I had an absolute blast this week talking with a couple of the Kudzu Kings, Robert Chaffe and Tate Moore. For 20-plus years, the self-labeled funktry band has been a Mississippi staple. But don’t box them in. Not all bands get to play with Widespread Panic at Red Rocks. KK did. We talked for some 30 minutes inside Moore’s Square Pizza on the Oxford Square. Here is some of our conversation.
OXFORD, Miss. – Tate Moore had a standing gig at Ireland’s (now Frank and Marlee’s). Dave Woolworth came to Ole Miss graduate school and joined Moore. They met guitarist Max Williams, who was in a band with Robert Chaffe.
The rest is continuing history for Mississippi funktry legends, Kudzu Kings.
“When we started out, we really did it for fun,” Chaffe said, from Moore’s Square Pizza on the Oxford Square. “I don’t think any of us really envisioned it going beyond maybe Tate and I graduating from college. By ’96 when Tate and I were getting ready to graduate, we were already opening up for Panic at Mud Island.”
They were also about to record their first album with Grammy-award winning producer with Jim Gaines.
Kudzu played any venue that would let them, Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, any day.
Pre-Internet explosion, the band took a unique approach to publicity. After they became synonymous with Ole Miss, they would travel football weekends to play towns the Rebels played in, for alumni to catch up with them.
“Ole Miss had a lot to do (with our success). Our relationship with Panic had a lot to do with it,” Chaffe said. “We basically had the Panic fans and the Ole Miss alumni and whoever happened to see us along the way.”
From 1996-2001, none of the band had jobs. They were the American dream band, making what Chaffe calls “teacher salaries.”
“None of us were getting rich of it,” Chaffe said. “We were doing well enough to make a living.”
“We’re hoping to get rich now,” Moore said.
The six-piece piece, including guitarists George McConnell and Max Williams, have a handful of shows to close 2015. Moore has an amazing new vinyl you need to pick up here – he made it as an excuse to get the band together.
With jobs and families – Chaffe works at a research firm across Van Buren from Moore’s pizza shop – the band plays 6-12 shows a year. In their heavy-touring years, there were 160-plus shows.
“We’ve got new material,” Moore jumps in with. “We’ve got old material that we’re finally doing.”
Twenty-one years in, the Kings are in an unforced revival. Tate seems more than happy get the band back together any place any time. His excitement is contagious.
The Kings have been – and are – a staple of Mississippi music. Last year’s 20th anniversary show lit a flame. They have to turn down a number of shows. As adults, it’s no longer as simple to get five guys to leave the dorm at the drop of a dime, the right dime at least.
Their promotion stories are legend. Before the Internet was the Internet, the Kings were sending monthly or bi-monthly newsletters to 3,000 people who had attended shows, some $2,500 in expenses.
“We were one of the first bands to sell tickets online,” Moore said. “We had a guy figure something out and he put it on our website. We sold 500 tickets to New Orleans, (post) Jazz Fest. All the promoters were like, ‘What just happened?'”
The guys sold 500-600 tickets all three times they played after Jazz Fest.
A young band , before the Internet, made it. They’re still making it today. Moore is more than actively writing new material. It came from talent, desire and a whole lotta smarts. To close, and I could go on, here is an example of why Kudzu Kings was and is, Mississippi’s band; success hasn’t stopped with the music.
Check this out from Woolworth on the cover of the New York Times.