A four-hour spotlight on Jupiter Coyote was featured during a special edition of Greasy Tracks on Dec. 26. The program included interviews with band members and music from across their near 30-year career, as well as tracks from their just-released Life Got In The Way.
Childhood friends Matthew Mayes and John Felty grew up in Brevard, N.C., before heading to Macon, Ga., as they chased a musical dream, ultimately forming Jupiter Coyote. The band boasts a veritable gumbo pot of musical styles with bluegrass and southern rock being prominent, while artists such as the Allman Brothers Band played a key influence along with Dixie Dregs, Little Feat, the Grateful Dead and even Black Sabbath.
Tracing its roots to the Rockafellas — which featured Mayes with Felty on guitars and vocals, drummer Matt Trevitt and bassist Ned Grubb — the Macon band cut a handful of tracks in 1989 at John Keane Studios in Athens, Ga., and basically played the southern college circuit. “Yeah, it was poppy college rock,” Mayes said. “We were really young, babies.”
By 1990, the band had changed its name to Jupiter Coyote, a moniker given them by John Meyer, a longtime friend who ran sound for the group and would later become lead guitarist. Meyer says the name stemmed from a dirty joke — not fit to be explained on a family friendly web site like this — noting it was in a “Zappaesque” category.
The band recorded their first three releases with the legendary Johnny Sandlin who produced albums for the Allman Brothers, Widespread Panic, Johnny Jenkins, Gregg Allman, Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit and Cowboy among many others.
Following their debut release, Cemeteries and Junkyards in 1991, Trevitt and Grubb opted to leave the line-up, paving the way for percussionist Gene Bass to take over on drums, while Sanders Brightwell was one of a number of bassists — including Double Trouble’s Tommy Shannon — to audition. Brightwell, who had been playing with Blue Groove, a local R&B band, had shared the stage with Jupiter Coyote before and didn’t need to think twice about joining.
Their ensuing releases, Wade (1993) and Lucky Day (1995), found the band stretching out more in the studio, but also with a tighter, fuller sound. They also began taking their music farther afield as touring became a way of life, often on the road for months at a time, eventually doing as many as 250 shows a year for much of the 1990s.
Before the turn of the century, the group released two more studio albums, Ghost Dance (1997) and Here Be Dragons (1998), but there would be personnel changes as well coming along. Steve Trisman, a highly regarded fiddle player based in Boulder, Colo., joined the fold in 1999, further expanding the group’s sound. A well-received live album came out to open 2000 and a year later, Noel Felty became the drummer.
The group continued a heavy touring schedule to open the 2000’s, but their studio efforts fell short of the quality of the body of work from the 1990s, despite Mayes being a prolific songwriter and the band’s line-up of crack musicians. There was a slight decline noted when Waxing Moon came out in 2001, but the band had clearly lost enthusiasm for the studio which was evident by The Hillary Step (2004).
In the years that followed, the band called time on the arduous touring and recording as members focused on differing career paths, starting families and staying closer to home.
Mayes remained the busiest when it came to making music as he continued to write, recorded a handful of solo albums and teamed up with Bass and Meyer to record four albums as The Raptor Trail.
John Felty turned his attention to music production in Brevard, co-founding Mountain Song Productions where he helps put on more than a dozen events/fests annually culminating with the Mountain Song Festival each fall.
Several years ago, Jupiter Coyote returned to the stage after a series of unplanned twists and turns, playing a handful of shows with Meyer on lead guitar – John Felty remained focused on production/promotion work — and Bass and Noel Felty bringing a dual drum approach to the band.
In August, they released Life Got In The Way, their seventh studio album, one that crackles with energy and clearly captures a band charting a course in a new direction as the book is not closed as far as Jupiter Coyote is concerned.