10th Anniversary - a Mules Decade!
The date was October 2, 2009. Mary Silveira Elementary School was hosting their annual harvest festival. At the previous year’s event, 3 of the parents – guitar player Geoff Mack, singer Amy Wolgamott and percussionist Brian Dettor – had performed a few songs for the kids and received an encouraging reception (no booing or rotten tomatoes). This year they got a lot more ambitious and thought they would try their hand at forming a band. They corralled two more parents – accordion player Michael Whitely and drummer Nathaniel Hunter -- and rounded things out with a couple of friends named Andrew: bass player Andrew Clyde Perrins and pedal steel player Andrew Chilson. “We were nervous,” recalled band leader Geoff Mack, “as we set up by the school’s multi-purpose room. We’d practiced for months but weren’t sure if we were ready.” But Brian remembers that they launched into songs like Hey Good Lookin’, Bad Moon Rising & Train in Vain, (songs that are still in their repertoire 10 years later), and the audience responded enthusiastically. They called themselves “Band Camp” for that performance, but they also played a quirky song by The Subdudes called “Miracle Mule” and just the day before Michael had sent an email suggesting they adopt that as their name. Encouraged by the enthusiastic audience response, the band continued rehearsing and Geoff started scouting for other gigs. The next January 2 the same seven musicians took the stage for the first time as “Miracle Mule.” This was at the Aqus Café in Petaluma, and it was just 3 days after Brian’s son Mark was born.
By their first anniversary Carl Upthegrove had taken over on drums and Duncan Draper on accordion. But a few weeks later Duncan couldn’t make one gig and recommended his friend Dick Bay to fill in for the night. It was an October 22, 2010 campaign rally for mayoral candidate Don Perata to be held in an Oakland auto body shop of all places (interestingly, this was not Dick’s first auto body shop gig). With one quick rehearsal with Geoff under his belt, Dick headed to the show. There was a crisis at work so he was on a conference call during the whole drive over. When he got to the address he entered the office and told the women behind the desks that he was supposed to play some music and was looking for the band. “Sir,” one of them said with a perfectly straight face, “this is an auto body shop.” The look of panic and confusion on Dick’s face must have been priceless, but it only lasted a few seconds before the women burst out laughing. They showed him into the shop and he heard the Mules for the first time. They were rehearsing Hey Good Lookin’. Don Perata lost his election, but Dick and the Mules clicked pretty much from the first song, and within weeks he was an official band member.
Displaced on accordion, Duncan switched to drums for a few gigs before relocating to Nova Scotia. His replacement, the Mules regular drummer for the next three years, kept excellent time, but virtually never managed to get himself to gigs on time. Shortly after their 4th anniversary the Mules’ patience ran out and they started a search for a new drummer. Amy attended a rehearsal for a band called Kool Whip looking for . . . a bass player (more on that later). The Kool Whip bass player was too busy to consider another band, but their drummer, Jim Lehmann, chatted with Amy, learned the Mules also needed a new drummer and threw his hat into the ring. Jimbo did his first gig with the Mules October 25, 2013 at the Longbranch Ranch in Half Moon Bay. That night was memorable not just as Jimbo’s debut but also as, hands-down, the coldest gig the Mules have ever done. The Longbranch is a movie-set-like reconstructed western town. The initial plan was for the Mules to set up inside the saloon, where in retrospect, it would have been nice and warm. But someone got the bright idea that it would be better to set up outside, apparently unaware of how precipitously the temperature would drop as soon as the sun went down. There were heaters here and there, but none close enough to the band, and by the end of the night everyone was shivering and their numb fingers could barely feel their instruments. “I was happy to have joined the Mules,” says Jimbo, “but I seriously regretted deciding not to wear socks that night.”
At the same time the Mules found themselves in the market for a new bass player. Founding member Andrew Clyde Perrins, known by some as the “John Cleese of the Mules,” had decided to leave his beloved country music behind and return home to Great Britain. The band was sad to see him go, but fortunately Jimbo knew just the right man for the job. He knew Mark Petrella from the Italian music festival circuit that they both played on. Mark joined the Mules on yet another unforgettable evening, November 21, 2013 at ZD Wines in Napa. The band set up in the back of the winery, but was asked to play an initial happy hour set in the tasting room. They were barely into their second song when the power went out. Unlike Andrew, Mark played an acoustic upright bass, so he didn’t miss a beat, nor did the rest of the Mules. The power toyed with coming back on a couple hours later, but it only lasted a few minutes. So the Mules did their whole show that night acoustically, kept the party going and, in the words of the winery’s owner, “rocked the house.”
Just a few months later the Mules lost another founding member. Singer Amy Wolgamott left the band and was replaced by Amanda Curry. And a year later Amanda decided to move to New Mexico and go back to school, leaving the Mules searching for a new singer. They put out the word and a couple of mutual friends alerted Sandy Geller to the opportunity. Sandy had a cold when she auditioned, but the Mules still liked what they heard. They could tell she was an outstanding singer but weren’t certain how well she would fit in with the band. But between two songs at her Miracle Mule debut June 5, 2015 at the Sausalito Cruising Club, Sandy stepped up to the microphone and said “what do you get when you drop a piano down a mine shaft? (Pause . . . ) A flat miner.” With that one terrible joke the Mules knew that they’d found a perfect match.
Meanwhile, founding member Andrew Chilson had moved to Santa Rosa. Finding it now too hard to make it to rehearsals and gigs, he too decided to leave the band. But the Mules didn’t have to look far. Sandy’s husband, Charlie Fager, played pedal steel – and would eventually also take up the mandolin, another of Andrew’s instruments. He joined the band a month after Sandy.
When the Mules first took the stage in October 2009, none of the band members imagined that the band might last long enough in some form to celebrate its 10th anniversary. They have returned many times to Mary Silveira School to celebrate the harvest festival and their own humble origin, but they have also played at most of the more prestigious clubs in Marin, including the Sweetwater, Rancho Nicasio, HopMonk and the Fenix. They have played at the Novato Festival of Art, Wine & Music 3 times, the San Francisco Zoo 4 times, the Marinwood Classic Car show four consecutive years and the Clif Family Winery harvest festival an amazing 9 consecutive years! They have released two albums, “Nice Ass” in 2012 and “Swampy Tonkin’” in 2015. They are currently putting finishing touches on their third album, “Romp in the Swamp,” which they expect to release this autumn.
The band retains the same 7-piece configuration from their first gig. The current lineup – Geoff Mack (guitar), Sandy Geller (vocals, piano), Dick Bay (keyboards, sax), Brian Dettor (percussion, harmonica), Mark Petrella (bass), Jim Lehmann (drums) and Charlie Fager (pedal steel, mandolin) -- has now been together for over four years, giving the group plenty of time to solidify and mature their signature swampy-tonk sound. They enjoy the music as much as each other and are all eagerly looking forward to the next ten years.