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BACKWOODS N' BLUES: E.J. Mathews hones his appealing, down-home sound

Dion Holbrook
E.J. Mathews will be playing in Hochatown and Oklahoma City very soon.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – A native of Cass County, Texas in the small community of Bivins (and the even smaller unicorporated area of Leek Creek), singer-songwriter E.J. Mathews is passionate about the folk-tinged, country-blues music he is recording and performing throughout the Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana region (with some European dates getting scheduled as well!).

Mathews, 44, grew up in this area of northeastern Texas, right near where Arkansas and Louisiana meet, in an area between Texarkana and Shreveport and known for its air of mystery (Bigfoot sightings are not at all uncommon in this area).

As Mathews tells it, his ol’ stompin’ grounds are “swampy and eerie,” adding, “I love it.”

And in his early years, before his parents divorce resulted in him moving to Midwest City, Okla. where he went to Carl Albert High School, the Bivins area provided a lot of inspiration for the music he would create, including his popular new EP, Welcome to the Backwoods, a collection of songs which has attracted attention not only in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, but overseas in England, Denmark and Poland.

The engaging singer plays at the Grateful Head Pizza parlor in Hochatown, Okla., down in McCurtain County, north of Broken Bow on Friday, April 15th. Before that the E.J. Mathews Band headlines the Keller Krawfish Festival in Keller, Texas this coming Saturday. He is also planning to play in Oklahoma City's Bricktown pretty soon as well. It is clear that this former log-truck driver is keeping busy, following his musical dream.

“I’ve been (making music) all of my life,” said Mathews, in a phone interview with Red Dirt Report from his home in Arlington, Texas. “My grandfather was a blues musician from Georgia. I kind of got it from him.” He notes on his website that his grandfather, Zan, would play slide guitar with a pocket knife, "while spitting watermelon seeds off the porch and watching lightnin' bugs flicker in the night." Mathews has fully embraced that rustic, old-school approach to country-blues.

E.J. Mathews. (Photo provided)

And while Mathews speaks highly of Chicago blues singer Howlin’ Wolf (writer of such blues standards as “Spoonful,” “Back Door Man” and “Smokestack Lightnin’), saying that “he’s just amazing!,” he had a lot to say about Texas blues legends including Lightnin’ Hopkins and others.

But the interest in Howlin’ Wolf certainly makes sense. With his powerful voice, the Wolf could quickly take command of whatever room he was performing in. Mathews’ voice is quite commanding as well.

“My style of blues is a little different from traditional blues,” explained Mathews. “My music is more on the country side. I’m talking about things that are a little different. And we don’t have any electric guitars. It’s all acoustic, and there’s a different kind of melody.”

It’s interesting to see here is a strong musical tradition in Cass County, Texas. Blues guitarist and singer-songwriter T-Bone Walker was born in the Cass County town of Linden, the same town where Eagles drummer-singer Don Henley grew up. Just last year, Henley released an album of country-oriented music titled Cass County.

“I used to see Don Henley all the time. He’d be with his mom at the store,” he said. “And my uncle played with Don Henley in high school. They had a little band.”

As for his band, the E.J. Mathews Band includes his cousin Donnie Mathews of Fort Worth on bass, Sulphur Springs’ David Ray on guitar and Tommy Stoy of Keller, Texas on drums.

The E.J. Mathews Band at the KNON Blues Festival at Poor David's Pub in Dallas. (English Bob Photography)

Regarding his hometown of Bivins/Leek Creek, a couple of years ago, Mathews returned to that area, where he still has a homestead and family, and made a down-home music video for his song “Down On the Creek (Ford Pickup),” which is on Welcome to the Backwoods.

The video has scenes of the backwoods and sings lines about homestyle cooking: “Cornbread, collard greens and black-eyed peas, watermelons, cantaloupe, you know what I mean?” And then there are the references to his Ford pickup, listening to Hank Jr. and fishing with his wife, down on the creek, of course.

A still image from E.J. Mathews Band's video "Down On the Creek (Ford Pickup)." (A Crenshaw Man Productions)

Listening to this catchy acoustic number, with just enough drumming to keep your toes tapping, will make your mouth water.

But the video is very appealing in its description of the country life, bringing to mind scenes of Robert Duvall in his rustic, Texas-Louisiana film from 1998, The Apostle.

It’s clear that Mathews loves what he does. It comes through in his attitude, demeanor and his music.

“I love the art of being creative,” Mathews said. “I wanted to blaze my own path. I’ve got so much to say.” 

Another song, which had some local airplay, was “Christmas in the Backwoods,” which features his band playing next to a Christmas tree, where Santa leaves the singer a jug of white lightnin’.

Talking to an old Carl Albert High School friend of Mathews, Midwest City resident Shannon Blevins, she said that when they were in high school together in the mid-1980's, she never knew he was a singer, only finding that out much later.

"I am very impressed with E.J.'s talent," Blevins said. "He wrote a beautiful song about one of our schoolmates who passed away too soon. The song is called 'Mr. Sandman,' written for Sean Sanders. I am excited and happy I was able to experience and watch E.J. Mathews grow and succeed in his musical career."

During our conversation, the path seems to lead back to Bivins, there among the pine trees, plum bushes and jars of moonshine.

“Every time I bring somebody down there, they don’t want to leave,” Mathews said. “It’s peaceful and the people are very genuine. It’s a great place to call home.”

To learn more about E.J. Mathews and the E.J. Mathews band, be sure to visit his website: ejmathews.com.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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