The ‘x’ factor

The roots pedigree of Boston’s Mystix
By TED DROZDOWSKI  |  November 6, 2007

071109_mystix_main
REGIONALISM: The Mystix want to be to Boston what the Subdudes were to New Orleans.

The Mystix, "Rattled" (mp3)
The Mystix want you to know they’re not fortune tellers. If you Googled their band a year ago, that wasn’t so obvious. “You’d have to wade through 15 pages of Nostradamus before you got to us,” says singer Jo Lily.

Also, they’re not a doo-wop group. “Then you’d hit the Mystics from Brooklyn,” Lily continues. That quintet recorded the 1959 smash “Hushabye” and later had a pre-Garfunkel Paul Simon as lead singer.

So between last year’s Satisfy You and their new Blue Morning, both on their own Mystix Eyes label, Boston’s Mystics changed their name to Mystix. Their new moniker stands for just one thing: a regional roots supergroup. The line-up, which convenes at the Lizard Lounge this Friday, November 9, to mark the release of Blue Morning, is led by Lily and Bobby Keyes. Lily fronted Duke and the Drivers for more than 30 years under the alias Sam Deluxe. Guitarist Keyes, who heads the local instrumental trio Lucky Stereo, has his own double life as a big-time session player and pop songwriter. His credits range from New Kids on the Block to current albums by Mary J. Blige and Robin Thicke.

The Mystix also include the Martys, which is what the rhythm team of Marty Ballou and Marty Richards are called by A-list blues musicians Duke Robillard and David Maxwell, who regularly hire them. Richards has also worked with Peter Wolf and James Montgomery, Ballou with John Hammond. Both have recorded with the legendary blues shouter Jimmy Witherspoon. The Billy Preston of the band is keyboardist Tom West, who’s played with Susan Tedeschi, Wolf, and Robillard.

With his warm, craggy burr of a voice, Lily sounds like modern-day Bob Dylan on the Blue Morning tunes “Yolanda,” a Lily/Keyes original that also benefits from Lily’s high, singing slide guitar, and “Rattled,” which is culled from Dylan’s Traveling Wilburys catalogue.

“I’ve always liked gnarly singing that’s right on the edge,” says Lily, rasping away gregariously during a conference call that includes Keyes. He cites Joe Cocker, the Band, Screaming Lord Sutch, Howlin’ Wolf, and Elmore James as fertilizer for his style. “My tone’s always been like that, although it’s changed with age and the help of the American Tobacco Company.”

As for Keyes, his six-string tones shift constantly. His guitars are twangy, rich, and surfy on Lily’s “Another Kind of Love.” They brim with blues panache on Jimmy Reed’s “I’m a Love You.” For the country ballad “Which Side of Heartache,” he comes on caressing and æthereal. And his solo on “New Orleans” swaggers from subtly whammy-colored chords to raw swamp-boogie licks.

Performing with the Mystix, especially live, is a different breed of beast from his session work. “I feel more comfortable in the band. In the studio you’re playing other people’s stuff or trying to get something they want. What you’ve got to create happens in minutes, but you can hammer on the same small part all day trying to nail it. In the Mystix, I can relax into the music over an hour’s set and really expand on the songs. I get to play what I like and sleep in my own bed at night.”

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