Oklahoma native Johnny Elkins returns from California with the roots-rock of The Muddy Reds

The Muddy Reds with Pidgin Band
9 p.m. Thursday
The Deli
309 White, Norman

It wasn't a drought that sent lifelong Oklahoman Johnny Elkins to California, but he did seek greener pastures.
He grew up in Lawton, attended the University of Oklahoma and had been performing around Norman for a few years. When convinced that pursuing music as a career was the only way Elkins would be truly happy, he decided he needed a fresh start.

"It was just time for a change of pace," he said.

So, in 2007, Elkins struck out for The Golden State alone in his pickup with only a few possessions and knowing just a few people in his new home.

A fateful night watching Marc Ford " former lead guitarist for The Black Crowes " at a tiny club would introduce Elkins to California native Nick Corney.

"We were sitting at the same table through a mutual friend," Elkins said. "Ford would hit these licks that only (Corney) and I seem to catch on to. We would just look at each other and nod."

The two started talking after the set. Realizing how similar their musical interests were, the pair vowed to jam together. Those sessions eventually led to the formation of The Muddy Reds with Texan Matt Ramirez on bass, with Corney and Elkins splitting vocal and guitar duties.

The guys would later pick up Michael Nussbaum after the original drummer split for law school.

Despite knowing each other for only a few months, the four found instant chemistry. Corney, Elkins and Ramirez even live together now.

"It's been a real stroke of luck for us to all mesh so well, and that's what people pick up on," Elkins said. "We move together. We have this unspoken thing that binds the music together."

And with two Californians, a Texan and an Oklahoman, The Muddy Reds became a true melting pot of musical influences and aspirations. Ramirez performed with punk bands while in Texas; Corney is into composers like Chopin; and Elkins grew up on steady doses of Leon Russell and Oklahoma artists like Travis Linville and Mike Hosty.

"It's kind of hard for some people to pinpoint what our sound is, including us," Elkins said with a laugh. "There are so many different avenues that we are listening to at once. Everybody has their different thing, but it's all music that we all enjoy."

The Muddy Reds' overall aesthetic strikes a line somewhere between rock, blues and soul. Comparisons to The Black Keys or Cold War Kids are appropriate, although the group's self-labeled "cosmic roots" sound definitely has its own place in the emergent trend of down-home rock 'n' roll. Elkins said the rising popularity of this sort of music has helped set itself apart in a cutthroat Los Angeles music scene.

"People are getting back in touch with more honest music that hasn't really been on the surface for a little while," he said. "People are just getting tired of bullshit, ready to get back to something that hits their soul and feeds them a little deeper than packaged stuff constantly being shoved into their faces."

Honest music has endeared the act to L.A., and Elkins said that many fans noted how fun it was to attend a show where the music came first.

"Everyone has got an agenda out here," he said. "There's no camaraderie. It's all competition and not necessarily about having a fun time. Shoot, back home, you play out there, and people are dancing and having a good time, and they just check their egos at the door, which is what we are trying to do out here."

Of course, Elkins is excited to make a return to his home state for Thursday's gig in Norman, both to show people what he has been up to and introduce his band to a new side of the country.

"I went to shows at The Deli for years," he said. "I'm ready to show the guys real America, to play in a real, down-home, honky-tonk place." "Joshua Boydston

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