Local band lands gig at Rivers Casino, holds benefit for Haiti


Muddy Kreek has played at the Hard Rock Cafe in Station Square twice. (Photo courtesy Muddy Kreek Blues Band)

Fineview resident Jay Donaldson doesn’t just sing the blues, he lives the blues.

Donaldson, front man and co-founder of the Muddy Kreek Blues Band, embraces his job in housekeeping at the VA Hospital.

"It’s a blues job," he said. "It’s where I write a lot of my music. If I was an executive, I don’t think I could write the blues."

He’s held other labor jobs, such as driving, painting and construction, and he’s proud of all of them.

"This is how blues people live. They walk the walk and talk the talk."

Along with co-founder Larry Estes, a professional guitar player, Donaldson formed Muddy Kreek in 2007 to fill what he saw as the void of original blues acts in Pittsburgh.

The band’s current lineup also consists of drummer John Smith, a professional musician; harmonica player Mike Hill, who runs a catering business; vocalist Brenda Joi, who sings jazz and gospel outside of Muddy Kreek; and bassist Steve Auston, who works in construction.

Donaldson describes Muddy Kreek’s music as "salt of the earth soul" and said that he draws on the Mississippi Delta blues tradition, in addition to his own Southern roots – both of his parents hail from the Deep South.

The name “Muddy Kreek” comes from Muddy Waters, a famous blues musician and one of Donaldson’s favorites. “I wanted to draw on that [talent],” he said.

All of Donaldson’s music comes from his experiences. He wrote "Big Daddy" about his father-in-law’s experiences as a Southern share-cropper, and "Chest Pain Team," about a man who experiences chest pain after his girlfriend leaves, is based on his experience at the VA.

After two years of playing mostly small clubs and venues, Pittsburgh is starting to notice Muddy Kreek’s music. On Saturday, Feb. 6, the band will play at the Levels lounge stage at the Rivers Casino from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

"I’m thankful that we have the opportunity to play down there," said Donaldson, who sings and plays guitar.

Before the Rivers gig, Muddy Kreek will play at a benefit concert for Haiti that Donaldson organized. Pittsburgh Bands Together for Haiti will take place Jan. 23 at the Homestead branch of the Carnegie Library from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Currently, half a dozen bands, plus a few individual musicians and poets, have signed up to play. Tickets are $25 and profits will go to Brother’s Brother Foundation, which has already sent shipping containers full of hygiene and medical supplies to Haiti.

"My heart just melts when I see people suffering [in Haiti]," said Donaldson, who has visited the Caribbean several times.

Jay Donaldson sings lead vocals and writes music for Muddy Kreek. He co-founded the band in 2007. (Photo courtesy Muddy Kreek Blues Band)

Donaldson has a history of community service and founded the Promise Group, which stands for Protect and Restore the Order of Mankind with Initiative to Serve Elders. The group’s goal is to mentor youth and encourage them to serve the elderly. It runs the Jehru M. Donaldson Scholarship Foundation and a youth and adult book club.

Although Muddy Kreek is not affiliated with the Promise Group, it’s no stranger to helping the community either. Last November, the band played its second benefit for the group, and Donaldson said the event had an excellent turnout.

"It gets better and better each year."

 Muddy Kreek has come a long way since its first two gigs at the now closed James Street Tavern in Historic Deutschtown two years ago.

"We came out really hard and really solid," Donaldson said about the first gig. "The music was driving. [The musicians] made it sound original and like we’d been around for ages." 

Those two performances, and later performances at the former Paparazzi club on the South Side, created a buzz for the band. Now, Muddy Kreek plays about four or five times a month. 

Muddy Kreek has also landed two gigs at the Hard Rock Cafe, and recorded two live demos there.

Although about 80 percent of the band’s live performances consist of covers right now, it will record at least four songs in the near future, and eventually a full album.

"We were known as a really solid band," Donaldson said. "I think that the people who have seen us really like what they’ve seen."

For more information or to book Muddy Kreek, contact Jay Donaldson at sondrive@yahoo.com or 412-258-0506. Muddy Kreek can also be found on the Pittsburgh Jazz Network at http://jazzburgher.ning.com/profile/MuddyKreekBluesband.

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