After more than a decade of rocking local juke joints, annual festivals and music venues across Long Island, Memphis Crawl is having their moment. The Port Jefferson quintet’s charismatic lead singer, Matty “Soulman” O’Brien, spent years refining his lineup before landing on that perfect alchemical mix of personalities, musicianship and good vibes required to finally make gold.
Now, with D.W. Stevens on guitar, drummer Boom Boom Vincenti, bassist Kannabis Keith and, their newest addition, East Hampton keyboardist Magic Jack Marshall, Memphis Crawl has elevated their sound and begun a steady climb toward rock ’n’ roll greatness. The band released two singles this year, each with a music video; they’re recording a new album, touring the country, befriending and playing with rock royalty and gaining adoring fans wherever they perform.
Just watching Memphis Crawl and hearing their bluesy rock sound—highlighted by O’Brien’s gritty and, most importantly, authentic vocals—is enough to convince anyone they have “it.”
The band attracts a dedicated and growing fan base to wild live shows where, as seen in video from the 2016 Great South Bay Music Festival, a barefoot O’Brien invites the crowd onstage to dance, sing along, make out and even, in the case of one gigantic reveler, pick up and carry the 6-foot vocalist like a baby. At the center of all this chaos, he never stops singing, and the band doesn’t miss a beat.
“The Crawl is a pirate ship, hippie commune and traveling carnival,” O’Brien says, repeating his mother’s apt description. “I like making the people be able to get involved…I love it,” he adds, explaining that Memphis Crawl’s goal at shows is to “levitate the place.”
They regularly stay after performances to hang out with fans and venue management. “I’m just a working-class person who appreciates it,” the singer says. “Whenever we get home [from touring], we have new friends.”
O’Brien is the picture of a rock star—shaggy long hair, full beard, tattoos from knuckles to neck and plenty of style and swagger—but the look is well earned. His voice and songwriting chops are the real deal. Often compared to greats such as Joe Cocker and Jim Morrison (with maybe a hint of Scott Weiland?), he freely admits doing little to create or foster his rich tone.
“I always talked like deep and raspy,” O’Brien says, pointing out that he never practices or exercises his voice. “I’ve been singing since I came out of the womb.”
A lifelong Port Jeffersonian who still lives there with his wife Dani, a “hippie artist” and the band’s photographer, and their sons Dallas and Cash, O’Brien grew up with a mom he calls “a counterculture revolutionary” from Brooklyn. He was, and still is, the outgoing class clown type with boundless energy and a love of meeting new people. “I’ve always been about rock ’n’ roll,” he says. “The music thing and singing is a no-brainer.”
Most of the band’s lineup has been in place since 2009, though Keith, a former roadie, joined as bassist nearly two years ago, and Marshall only recently came aboard as full-time keyboardist. O’Brien was so pleased with their latest singles together, “Haunted Hearts” and “Revelations,” he’s since stripped away most of the Crawl’s other songs online. “The vibe, energy and love between all of us made the music so much more soulful,” he says, explaining that the band is finally exactly where he wants it, “like a family.”
Despite having released plenty of music, including a four-song EP and a full-length effort, O’Brien says the album they’re working on now, tentatively titled Cosmic Equestrian—which they’re recording at a 50-acre horse farm in Woodstock—is Memphis Crawl’s true debut. The group writes songs collectively, with O’Brien contributing lyrics and melodies.“None of my musical movement would be possible without the band,” he says. “Those fu__ers are like my brothers.”
Between recording sessions, the Crawl is continuing to tour and hoping to reach Europe next year. They already have fans wearing their shirts in countries like Australia and Japan, and have earned influential friends, such as Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes, who has worn their shirt onstage. “We’re starting to get a lot of respect in the music business,” O’Brien says.
Thanks to his Morrison-like voice, O’Brien proudly points out that Memphis Crawl is playing with The Doors guitarist Robby Krieger at The Space at Westbury on Thursday, September 27—a dream come true for the longtime fan.
The band then goes to Pennsylvania and on to California, where they’ll play two venues, including the Whisky a Go Go in West Hollywood.
For more details and touring info, visit memphiscrawl.com.