“The last time I saw you, you was on Saturday Night Live.”

It’s not often you greet friends with a comment like that, but not Matt Mahaffey. He has a stellar musical career and the last time I saw him, he was performing a live set with Beck – jamming on spoons and other instruments before a world-wide audience.

Matt was in town this past weekend to perform at Capone’s in Johnson City for an annual benefit that honors his brother Mike who passed away four years ago.

He talked about Borat in the SNL dressing room (in character) and how they played Letterman the next night. He commented, “Dave must have a sweat thing or something because that studio was frigid.” Here’s his performance on You Tube. Matt is at stage left on guitar – he gets to perform with Borat.

Matt probably doesn’t remember the first time we met. That was a long time ago – back when I had a little house on Hammond Avenue in Kingsport. He was a student at Sullivan South and joined his brother Mike for a jam party in my basement. He played drums that night and was brilliant then and even more of a genius now penning songs for his band Self, producing other popular artists and regularly touring with Beck.

He presently resides in Sherman Oaks, California and you’ll also find him listed on Wikipedia with quite a few accomplishments.

It’s always exciting to hang out with celebrities, but that’s not the reason we were gathered at Capone’s.

Four years ago, Matt’s brother Mike passed away in his sleep of an apparent heart attack in his mid-thirties. Mike left three children and this tragedy moved Tad Dickens to produce a annual benefit concert that brings together several of “Mikey’s” friends to raise money for his kids and their education.

The first year included John Cowan who worked with Mikey with his band Dr. Nick and Blackfish. I had the fortune of playing that gig and have yet to be on stage with a more captivating vocalist.

Over the years, several local players have also been a part of this production including Mike’s brother Matt who always comes to the show no matter where he’s at in his career.

It’s a family affair for the Mahaffey family because friends and relatives show up from all over the country for this performance, but you’ll also find a stellar lineup of local musicians who join this cause.

Each year, we get a call from Tad a few weeks out. He’s been talking and planning since the last year and you never know who or what will happen, but we can always expect a good time.

This year Garage Deluxe would be on the ticket as one of the performers along with Matt Mahaffey. We always have an all-star band of local players and friends of Mikey and this year that included Terry McCoy and Rusty Honeycutt from 10,000 Flames, Tad Dickens formerly with Brian and The Nightmares, Bo Bradley and myself who used to play with The Watch and several other bands.

I explained to several people at the show after they complimented our performances that basically we get together for ten hours of rehearsal and six hours of parties and story-telling.

We met at Bo’s old farm house in Gray on Wednesday night and Friday and played until the wee hours of the morning crafting together a set list old rockers that included songs by The Who, Rush, Ozzy Osbourne, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pink Floyd and we even threw in a Self song into the mix to perform with Mahaffey.

Rusty and Terry are great players and I usually don’t get to turn up the volume that much these days, but it was great screaming out ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and listening to McCoy and Honeycutt show off their rock and roll chops complete with leather and bad-boy style

We called our band “Deth Kittens” and within a couple of days, we had our set list together and planned to meet Saturday night at Capones to play the benefit.

There was a cold November rain failing when I parked the car out in front of the club in Johnson City to unload my gear Saturday night. Tad was working with his dad, Tommy Dickens moving equipment from the street to the stage and in a few moments we were settled into a night of rock and roll reverie.

Tommy is on the region’s musical ‘Iluminatti’ among the local music scene because his performances trek back decades in the live local scene and I can honestly say the man looks as good as he always has and his voice and savoir-faire are impeccable. Many locals know him from his work with Trademark and you won’t find a better country singer, guitarist and bass player around. Not to mention he looks damn sexy in his pap’s hat.

Alan Prince was running sound tonight and made no haste bringing together all the bands and their gear – a one man show who always approaches his work completely focused and extremely professional. It wasn’t long before all of our instruments were on stage and we were relaxing into the crowd meeting old friends and telling old tales.

There were lots of musicians in the club tonight too including members Blindsight, Witherspoon, Bill Cowdin, Alan Wilder, Shake it Like a Caveman and the Jones Boys who were playing down the street at Halo.

It was a real pleasure to see Anne Hill who was celebrating her night out on the town and claimed to have been the baby-sitter for the Mahaffey boys when she was in high school.

It was also surprising for me to see how deep the Mahaffey family threads into my own circle of friends too as Chad Riggs, Andy Wallen and several other folks came up to me sharing stories about the talented Mahaffey family.

The first band to the stage was Tres Diablos – three devils that included Tad and Tommy Dickens and a talented guitarist from Bristol, Tim Paretti.

I’ve heard about Tim for a couple of years now, from his students and musicians that share tales of this animated and influential musician. Tonight, they worked through a set of great blues songs including some original tunes that Tad had written over the past few months.

Tommy sang some old outlaw country and was never more solid and natural with his performance.

Sometime around 10.00, the Deaf Kittens finally moved onto the stage and although we didn’t have a set list, we immediately layed down some heavy notes with Tom Sawyer.

One of my first memories of Bo Bradley was his Rush t-shirt he was wearing when he came into Morrell Music back in the early 1990’s. Since then, we played lots of music together and no one plays this music quite like him -especially when it comes to music by Geddy Lee.

Later in the night, Alan Wilder told me, “You can always judge a band’s performance by the bathroom talk.”

He was telling me how impressive Bo was to several of the fans that night and he did a great job singing and taking over the stage with impressive style and solo material.

Tad was slanky and thunderous as usual on the drums and someone later commented on his Bonham style.

Of course, Terry and Rusty were terrific showman too. McCoy had his black Jager hat on with his classic gold Les Paul swung low and was edgy the whole night with shimmering solos and guttural distortion that rocked the room.

My favorite moments were playing with Mahaffey on Trunk Fulla Amps. We had only rehearsed the song a few times, but were able to pull out a cheeky version of the rap song that uses a colorful arrangement of words to a dope funky groove that can be heard on You Tube.

After the Deaf Kittens, Mahaffey rearranged the stage a bit to accommodate his talent. He plays guitar, piano, drums and bass with equal proficiency and he even mixes it up with a Suziki Omnichord to produce some really cool sounds.

His songwriting is where his true genius reveals itself. He has a pimped-out pop quality to his voice live and his recordings are accented by rich lush harmonies.

More striking though is his ability to craft unpredicitable melodies that reel from the left to the right, up and down, for a truly unpredictable structure that is enchanting to listen to whether he’s digging a deep dance beat or playing delicate lines on the piano. His music is cerebral and intelligent – my God he even has a song lyric that utters the name “Captain and Tenille.”

After Mahaffey left the stage to a long applause, many in the crowd left. Sure, it was late, but Garage Deluxe was worth waiting for.

We hired this band from Knoxville for Fun Fest a few years back and even though they have trimmed down the band to a trio, I was thrilled to watch these players sculpt their hippy Southern Rock sound.

Andrew Bryant is the singing drummer from Dobyns-Bennett that carried in a 26″ bass drum and led a gritty performance together with bassist Chad Farmer and John Montgomery who never used a pick on guitar and was reminescent of the great Duane Allman.

Garage Deluxe is a down-home delight and although they were last band on stage tonight, they certainly continue to create new fans all over East Tennessee as their organic-calloused sound conjures up the spirits of Southern rock jams better than any group around.

Before the end of the night, I had to walk down to Halo and hear The Jone’s Boys.

This group of guys has been playing around the region for quite some time and have one of the most entertaining and energetic cover bands in the region. Their set list consists of everything from Tom Petty to Sister Sledge and a battery of dance songs sprinkled with a few country songs that keep the girls late into the night. Somebody was celebrating a birthday and it was hard to move without having someone dancing to the tunes in this weekend venue and you can see some of that action in the photos I took that night.

Looking back on the Mahaffey tribute – it’s important to recognize the value of our friendships.

Mikey left us much too soon and it’s easy to recognize how much he meant to so many people. This annual benefit delivers a small amount of money to his children, but the event continues to stand as wonderful testament to the soul that brought us together.

With regard to the music, Tad and I agreed that the Deth Kittens are probably one of the best bands that NEVER was in the Tri-Cities.

That being said, I always enjoy playing music with this group of friends and consider them among the most talented and warm-hearted spirits around and look forward to next years…family gathering.