Manataka American Indian Council

Proudly Presents






A Navajo Original
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 reservation.

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 circuit.

"Before, 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 audiences.

"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.

Until 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 Tucson.

"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 subdued voice.

"I thought, if we could get everything together, maybe we could make a living playing music," he said.

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.