Home » Sounds of Syracuse » The Kingsnakes Slither Back Into the Limelight: A Candid Chat with Pete McMahon

The Kingsnakes Slither Back Into the Limelight: A Candid Chat with Pete McMahon



I first became aware of the Kingsnakes during the year I lived in Fresno, California. A friend of mine was selling all her vinyl, and being the audiophile that I am, I bought all of it.

10339711_586486518172077_3724929447498568542_nI took it home to see what I got. There were all kinds of goodies in this collection. Famous classics, some duplicates, stuff I had heard of but hadn’92t really sunk my teeth into yet, some junk, and some obscure gems. Flipping through records is great fun. I love looking at album covers and turning them over to check out the credits – a pastime/addiction I developed in the heyday of my adolescence.

In flipping through I found a record by the Kingsnakes. I had never heard of them, and so, I put it on and discovered a terrific blues band. Discovering new music is equally fun to playing familiar favorites, to me.

When I moved back to this area 5 years ago, I heard and still hear their name pop-up, frequently’97way more than I did on the west coast’97in the chit-chat of Syracuse music. I’92d think to myself, ’93yeah, I remember hearing about them on the west coast.’94

Then one day, ’93Ahhhhh…’94 I figured it out. These boys were from here, and ’93ohhhhhh…’94 I was the last to know. And then with great irony, since I write this article for the last couple of years, their manager contacted me about covering them in Table Hopping. Funny how the world of serendipity works. Pretty soon I find myself chatting on the phone with none other than Pete McMahon (vocals and harmonicas) about their days with (oh my) John Lee Hooker and other heavy cats; and also about how they’92re ’93puttin’92 the band back together’94 for some upcoming shows, including December 27th at the Palace Theater.

Pete McMahon strikes me as a gracious gentleman’97seasoned with the kind of gratitude from their years of being on the road’97unpretentious… not at all patronizing (like the wannabe stars do all too often), no entitlements. He’92s just a cool dude that is grateful that he got to do his craft, with purity… following and trusting the path presented to him by ding so.11745527_597167993770596_8704178591983114022_n

CS: Hi Pete. How are you, doing?

PM: Hi Chuck. wow, thanks for doing this, man. We really appreciate you writing about us.

CS: Its my pleasure.’a0 It must be very exciting for you guys going at it again. Tell the new kids the nutshell version of your group; and who’92s in it.

PM:’a0 Well, I play harmonica and sing. Louis Miceli is on drums and vocals. Mark Tiffault plays drums. Steve Winston plays bass. Terry Mulhauser plays guitar and sings. Jerry Neely plays keyboards. Mark Doyle is on guitar and keyboards. And Frank Grosso and Joe Carello are on Saxaphones.

CS: Hmmmm. Obviously you guys don’92t carpool, much. Holy smokes, man, that’92s quite a line-up you have there. Not one slouch on that couch. Must be a blast. And such a history you have. How did you get started in music?

PM:I grew up hearing all kinds of music in my house. I eventually gravitated to Blues through my older brothers records and 8-tracks! When I would hear the harmonica, my ear would perk up for some reason. I started playing harmonica at age 11.

CS: You Kingsnakes have quite a history. Tell us a bit about it.

PM: We had a lot of dreams come true, one after the other. We started out playing a little joint called Nappi’92s on the North Side in the early 80s, and things happened very fast. We got to play with everybody related to Blues music in Syracuse and elsewhere. We were very fortunate. Before we knew it, we were touring with John Lee Hooker in the late 80s into the early 90s. That was amazing! I still sometimes can’92t believe that. What a gift that was for us!

CS: Touring with John Lee… wow. That says a lot about what you do, now, doesn’92t it. Characterize your music in your own definition.

PM: The Kingsnakes were very influenced by Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, and of course John Lee Hooker. That’92s where The Kingsnakes name came from, John’92s song ’93Crawlin Kingsnake.’94 We were into everybody though, especially The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Johnny Winter, John Hammond, Duke Robillard and on and on. We eventually got to be friends with a lot of our musical idols.

CS: The blessing of the ’93out-there-on-the-road’94 touring experience for sure. How do things look here at home in the CNY music scene, to you?10881595_505610139593049_8225689316626588564_n

PM:I’92m not as familiar as I used to be on the scene. There are some heavy musicians in this town’97of all styles of music’97as good as any in the world. I used to travel all over, and I would hear great musicians. But I would think, ’93man, we’92ve got cats in Syracuse that could hang with ANY of them.’94

CS: Please share a highlight from your music days.

PM: Playing with John Lee Hooker over a four year period is tops, just unbelievable. I still miss him, he was a very heavy musician, incredibly powerful. Bonnie Raitt joined us on stage with Hooker at SPAC, I thought I was dreaming. We had some really phenomenal experiences, met some very cool musicians.

CS: Yer killin’92 me, man….. Especially with a group with a substantial history, such as the Kindsnakes, and your experiences in it… this is always my favorite question, and I can’92t wait to hear your response: How about that funny war story? You know… the night some chick showed up in a superhero cape on a’a0 tractor,’a0 a snocone in each hand; and engaged all the bartenders in a friendly game of leapfrog…..

PM: We had quite a few crazy juke joint experiences.CS: Yeah?

PM: Believe me, we saw a LOT!

CS: Yeah?

PM: We used to play this one gig in Jacksonville Beach, Pier 7 I think. We would play a four night stretch, Thursday through Sunday. On the Sunday evening gig we would do one set, and then it was an open jam using our equipment. Leon Wilkeson, the bass player for Lynyrd Skynyrd, had been there the night before and had some very kind words for us. The sun was just going down before the jam started, and all of a sudden all these Southern Rock musicians started coming through the door… long leather jackets, hats and long hair. These were THE players in Southern Rock… guys from 38 Special, Molly Hatchet, etc. They walked up onstage and kind of tried to edge us out of the way to get to our amps and drums, cranking everything up to 11! Leon Wilkeson walked up on stage and whistled real loud. They all stopped. He said, ’93I want you boys to meet some friends of mine, this is Pete, Terry, Paul, and Mark from The Kingsnakes. They are a fine Blues band from Syracuse, New York. They’92ve been nice enough to let us play through their gear. So I think you’92d better show them some respect.

CS: Wayyy cool.

PM: All the Southern Rock guys turned down and shook our hands and apologized.

CS: Damn.

PM: Leon Wilkeson carried weight, and they didn’92t mess with him. He was a really nice guy, we jammed with him later, and hung out with him even later. I’92m sad he’92s gone, he was a real gentleman.

CS: Thank you for sharing tha10996275_597168207103908_6978485666891207653_nt. Tell me how you guys write your tunes. Got a process? A way of inspiring yourselves?

PM: We were very inspired by our musical heroes, we would try to take some ideas and put it in our own words you might say. As Terry Mulhauser says, ’93The amateur borrows, and the professional STEALS.

CS: Mozart was the first to say that, I believe. I agree. What do you think of today’92s music? Who’92s doing it right?

PM: The guy from Ireland, Hozier. I heard him sing a Skip James song solo, I was impressed. It’92s nice to see someone in the popular scene who has ROOTS, there’92s a lot to be said for that. Jaco Pastorius is having a cool renaissance even though he passed on a long time ago. The bass player from Metallica made a movie about him that’92s opening at the Palace Theater November 27th Jaco was a genius.

CS: Hmm…. (take a moment to write down the 27th…) Jaco… the mentor of so many bass players today. Speaking of mentoring, got advice to the aspiring new musicians out there?

PM: Turn back while you still can!!! Only kidding.

CS: (Laughs out loud.)

PM: Practice as much as you can. I used to bury myself in my parent’92s basement when I was a kid trying to learn how to play like Paul Butterfield and Little Walter Jacobs, I’92m still trying!

CS: So….. there’92s a rumour going around that you have a big show coming up…

PM: Yes Sir! Sunday, December 27th, Palace Theater, at 7pm. This is Greg Spencer’92s great idea. He owns Bluewave Records. This is the 30th anniversary of his first release on Bluewave. The Kingsnakes ’93Take A Chance.’94 Produced by Mark Doyle by the way. We had a ball playing for he Blues Fest this Summer, it was very exciting.

CS: Where can we find you online?

PM: Greg has bluewaverecords.com. The Kingsnakes have a Facebook page. We put up some cool pictures and old stories. It’92s been quite a ride.

CS: I just want to say ’93Thanks, very much for doing this interview.’94 I thoroughly enjoyed talking with you, and listening to your stories. You guys have a great show, and I’92ll see you there.

PM: Thank you, Chuck. My pleasure. This was a lot of fun.


Chuck Schiele is an award-winning musician, songwriter, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, a member of SaltCityChill, and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write to chuck.schiele@gmail.com

Chuck Schiele
Chuck Schiele is a lifelong, award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member Quatrocollective.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.