"James Brown has got nothin' on Duke," 18-year-old Wyatt says of his 9-year-old brother who doubles as lead singer of Mad Max and the Wild Ones. Photo: Sam Milianta
Duke Maxwell – Vocals, Guitar
Cole Maxwell – Drums
Wyatt Maxwell – Lead Guitar
Mad Max – Upright Bass
Duke, the nine-year-old lead singer of the band Mad Max and the Wild Ones, greeted me at the front door of the Maxwell family home in Springville, Utah. He announced he couldn’t shake my hand because he had just finished making lemonade and his paws were too sticky. I followed him further back into the house and found myself in a room filled with local art, cuffed jeans, vintage and custom instruments, and the smell of a home-cooked meal. Mad Max and the Wild Ones is a rockabilly, family band composed of the Maxwell sons: Duke, who sings and plays rhythm guitar; 14-year-old Cole who plays drums;18-year-old Wyatt who plays lead guitar and writes their songs, and their father Max, who plays the upright bass.
Wyatt started playing guitar when he was eight, which led to his younger brothers developing an interest in playing music too. Mad Max wanted to be able to spend time with them, so he learned the upright bass seven years ago.
Practicing for fun in their basement lead to their first show in 2006. When asked how often they practice, Max said, “If anybody’s made to do it, I don’t think it would be fun anymore. That’s one thing we agreed upon at the beginning, too. If it ever quit being fun, then we weren’t going to do it anymore. I think if you put a bunch of rules on everything, it sucks the life out of it.”
All of the Maxwell sons play multiple instruments. Angela, their mother, attributes their diverse musicality to their guitar teacher, Thomas Richey. “He’s inspired them.” she says, ”They can join in any kind of music, really, because they understand how it works. He didn’t just teach them to play chords.” The family also attributes their success to the help of Bo Huff of Bo Huff Customs and Voodoo Swing from Phoenix, Brad Wheeler from KRCL, Dick Dale and Joe Carducci with Gretsch. Wyatt was recently given the honor of being one of Gretsch’s featured guitarists. He happens to be the youngest person to be given this award, and when asked about receiving it he says it was his proudest moment.
This family may have received support from artists and fans around the country, but their success definitely comes from their support of each other. They compliment and give credit to one another for making the band work. “Dad’s getting pretty good at the bass,” Cole says. “I’ll say, and he can stand on it now,” Angela adds. Wyatt tells a story about how his amp stopped working at a show and how Cole was able to keep the crowd going. “I mean it just completely shut down—I had nothing. [Cole] held the same tempo for ten, fifteen minutes ... I’ve never seen anything like it. The other drummers were like ‘how’d he do that?’” Max says that people are always trying to steal Cole to be their drummer. Angela speaks of Duke’s stage performance and Max says they have the best front man in the business. Wyatt jokes, “James Brown has got nothin’ on Duke.”
Although never directly stated, it is easy to see that Mad Max and Angela are the core of the band. “Nobody’s told them to play this kind of music. They play what they want to play and Angela and I let them go in the direction they wanna go with it,” says Max. They encourage their children to support local musicians and artists and businesses, they require them to do well in school, and they make sure that the band is more fun than work. Wyatt was recently accepted to Berklee School of Music in Boston. Max brags that Wyatt has a plethora of musical knowledge. Their view seems to be to hold onto simple, unwavering values and it is exemplified in their business practices.
Mad Max and the Wild Ones has yet to sign to a record label because none of them have felt right. They want to release their record as a vinyl and digital copy only, but are still working out all the details. Disney was interested in their talents, but Mad Max and the Wild Ones didn’t want to change their style to appeal to the mainstream. Angela says, “Here’s a guy who is in a position to show people something that he can see is good. But all he can think is formulas. ‘We need the next blonde-haired, blue-eyed little girl or the next boy band. We’re only gonna stick to the formula that we know is safe and we know works’ and it was so disappointing.”
Their band has been growing support from around the globe and they have had good experiences in most cities. They recently had some trouble in Kemmerer, Wyoming but didn’t want to focus their interview on the incident. Please visit their MySpace page to read their story. They were more interested in talking about positive aspects of the band, like how to build a music scene in Utah that is both welcoming and favorable for young people. That is why they performed at the first Craft Lake City and will also be performing again this year. Go check out their MySpace blog, buy their merchandise and support their local cause.