertoire and have them jibe and not stick out.”
Bush, as well as her alter ego Mama Love, enjoys blues and all of its musical offshoots, because it hangs tough. “It stands the test of time,” she said. “A lot of songs that are in the blues, R&B, soul (categories) are songs that have completely stood the test of time.” To illustrate her point, Bush alluded to an Eric Preston appearance at Manchester’s Strange Brew Tavern this past weekend in which Preston started playing Marvin Gaye songs.
“I got up and sang back ups for them,” she said. “I’ve never performed those songs but I know them. I’ve heard them a million times. In my head, I could hear the back up parts.”
Bush pointed to the stark contrast to the music of today. No matter how different genres like pop and Hip Hop are from blues, they still have elements of older music. “There’s these nuggets of the Hip Hop and pop that are directly taken from old R&B and old soul and old blues,” the Mama said. “It shows how strong these roots Americana music is, so many generations later it still finds its way into music that’s completely detached from what it used to be but still has these little nuggets of history.”
Bush noted that at a recent Bradford Common Music Series appearance in Bradford, Massachusetts there were at least three generations of music fans up and dancing to her “older” music. “The Common was full and it was so cool to see,” she said. “You’d see the little kids and the parents and the older brothers and sisters and the grandparents. It might not be their favorite type of music, but they could all relate to it. I think that’s pretty cool because I can’t get my daughter to listen to anything that is not electronic and completely computerized.”
Next month, Bush’s Mama Love And The Motivators will play what’s possibly their biggest gig yet. They will be opening the Barnful Of Blues Festival in New Boston, New Hampshire on August 6, 2016. They were invited to perform by an official from Granite State Blues Society which produces and presents the Barnful festival each August, always the first Saturday of the month. Bush will sing the national anthem before kicking off the event with her band, Mama Love And The Motivators being one of a handful of bands that will be opening for headliner Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson.
“I think it’s awesome,” she said. “I’m excited. I’m excited that we’re starting the day off. I’m excited that the headliner is Luther, that we get to play on the same stage as Luther. He’s awesome and just a really good guy and incredible musician. So that’s fun. I live right down the street from New Boston, so it’s nice to play in our own backyard.”
(Barnful Of Blues will also be presenting Mr. Nick And The Dirty Tricks, Downtown Dave And The Deep Pockets, The Installers with the House Wrecking Horns, Delanie Pickering, Veronica Lewis, and Roxanne & The Voodoo Rockers). Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson is a 74 year old Grammy winning blues artist who had worked with blues greats like Muddy Waters).
“Every time I see Luther, he just makes me smile,” Bush said. “I look at Luther and his energy and it just permeates. He has an incredible sort of magnetism to him. I’ve taken pictures of Luther and I have to say that as a professional photographer, there’s always a ratio of good pictures that I really like versus the pictures that get tossed into the edit basket. Luther is so incredibly photogenic. I think that spirit that is just really internal to him just comes through. He’s a legend.”
Bush and her Mama Love And The Motivators have worked with Johnson before. He shows up with some regularity at the Thursday night Soul Repair Jam at La Mia Casa in Peterborough, New Hampshire where Mama Love And The Motivators are the hosts and house band.
“He’s awesome” Bush exclaimed. “He comes in occasionally. Sometimes he just comes in to listen and sometimes he gets up and plays and sometimes he plays and sings and sometimes he just sings. He’s great.”
Currently in the Mama Love And The Motivators line up is bassist Mickey Maguire. “He’s played with Willie J and Kantu. He’s hairy. He really is the glue of the band. He brought all of us together.” Maguire brought guitarist and local blues scene veteran Howard Randall into the fold after working with the Derry, New Hampshire six stringer at One Big Soul jam at Manchester’s Strange Brew Tavern. The band also includes drummer Matt Marzola, keyboardist Paul Ladeau, and second guitarist Keith Perry. Their ages range from 19 to 69. Each band member has his own take on the success they’ve been finding in Mama Love. For bassist Mickey Maguire, it’s all about the music.
“Playing music for people who like it,” Maguire said. Maguire created the name Motivators for a project of his own while he was playing bass for a newly created incarnation of the Kantu Blues Band. “When Kendal and I got together and the band changed, it changed from Wicked Sons to Motivators.”
Mama Love And The Motivators always allows the band to play anything that the band feels like playing, the low end man said. “It’s blues-based but not strictly, straight up, always blues. Everybody in the band is sober. That’s a first in the blues business. Everybody is serious about the music. It’s not strictly a money driven thing. We’re all in it for the same heart, the same passion, the same thing.”
Keyboardist Paul Nadeau enjoys the interpersonal connection he has among his fellows. “I like the camaraderie,” Nadeau said. “It’s more like a little family than a band. Everybody is looking out for each other, a close knit group. And obviously, I like the music that we’re playing.”
The keyboardist also enjoys the freedom that comes with playing in this band. “Nobody is saying ‘This is how this is gonna go.’ It’s a loose knit, a lot of adlibbing. You have the basic plan for any particular song, but if I or someone else wants to put in something of their own during the song, it’s perfectly fine.”
Guitarist Keith Perry enjoys being one of the younger members. “Every time we play, every time we practice, I’m always learning,” he said. This Mama Love band allows Perry to step away from his usual genre, jazz. “You have to play in a different style with this band. It’s a different opening to a different genre for me.”
Drummer Mat Marzola feels similarly. “Making the crowd dance, “he said,” that the band is invested in the audience instead of just playing what we want to play, to react to what’s going on around us.”
Marzola, too, enjoys the lack of limitations. “I’ll say the same thing,” the drummer said, “just the kind of freedom and the music.”
Bush would like to see her and her band get more involved with writing and recording original music. They have written some songs but have not yet recorded them. “I definitely want to do something along the lines of an EP where we do at least a four song project then follow up with something longer,” she said.
The singer said Mama Love And The Motivators will play at least one original song at the Barnful Festival. For the foreseeable future, Bush would like to get Mama Love And The Motivators on the road, and, in the air.
“I’d like us to travel together as a group,” she said. “I would absolutely love to get the band down to Cuba, over to Iceland, Europe.”