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Mahon Bros at Dog House Party - March 2022. Photo by Aaron Reichow .
Owen and Jacob Mahon, Part II
The brothers Mahon (pronounced “man”) – Jacob and Owen – have been performing around these parts for more than six years. That’s a good stretch of time for these two who are only 23 and 22 years of age, respectively.
As was reported in my column last week, when they moved to Duluth as teenagers they began hanging out and jamming with other musicians at the Open Mic sessions at Beaner’s (now Wussow’s Concert Café). As of today they are primarily members of two bands: New Salty Dog and Boss Mama & the Jebberhooch.
During the COVID pandemic, Maggie Bowman, owner of the Ripple Bar, located in the former Marshall-Wells/Meierhoff building (now The Suites Hotel at Waterfront Plaza) invited the Mahon brothers to practice and jam on Tuesday evenings in that space.
Jacob credits her with incubating the New Salty Dog band, which includes Calvin “Calzone” Lund on electric bass, Sam Deters on electric guitar and Byron “Lefty” Johnson on congas.
When the pandemic subsided, the ongoing Tuesday night gigs there became the go-to spot for lively music and dancing. Bowman also shares her apartment with Jacob and Owen, affectionately known as the “Doggies” or “Dogsters” (Jacob and Owen call her their “Kennel Master”).
When the rules changed to disallow music with electric instruments at the Ripple, the band relocated to Bent Paddle’s outdoor stage. Their Monday evening gigs last summer proved to be so popular that New Salty Dog was booked to play indoors there this winter. Presumably they will be back at the outdoor stage when the weather turns warmer.
Bowman, currently serves as the manager of New Salty Dog; her assessment of the band is that its outlook is very promising for gaining a wider audience. Indeed she is actively promoting them and helping line up more extensive tours. She, along with others, believes they are the next notable band to come out of Duluth in the footsteps of Low and Trampled By Turtles.
Like many other local musicians, Jacob and Owen lend their talents to other bands. These include the Gavin St. Clair Quartet (Owen), Babie Eyes (Jacob), Damien (Owen) and the ephemeral 4th Street Boogaloo in Blue (both Jacob and Owen together with Russ Sackett) which opened for Joseph Huber at a Sacred Heart Music Center concert back on November 11.
In addition to performing and developing their guitar, keyboard and drumming skills, the brothers began songwriting. As most fans of theirs will tell you, it is their unusual lyrics that enhance their individual sound. Some favorite compositions are “Bar Fly,” “You On Me,” “Come Home Soon,” “Otis & Cher” and “One Line at a Time.”
Here’s how I described their performance opening for Huber at Sacred Heart in my review of that concert: “They began with a slow bluesy tune (“Fish To Cook”) that was quite nice, then it was on to other prosaic topics with wonderfully wacky lyrics sung in a distinctive melodic style. Jacob has an almost feral sound as he slides up into his higher range that is not unpleasant.”
I have written before about how singers who are siblings or otherwise related seem to have a leg up when it comes to harmonious vocalizations, most recently after hearing the sister duo, Larkin Poe, at First Avenue. Owen and Jacob’s voices are likewise a natural pairing that add a special dimension to their songs.
Neither New Salty Dog nor Boss Mama & the Jebberhooch can be categorized as cover bands, though they certainly do right by the covers they perform; rather it’s the original songs these two groups perform that make them exceptional.
Certainly the originality the Mahons bring to song writing, between themselves and in collaboration with other band members, has much to do with why their fans are so devoted. Colleen Myhre (AKA Boss Mama) has described the Mahon brothers as having a “unique sound” and considers their songwriting “brilliant.”
She shared how her song, “Lonesome Rooster” came to be: In her mind it was a romantic song suitable for singing while gliding along the canals of Venice in a gondola until, in a practice session, Jacob said it reminded him of an old rooster! And so the tune was transformed into a somewhat sentimental, humorous blues number. She couldn’t praise these two members of the Jebberhooch enough, emphasizing how creative they are and how lucky she feels to be playing with them.
Together they will be recording a new album at Rich Mattson’s Sparta Sound studio this month.
On the subject of albums, New Salty Dog has several out: Pecan, Pecon (2020), Pecan Pie (also 2020); The Ripple Bar Live 9.19.2020 (2021); One Line At A Time (2022) and Bent Paddle Brewing Live 10.3.2020 (2023).
Having just finished listening to the latter, I can heartily recommend it. The band has been working on another that is due to be released sometime this fall.
Musician Rich Mattson, of Rich Mattson and the Northstars, owns the Sparta Sound recording studio where the Doggies have been mixing and laying down tracks. He also asserts that this band is supremely talented.
Jacob and Owen say this latest album is pretty much straightforward rock and roll.
Myhre and Mattson aren’t the only musicians that sing their praises. Ask virtually any other local musician and you’ll hear how much they love these guys. And when asked about whether there is any evidence of professional jealousy, both averred there wasn’t any on their part and as far as others towards them, they haven’t experienced any. Rather they emphasized how supportive all the local musicians are of each other.
Another testament to the growing popularity of New Salty Dog is the gigs they are playing at notable venues, in particular one on January 19 of this year at 7th Avenue Entry in the First Avenue complex, as well as the 331 Club, in Minneapolis. The band has played gigs in ever-widening areas around the upper Midwest from Fargo to Winona, Green Bay to Bemidji.
When asked in what genre their music could be categorized (Indie Rock?), both Owen and Jacob thought that they span too many types to be able to choose just one. They bill themselves as a funk jam band on their website. That funk is palpable in Calzone’s driving bass and Owen’s drumming. As for their fans, they span generations from millennials to aging baby boomers, so there is something in their music for nearly everyone.
Can a band be both loose and tight at the same time? It seems so with the Doggies. Though they haven’t gotten to the point of establishing setlists for their local gigs, perhaps it’s because New Salty Dog so often invites other musicians onstage to jam away with them. This seems to have them continually advancing into new musical territory. Jacob noted, however, preparing setlists is something they need to do as they become more polished and professional performers.
So what’s in store for these two and, specifically, New Salty Dog? What are their aspirations? Do they dream of the big time with arena shows and international gigs? Jacob says he wants to continue to do what he’s doing and have fun.
Owen is a bit more practical, saying he wants to be successful, meaning they will be able to support themselves by performing and with sales of their albums. Touring with Boss Mama & the Jebberhooch would also be welcome, as Jacob says they’d follow her almost anywhere. But mostly, they sense that taking it one step at a time is fine for the immediate future.
As best friends and bandmates Owen and Jacob are young enough to give themselves time to grow to their highest potential.
From my vantage point, I’d say that Duluth, the Twin Ports and Minnesota as a whole will be supremely proud of these young men as they foray into the larger pool of well-known performers. Keep the Mahon brothers on your radar by following them on their website (newsaltydog.com) and where you can access their recordings.
And note that New Salty Dog will be performing with FrogLeg at the Hook & Ladder Theater in Minneapolis on Saturday, April 29. You may wish to make the trip down to see them there!