Local Live Artist Insider: Chuck Dodson and Joe McMahan

We continue our Local Live spotlight by chatting with Chuck Dodson and Joe McMahan, this week’s show on the South on Main stage. Dodson is well known in Central Arkansas as a musical mainstay on the piano, and McMahan is a Nashville-based guitarist, who is very much a part of the scene there. McMahan also is co-founder of the group Luella and the Sun, and has produced albums with local Arkansas artist Isaac Alexander, among others.

But first, a little deeper background before we get into the beats and rhythms of what makes these guys choose music, every time.

Dodson and McMahan have roots in Hot Springs, Ark. McMahan’s father trained race horses for a living and his mother played the violin. Dodson also had music in his family as his mother taught piano. “I heard her students playing when I was a baby in the crib. She started teaching me when I was 3 or 4, and I had strict lessons,” explains Dodson.

The two would grow up finding there was something about music they couldn’t quite shake from their shoes. From classical to rock, they each began a journey encompassing everything from Bach to ACDC and beyond.

Chuck Dodson

Dodson can name a church hymn or two, courtesy of his childhood. He can also pick guitar riffs from the likes of Elvis and Johnny Cash, thanks to his dad’s guitar playing. Also, don’t count out his affinity for jazz. As far as his tastes now he says, “I listen to a lot of things. Styles don’t matter much to me, what matters is if it’s good music. I listen to hip hop as much as anything else.”

McMahan said, “When I started out I listened to ACDC just like any 12 or 13-year-old will when he’s learning how to play the guitar. … Eventually I got into Jimi Hendrix and he completely rewired my brain. When I started listening to Hendrix I found his influences in the older blues – BB King, Albert King, Muddy Waters – and I was hooked.”

As teenagers the two would embark on different journeys. Dodson’s first real gig may have been in Hot Springs, but he’s seen his share of venues and studios. “My first studio gig outside the state was at the old Domino Studio in Granada Mississippi, with the legendary Gene Chrisman on drums. … One of the most memorable shows was when I played The Ritz in NYC, in the East Village – now called Webster Hall – during the punk era.”

At the age of 19 McMahan traveled to Shreveport where there was a more of a music community. And although he’s played many venues, he highlights Little Rock’s own White Water Tavern as a “good time.” As someone looking back into the music community in Little Rock from a distance, he says, “Little Rock seems to be way more vibrant that I ever remember it being.”

That being said, he wants to continue to see it grow and believes a huge part of producing a society of musicians comes with having a solid backing. He said, “It’s all about supporting the local community of artists. Local radio helps create that atmosphere … they even can inspire an audience to turn out to a show.

Dodson agreed saying, “Arkansas is Arkansas. It’s not LA or Nashville or Brooklyn. We make do with what we have – but what we have is really interesting.” And part of getting to know what Arkansas has to offer, Dodson says, is by getting out and hearing it. “I’ve done some shows with Isaac Alexander the last few months and I’m a fan of his writing. I like Amasa Hines, Adam Faucett, whatever Andy Warr and Bill Solleder are doing. I like to hear Dave Williams and Brandon Doris, Ted Ludwig’s Jazz Trio.”

Joe McMahan

In terms of Wednesday’s show, get ready to take it back a notch, Little Rock. The event will debut Dodson and McMahan’s newest project. Audience members can expect a nostalgic show highlighting raw sounds from both piano and guitar with a touch of infused jazz. Think Eddie Lange.

Or in the words of Dodson, count on hearing sounds from “that era when early raw jazz and blues swirled around and eventually became electric blues and rock-a-billy and rock ‘n’ roll.” Dodson will tickle the ivory while McMahan does some serious strumming. There will be singing, costumes and a touch of humor. “It’s really just a fun time for us,” said McMahan, explaining the style and aim behind the duo.

Dodson said, “The show has a little theater going on. We dress old style, we might even be funny. … I hope. We love South on Main and we’re really pumped to be playing there.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. For a one-of-a-kind music show that will take you back 100 or so years, come on out to the 7:30 p.m. free show.


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