If you were a live music listener in Charleston during the 1990s, you might remember venues such as Myskyns, Cafe 99, Cumberland's and Club Dog Alley. You might also remember one of the Lowcountry's most popular bands at the time, Uncle Mingo.
The funk-punk party band was a well-known entity not only in town but across the nation after embarking on a tour with Widespread Panic and playing with the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blues Traveler and the Village People.
Uncle Mingo, comprising songwriter, singer and bassist Bryon Moore; singer, keyboardist and saxophone player Jason Moore; guitarist Scott Quattlebaum; and drummer Robert Thorn, even toured with homegrown favorites Hootie & the Blowfish when they traveled in a van.
"Playing with the Village People was awesome," says Quattlebaum, reminiscing before an Uncle Mingo show at The Windjammer on Aug. 5. "That show was crazy. I did a backwards stage dive into the crowd and I had high heel shoes on, which I hit someone in the head with."
Quattlebaum has a lot of wild stories from Uncle Mingo's heyday, like hosting raging parties out in empty fields in Awendaw.
"We would get a generator and some pallets and plywood and make a stage," says Quattlebaum. "Then, we'd bring kegs of beer and charge $5 ... Word would just get around and we'd have hundreds of people out there."
Quattlebaum also remembers traveling from gig to gig in Uncle Mingo's "band car," a white Oldsmobile hearse with license plate "P-Funk" in honor of influential group Parliament Funkadelic.
"It was beautiful," he says. "I remember one time we played a gig out in this field in the middle of nowhere with like 400 people around us, and we parked it while we were playing the gig and the hearse was covered in people. That was where we really learned how to play live."
The hearse lived up to its potential when Quattlebaum arranged to meet up with Parliament Funkadelic, which Uncle Mingo was opening for during a tour stop in Charleston. He picked up frontman George Clinton at the old Sheraton on Spring Street.
"He comes down and he's in a Flintstones muumuu and his hair's all crazy in dreadlocks," says Quattlebaum. "He pulls down his sunglasses and looks at me and says, 'Let's do the show.' Then he saw the license plate and, of course, he loved it."
There's no discounting Uncle Mingo's stories from the road, like the time the band's passenger van caught on fire in the Smith's Olde Bar parking lot in Atlanta.
"I was sleeping and jumped out in my underwear," says Quattlebaum. "We were trying to put the fire out and get our equipment and all our stuff out as fast as we could, and some of the cooks ran out of the kitchen with a fire extinguisher. We got all our stuff out, but the tires exploded. It was pretty crazy."
Even Uncle Mingo's studio sessions were wild.
"We were recording an album with James Brown’s horn section in Augusta," says Quattlebaum. "We were told 'James is coming.' So, we waited for an hour, and he pulled up in a lime-green Rolls Royce and, at this point, he didn’t have a license and was running from the law and was all whacked out. He was wearing this blue leisure suit and he preached to all of us. I didn’t even know what he was saying. But I remember him saying, ‘You boys making a record? I’ll see ya at the top.'"
Locally, the support system for live, original music stretched farther in the '90s than it does today. Partly that's due to a wider range of mid-cap venues and fans who readily attended shows each night of the week. And partly it's because of past influencers in the music scene.
"Back in the '90s when everyone was supporting live music, 96 Wave was a huge factor with that," says Quattlebaum. "We got rotation with national acts, which was huge. Woody Bartlett ran it and was so instrumental to making Charleston’s music scene what it was at the time.
"Back then in Charleston, local music was a big thing. Hootie was blowing up and Edwin McCain and Jump, Little Children were later. Everybody came out to see live music and support it. There would be live music from bands from around the Southeast, and people came out every night of the week. It was a pretty magical time in Charleston. And I think it’s coming back."
The last Uncle Mingo studio album was released in 1999, but new music is underway, according to Moore.
"As you get older, you get more settled down and mature and your songs become more refined and, generally speaking, a lot better," says Moore. "I like to think so anyway. Our new music is a little more reflective, since we have a lot more experiences under our belt. And I think people who are longtime fans will appreciate the new stuff."
After parting ways in 2000, the members of Uncle Mingo decided they would keep the band alive by playing one or two shows a year, like the one at The Windjammer.
"I guess it’s like riding a horse as in you fall and you get back on, or like riding a bicycle in the sense that you never forget how to do it," says Moore of performing. "When you get back up there, you’re right back in it and the magic is there; everything is there. It’s the greatest high in the world, especially now since we don’t get to do it very often. It’s amazing how much joy and magic can be packed into an hour-and-a-half show."