Photo by Carroll Foster
CLAIM TO FAME: Blues legend who recorded and toured with the likes of Muddy Waters, B.B. King and John Lee Hooker
PASSION PROJECTS: His band, Mac Arnold & Plate Full o’ Blues; introducing kids to music through the I Can Do Anything Foundation; running Dr. Mac Arnold’s Blues Restaurant featuring Roots Smokehouse in West Greenville; for details, visit macarnold.com
HONORS: Awarded the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2006 and an honorary doctorate in music from the University of South Carolina in 2014
CO-OP AFFILIATION: Laurens Electric Cooperative
When Mac Arnold takes the stage with his band, Mac Arnold & Plate Full o’ Blues, he always brings a big smile, his Stetson hat and a gas-can guitar—but never his ego.
Forget for a moment that he was touring and recording with the likes of Muddy Waters, B.B. King and John Lee Hooker (to name just a few) decades before his bandmates were born. Music is a team effort. Everybody on stage gets to sing or play lead, and sometimes that includes an awestruck middle-school music student.
“If you’re playing, I’m playing,” Arnold says with a laugh. “I have no jealousy or anything like that.”
Raised on a farm near Pelzer, Arnold learned to play the blues on homemade guitars built by his older brother, Leroy. At the age of 15, he was playing professionally in Greenville juke joints, and by 24, he was touring and recording with the Muddy Waters Band.
Arnold retired from music in the 1990s and was content to run the family farm until Greenville harmonica player Max Hightower talked him into forming a new band. Since 2005, Mac Arnold & Plate Full o’ Blues has taken the blues scene by storm. This spring, the group will release its fifth CD, “Give It Away,” and begin touring the U.S. and Europe.
“We enjoy playing with each other, and when people enjoy playing with each other, other people enjoy listening and watching it on stage,” Arnold says. “We’ve had a lot of fun.”
While clearly enjoying his encore career, Arnold’s greatest delight is sharing music with kids through the I Can Do Anything Foundation and visits to public schools.
“A student will volunteer to come on the stage, and whether they’ve ever held an instrument in their hands before or not, we give them a little line to play,” Arnold says. “We build a band around them right there. In less than 10 minutes, we’ve got them playing music. It’s such a joy.”