Think of classic Michigan rock ´n roll, and you’ll probably conjure up images of a shirtless Iggy Pop rolling around uninhibited on stage, shrieking into a microphone. Or perhaps you’ll imagine MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer ripping into the restless opening chords of “Kick Out the Jams.” But guitarist Larry Neuhardt and vocalist DeShaun Snead, who headline the Lansing-area band Mighty Medicine, prefer to honor the music and the history of Michigan in a more carefree and unruffled fashion. They unveiled the band’s new video on YouTube last week for “Michigan Rock and Roll,” the second single off their 2011 self-titled album. In support of the video, Mighty Medicine will play two free local shows this week at Crunchy’s and the Waterfront Bar and Grill.
While they dabble with the classic-rock sound, the overwhelming influences of blues, soul, reggae, jazz, and country music shine through on many of their laidback tracks (think Tuck & Patti). “Michigan Rock and Roll” was co-written by Neuhardt and Snead, who traveled many miles to film the video in front of an assortment of landmarks.
“We had 15 shooting sites,” Snead said. “Some in the Detroit area, some at the sand dunes, we went to Mackinac Island, the Capitol, and Stober’s Bar. In the song we name drop all the great musicians like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Kid Rock, Bob Seger, Madonna and Supremes. But we just wanted to write a song that was going to encourage Michiganders. We were thinking that Michigan needed a song that’s informing and encouraging.”
But the track certainly delves into more than the multitude of music legends Michigan has produced.
“We bring up the copper and auto industry and the decline of Detroit, but it talks about not giving up yet — it’s a positive message,” Neuhardt said. “It’s kind of a factual history, a pro-Michigan song that really rocks, so we decided to do a video for it.”
Mighty Medicine first jammed in Neuhardt’s back yard nearly five years ago. The two played a cover of The Doors’ “People are Strange,” and they hit it off immediately.
“That day started everything,” Neuhardt said. “That moment affected us. It kind of slowly changed our lives.”
“It was a strange moment,” Snead added. “It just felt like we were going to be playing music for a long time.”
Back then, Snead was still an MSU jazz student living in a co-op in downtown Lansing and Neuhardt was going through some tough economic times.
“I lost my job about three years ago,” Neuhardt said. “I was a high school teacher and they cut me one June. We were really looking to change our lives at that time, so DeShaun and I formed Mighty Medicine. Once I realized I wasn’t going to be teaching in the fall, we both started doing music full time. We haven’t had a day job in three years.”
As it turns out, Mighty Medicine has been able to keep busy throughout the struggling economy, but it required some unpractical booking techniques, including playing plenty of corporate events in places like Petoskey, Traverse City and Grand Rapids.
“We’ve been doing, on average, three to four shows a week, traveling all over the state,” Neuhardt said. “We’ve played Chicago a couple times. Mike Skory, a local musician, has labeled us ‘the hardest working band in Lansing.’ We’ve done nearly 600 shows in the last three years. We’ve averaged about 20 shows a month for three years. It’s crazy.”
Mighty Medicine has a song list of about 200 covers, and of course their catalog of originals, which makes for varied sets. But the pair always includes “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion),” a 1967 Grateful Dead tune that, in a way, sums up the band’s diversity.
“I discovered that song through Larry’s wife,” Snead said. “She has this book, an anthology of Grateful Dead tunes and the first song is that. I was just tinkering around on the piano and then it ended up becoming our standard song we begin with and end with. The Grateful Dead have such a good spirit about their music – the elements of jazz, country, blues, and folk. I think that’s kind of what we do.”
Wednesday, Aug. 22
254 W. Grand River Ave.
Thursday, Aug. 23
Waterfront Bar and Grill
325 City Market Drive (inside Lansing City Market)
The “Michigan Rock and Roll” video is available on YouTube