Scientific evidence would have us believe that the Earth is continuously spinning on its axis, turning the days into nights, making the months and the years go by like clockwork. But for many of us, there are those instances when the Earth seems to stand still, when the unexpected rears its ugly head and — for the moment — literally freezes time. For Tony Denardo, that time arrived on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2001, when, just before his barely born band, the Muggs, was supposed to play a weekend of high-profile shows, he suffered a stroke at the age of 28. The stroke paralyzed him completely on his right side, rendered him incapable of speech and left him to face the possibility of never playing his bass — nor with the momentum-gaining Muggs — again.
Denardo, however, wasn’t willing to accept those odds. “I never felt like I wouldn’t play the bass guitar again. My rationale was, from the instant that this horrible thing happened, if I could move a limb just an inch off the bed, then logic tells me, Why can’t you move it two inches?’”
While Denardo was hell-bent on recovering, the rest of the Muggs — guitarist/vocalist Danny Methric (who also pulls double duty as the Paybacks’ guitarist) and former Immortal Winos of Soul drummer Matt Rost — put the band on hold and waited for their brother to return.
“When Tone had his stroke, people told me I should get a new bass player. I looked around and I was like, ‘I don’t feel comfortable writing without him,’” Methric says.
Perhaps the reason for this reluctance is that Denardo and Methric have known each other since they were 13. Theirs is a bond that surpasses friendship and floats into an essence that can only be categorized as brotherly.
After years of toiling around in bands together, Denardo and Methric formed the Muggs in early 2000 as an outlet for their unabashed passion for bluesy combos like Mountain, the James Gang and Free.
“For me, the blues is everything. If you can understand the blues in its simplest form then you can take that format and apply it to any kind of music,” Denardo says.
In the fall of 2002, while recuperating, Denardo began writing and recording songs with a Casio keyboard and a four-track recorder. He and Methric had a phone conversation that was to map out the bass player’s return to the band. “Danny was on tour with Paybacks at the time, and I was talking to him on the phone about some of the recording I was doing. Some of my fingerings were tough and Danny mentioned that I might be able to learn our songs on keyboard.” Following some advice from Outrageous Cherry’s Matt Smith, Denardo spent three hours a day relearning his bass lines on a Rhodes keyboard.
The band returned in 2003, giving the crowd a sip from a whole new kind of Muggs. “At first I was scared to death, hoping everybody would accept the new look,” Methric says. “But midway through the show, I started to feel really good about it. Tone was so gung-ho about it too; he’s such a great musician. The better the shows got, the more I started to get that old feeling back. Musically, we were really starting to gel.”
And how the Muggs are feeling now is what’s most important. After years of false starts and aborted missions, the band is finally gaining the respect and admiration of music lovers around the city, co-headlining this year’s Dally in the Alley and sharing the stage with just about every kind of band Detroit has produced. It’s the sort of success that was well worth the wait.
“Danny and Matt waited for me to return to the band,” Denardo says. “They could have easily gone out and got another bass player. I can never thank them enough.”
Friday, Dec. 17, at the Magic Bag (22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-544-1991) with the Detroit Cobras and the Hard Lessons. Ryan Allen is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]