It’s a night you’re strolling down one of Murfreesboro’s fair streets, eventually hearing live music from a house party that’s welcoming and funky enough to pull you and your friends in from the warmth of a summer night. You wander inside the house you’re in front of only to find a band on stage proudly smiling ear to ear while swaying in synch and playing a soulful, feel-good oldie from the ’90s before sharing one of their originals that flows in the same vein as the well-known, crowd-pleasing covers. By the second or third song in the set, you find yourself walking towards the dance floor with your buddies and a few other wanderers too. The sound is party pitch-perfect and a new Murfreesboro band embracing it, Mize and the Drive, gave you exactly that July 13 at the Bluesboro, as people wandered in from the Square to enjoy a hot Wednesday night.
Lead by front man Lee Ramsey, Mize and the Drive started playing in Murfreesboro a little over a year ago. But on this particular night at Bluesboro, they stand on stage in a line of six: two acoustic guitars, two electric (one bass and the other guitar), as well as drums and a tenor saxophone off to stage right. All of them are excited about putting on a great show right before they head into the studio to record their first full-length album. Also, they answered some questions when they got a break.
How did Murfreesboro play its role in the formation of Mize and the Drive?
“Murfreesboro brought us together as friends. Individually, we had all been performing music in different projects throughout Tennessee [but] during a break of these projects, we […] started jamming on song ideas of Lee’s and developing the music. Over the past year, Les [Greer, bass] and Alex [Stevenson, sax] have joined the band and solidified the sound we have been going after,” says the band.
Back at Bluesboro on show night, Mize started powerfully with an original, “Drive Me Home”, establishing their funk overtones that stick with them the rest of the night. The set continues through two more originals, “Strangers” and “Paranoid”. The latter captures the full band on cruise control during the refrain, giving tenor saxophonist Alex Stevenson his first chance for a solo while Ramsey croons back and forth into the microphone chanting the song’s title for a few measures until rising seamlessly into the chorus of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”. Harmony backup erupts from anyone onstage holding a stringed instrument. Unfortunately, the saxophone took the brunt of the limelight on this one due to his inaudible notes drowned out by all the amps around him on stage.
How far do you want to go with the horns? Are you comfortable with the tenor? Just the tenor?
“Since we’ve started the band, we’ve all been hearing horns on these tracks, but it took almost a year for us to finally have them. Alex was able to join the band this past Spring, and he’s filled that void in the music. The sound really came together with what he has contributed. Alex is comfortable with any sax he can get his hands on, but his parts are usually [just] tenor with the occasional alto.”
Another original, “Rain,” followed the Floyd cover at Bluesboro that evening and ended with Lee Ramsey’s invite to someone from the crowd to join them on stage. Will Mann, another local musician catching the show, took heed of the finger pointed directly at him and obliged the invite. Within a minute, Ice Cube’s “Today was a Good Day”, was attacked by all seven of them with Mann on the verses and backup vocals from everyone else, eventually taking it through to the next song, “Long Way Down”, which is a slow march of a song reminiscent of The Doors’ “People are Strange”. Drummer Dan Jarnagin’s low, pounding mallets and the remaining Drive supply a mournful five-part harmony during the song’s chorus. “Long Way Down” can be heard on the band’s Facebook page.
After Will Mann’s applauded sit-in, Mize gathered themselves for another crowd-tickler, Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” followed by Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House”, but not without sneaking an original, “Dazed”, in between. No one really noticed and that’s the best part of live Mize and the Drive: they transition between songs without missing a beat or a note in the scale leading them to the root of the next. They seem trained in transitions and showmanship. People dancing never have a reason to stop.
Pulling through “Burning Down the House”, Mize and the Drive reset for two more originals—“We the People”, that can be found on their Reverb Nation page, and “Volcano”. “Volcano” holds another sax solo from Stevenson and lead guitarist Cody Malak that carries the whole band into The Dave Matthews Band’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” while singer Ramsey nods in approval to his bandmates.
These guys can get from one song to another, but another seamless transition doesn’t occur until they get back into another Dave Matthews song, “Too Much”, so the guys could breath a little bit but the floor in front of the stage remained crowded, nonetheless, when all of a sudden Ben Wensil on acoustic rhythm, drops his strings for sticks and turns around to help Jarnagin beat a trio of Roto toms for Phil Collin’s “I Can’t Dance”. This is the last present to the dance floor before finishing up with an encore of drum-driven original jam, “Soul Shot”, sending the crowd home three hours after starting a well-received evening out on the town.
Afterwards, it felt like another Dave Matthews song wouldn’t be heard for miles the rest of the night but Mize and the Drive went into Dirty Cabin Records the following weekend to start work on their yet-to-be-titled album of about 10 originals with the expected release date as soon as possible. With full concentration on the album for the time being, the band hasn’t posted any new show dates, but keep your eyes and ears on their Facebook page for any new summer plans.