Mac Arnold Brings a Lifetime of Blues Musicianship to USC Upstate Stage

January 29, 2018 at 4:49 pm

Mac Arnold singing during a performance in Greenville.

Storied bluesman Mac Arnold says he “can’t wait” to play his next gig at the University of South Carolina Upstate.

Fortunately for both Arnold and the USC Upstate community, he doesn’t have to wait long. Arnold and his band, Plate Full O’ Blues, are set to perform Feb. 1 in the Humanities and Performing Arts Center Theatre. The performance is one of the University’s Black History Month events, and marks Arnold’s return to a favorite venue.

“I’m so excited to be a part of this event,” the Pelzer, South Carolina native said in a recent telephone interview. “I love to play and support USC Upstate because it’s right here in my area, and because playing blues in the schools is what I do quite a bit.”

Arnold, an avid supporter of music education, established the Dr. Mac Arnold Scholarship Fund at USC Upstate benefitting art and music majors. He received an honorary doctorate in music from the University of South Carolina in 2014.

Despite his age – the 75-year-old said he was born June 30, 1942 – Arnold and Plate Full O’ Blues maintain an active touring schedule of around 65 to 70 dates a year, mostly on the East Coast.

“We travel all over the East Coast,” Arnold said. “We play from Canada all the way down to Key Largo, Florida.”

Opening for Arnold at USC Upstate will be Salti Ray, an indi/alt-rock band comprising USC Upstate commercial-music students Noelle Taylor and Mary Norris.

Arnold plays a few songs on his gas can guitar.

Arnold has built an enduring musical legacy over six-plus decades. He began playing when he was only 10 years old, on a homemade guitar an older brother fashioned from a metal gas can, broomstick handles, wood, nails and wire. He continues to play the trademark instrument today, and over the years has taught many others how to construct their own guitars.

He has had the honor of playing with some of the greatest names in American music, including James Brown, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. His career took him from the Palmetto State to Chicago and then to Los Angeles, where he co-produced “Soul Train” with his friend Don Cornelius. Arnold’s distinctive base licks were featured in the 1973 theme song for the popular “Sanford and Son” television series.

In the 1990s, Arnold returned to South Carolina and was virtually retired from music until 2006, when he formed Plate Full O’ Blues. His return to the stage was the subject of Stan Woodward’s 2011 two-part documentary, “Nothing to Prove: The Story of Mac Arnold’s Return to the Blues.”

Arnold was inducted into the Alabama Blues Hall of Fame in 2017.

In addition to providing vocals for Plate Full O’ Blues, Arnold also plays bass guitar, rhythm gas-can guitar and slide gas-can guitar, according to his website.

The Black History Month Concert featuring Arnold is set for Feb. 1, 2018 with Salti Ray opening at 6 p.m. followed by Arnold and Plate Full O’ Blues taking the stage at 7 p.m. The event will be held at the University’s Humanities and Performing Arts Center Theatre located at 170 Gramling Drive, Spartanburg.

Admission is free for high school students and all local college students, $4 for USC Upstate faculty and staff, $8 general admission. Tickets may be purchased in advance by calling the Theater Box Office 864-503-5695 or at the door.

Tickets may also be reserved in advance by calling the Theatre Box Office at 864-503-5695.