Max Creek is still jammin' after all these years

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PITTSFIELD — The energy, the unpredictability, the desire to live in a good moment as long as possible — the improvisational sections in jam bands' songs often conjure the most rambunctious of nights out on the town. They frequently fuel the festivities, too.

For the past five decades, Max Creek has supplied plenty of after-dark merriment to fans in Berkshire County and throughout the Northeast. On Friday night, the group will perhaps be in an even more celebratory state than normal: Its show at The Colonial Theatre is part of its 48th anniversary "45 and Live" tour. The "45 and Live" album is the jam band's first in 19 years. While keyboardist Mark Mercier, guitarist Scott Murawski and bassist John Rider have all been Max Creek members since the mid-1970s and have thus recorded other full-lengths together, relative newcomers Bill Carbone and Jamemurrell Stanley (drums and percussion) hadn't had the opportunity to track an LP with a band renowned in New England jam circles.

"It feels like an institution," Murawski said of the group by phone recently. "It feels like something bigger than all of us put together."

The live album was recorded at a variety of different performances during fall 2016. The musicians assessed takes of each of the 13 tunes played at different venues. Carbone was adamant about making a record, according to Murawski.

"He kind of was the impetus for getting this whole thing together," Murawski said.

Formed in 1971, Max Creek was initially a quartet but soon became a trio featuring Rider, guitarist David Reed and drummer Bob Gosselin. The band's first major concert was at what was later called Woody's Roadhouse in Washington, Mass., according to the group's website. Back then, Reed was teaching trumpet in Agawam to Murawski when, one day, he heard his student playing guitar in the basement. Impressed, he invited the 15-year-old Murawski to join Max Creek. The high schooler agreed and began jamming with the country-rock outfit. Later on, the band's sound evolved after multiple members saw the Grateful Dead in Watkins Glen, N.Y.

"When they came back from that, it started being more electrified, and we started doing more jamming and improvising," Murawski recalled.

Reed eventually left the group in the mid-1970s to pursue a solo project, but Max Creek played on to the tune of more than 200 shows per year.

"We were road warriors," Murawski said.

Early on in the group's history, the term "jam band" didn't exist.

"I think the Grateful Dead were the only people that I knew about that were doing that heavy improvisation in a rock 'n' roll setting," Murawski said, "and then somewhere near the end of '70s into the '80s, there was this whole clone band and tribute band thing. And because we were doing some Grateful Dead material, we got kind of stuffed into that category."

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It was frustrating to be labeled a Dead tribute group when the band was playing original music, according to Murawski.

"There was a point where I said, 'Let's not play any more Grateful Dead. Let's just focus on our original material and see if we can break this image of a Grateful Dead cover band,' which still follows us around today," Murawski said.

By the early 1990s, the guitarist had also grown tired of road life. He needed a full-time job to support his young family. He offered to leave the band, but instead, the entire group opted to scale back its schedule. They gigged only on weekends.

"I really found the joy in it again," Murawski said. "It really became my escape rather than the grind."

During his youth, Murawski listened to heavy rockers such as Ritchie Blackmore and Jimmy Page. Then Dead guitarists Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir became major influences. Lately, he's been studying some different instruments and evoking them with his guitar.

"I started listening to the horn players because I figured that if I'm just going to listen to guitar players, I'm just going to sound like every other guitar player," the Worcester resident said.

Differentiators are important on the New England jam band circuit these days. Competition has increased since Max Creek's nascence.

"I think there's a lot more credibility to jam bands these days, and there certainly is enough of them to justify it as a genre," Murawski said.

The guitarist has often collaborated with Phish's Mike Gordon over the years, but he hasn't lost his affinity for Max Creek.

"I do outside projects, but I always come back to this," Murawski said. "This always feels like coming home to me."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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