American Indian Council
By Jason Begay, Navajo Times, Window Rock
Before they came together as Chucki Begay and the
Mother Earth Blues Band, the group's members were
two separate forces, one rising on her voice and the
other nearing self-destruction.
If it weren't for a chance encounter - not a
meeting, but simply Begay's voice wafting through
the air during a Farmington music festival - then
the lead guitarist of her new band, now her husband,
would not have made it this far.
"I was ready to sell all of my guitars to pay for my
funeral," said Richard Anderson Jr., lead guitar
player for Chucki Begay and the Mother Earth Blues
Band. "I wanted to drink myself to death."
Then, in 2007, Anderson, a sound tech at the fateful
music festival, heard Begay sing, her deep, almost
whispery baritone, carefully nestling every musical
key like it were alive. Her voice and performance
were authentic, said the 43-year-old musician.
"I believed her when she sang," Anderson said. "I
could tell she wasn't singing (using) a music stand.
It was all heart and soul."
As if to add some levity to a somber conversation,
Begay motioned toward her husband.
"My biggest fan, right here," she said, causing
laughter in Anderson and bassist Merlin Yazzie Jr.
This of course brings Anderson to his point - that
with Begay on vocals, essentially taking over his
band, he had everything he had been searching for: "Chucki,
God, and rock and roll."
"I put the bottle down," Anderson said. "The kind of
music we started playing is the kind I always wanted
to play. You can't do it while drinking."
That music, a smooth blend of rock, blues, funk and
folk, is quickly gaining a foothold on the local
music scene. Performing a mix of originals and a
catalog of covers that include the Beatles and R.E.M,
but with a twist, as the band is one of the few
female-fronted rock bands on or near the
Begay brings not only a tough, soulful voice to the
band, but also a charismatic frontwoman to a group
that, although undeniably musically inclined,
offered only instrumental songs to the live music
when we played, nobody paid attention," said bassist
Yazzie, a native of Ganado, Ariz. "A majority of
bands on the reservation are male and we just added
to that category."
Still, the Mother Earth Blues Band has the
credentials to impress. Anderson attended the Guitar
Institute of Technology, now the Musician's
Institute, in 1989 the height of highly stylized
guitar rock. There he learned under iconic musicians
as the late "Dimebag" Darrell of Pantera, Steve Vai
and Paul Gilbert.
Yazzie, 33, started playing as a teenager,
attempting to mimic Anderson, his cousin. The group,
which is currently seeking a permanent drummer,
formed in the mid-1990s and has since built up a
name for itself in the Native American music scene.
Meanwhile, Begay, 52, was forming a name for herself
as a solo artist. She started singing as a child in
Gray Mountain, Ariz., but to small, informal
"I used to love go heard sheep alone," she said. "So
I could sing in the canyon."
She joined the choir in both school and church. She
sang along to traditional songs with her father.
Eventually Begay attended University of Arizona,
focusing on interdisciplinary studies including
political science and sociology. These themes would
eventually become the foundation of her song lyrics.
2005, Begay said she had never taken singing
seriously. Then she was asked to perform at a gourd
dance and powwow at the Desert View High School in
"I was walking to the mic and thought I was going to
croak, I had butterflies," Begay said. "But once I
got up there, it was gone."
The reception kept Begay going. She eventually
recorded a CD, "Songs From My Heart," which earned
her a Debut Artist of the Year nomination from the
Native American Music Awards in 2008.
Meanwhile, Anderson was still reeling over the near
end of guitar rock. Bands from the 1990s had almost
made the guitar solo extinct, he said. Then the
White Cone, Ariz., native met Begay, and thought she
could help meld his flashy guitar playing with her
"I thought, if we could get everything together,
maybe we could make a living playing music," he
The group has already formed its own dynamic.
Anderson and Yazzie write most of the music and
Begay handles the lyrics. However, there is no
argument who is the band's star.
"She's the boss," Anderson said. "She's in charge."
Chucki Begay and the Mother Earth Blues Band play
sporadically throughout the area, but have no set
tour dates. They can often be found at the Coal
Street Pub in Gallup.