Oh Brothers! Jacob and Owen Mahon, Part I

Jill Fisher

The Mahon bros at Wussow's. Photo by Jill Fisher.

Which locally based bands have the most devoted following these days? I would surmise they would have to include Boss Mama & the Jebberhooch and New Salty Dog.

And what do these two groups have in common? The Mahon Brothers, that’s what.

With a regular gig at Bent Paddle on Monday evenings, the “Doggies” have packed the place week after week. Add to that the turnouts for Boss Mama’s Wednesday residency at Duluth Cider for the past couple of months, it isn’t so farfetched to think this has something to do with these two brothers.  

Those who are familiar with these young men and have seen them performing in several different bands (not just the above-mentioned) know just how much talent these two have and crazy fun they can generate. So where did all that musical ability come from?  

Jacob and Owen Mahon (last name pronounced “Man”) are brothers born 13 months apart, ages 23 and 22,  who have been playing and making music together most of their lives. As youngsters they lived at Camp Olson, a YMCA summer camp in Longville, Minnesota, where their father, Jay Mahon, was the facilities manager.

In reminiscing about their childhood, it’s clear they had pretty much free reign to explore the summer camp and small-town environment. Running around in swim shorts all summer long, swimming in Little Boy Lake, and simply following their natural curiosities, they both appear to have developed their own individual personas and talents which is apparent today in their musical expression.  

According to the elder Mahon, the brothers were very much self-directed; there was no pressure to play music or take up instruments. Rather, it was being exposed to music, both in their home and around the nightly campfires at Camp Olson where folk and popular tunes, such as “Country Roads” and “Me and Julio Down By The School Yard,” were the typical fare When Christmas 2010 rolled around, Jacob received the gift of a guitar. He subsequently took a few lessons from and was mentored by guitarist Steve Reiter, of Walker, Minnesota.

As Jacob told it, he learned one chord at each weekly session, practicing and mastering it before the next. By the end of the third lesson Reiter directed him to continue learning from YouTube sessions. And that’s just what he did.  

Owen wasn’t far behind—he received a bass guitar that was bigger than he was at the time. With subsequent lessons from the bass player in a local band, The Buzzardz, he joined Jacob in exploring music. Before they knew it, the brothers were performing together as “Hog Rooster” at the Mule Lake Corral bar, at ages 10 and 11! Jacob explained that they actually played for only about a half hour (the time it took to play all the songs they knew) at 4:30 pm to an audience made up of relatives and friends. You might want to check out early performances on YouTube (search “Hog Rooster Cold Live at Terrapin Station” which will bring up several performances). So cute and fabulous!  

By then they had moved to Walker where their mom, Susan Brown, was living. The boys had begun playing songs at various gigs, such as the famers’ market, art fairs, local talent shows and nursing homes, etc. Owen started playing drums and washboards around age 16 and Jacob added the piano to his skill set.  

Brown tells of how self-motivated and serious her sons were, describing how constant their interest in music was and how Jacob did pushups on his fingers to strengthen them for playing the guitar. She reiterated what their father said about not pushing them with regard to playing music, but just providing opportunities for their development and expression. Despite the typical sibling squabbles, she said they have always been each other’s best friends.  

In 2016 the brothers moved to Duluth with their father and they began jamming with local musicians, such as Jeffery James O’Laughlin, at Wussow’s (then Beaner’s). Within a couple of years Jacob recorded his first solo album at Wussow’s with the title Llamaless. It reveals Jacob’s explorations of his vocal range and technique. (Jacob’s mom explained where that curious title came from: as an infant Jacob had a stuffed Llama that he couldn’t sleep without. As the title suggests, he doesn’t need it anymore, though mom still holds onto it for him.)  

When Jacob Mahon began playing some solo gigs in 2017, at the Spirit Room in Superior, Dubh Linn Irish Brew Pub, and Sir Benedict’s Tavern on the Lake, he was spotted as a new talent on the local musical horizon prompting three Duluthians—Wendy Ruhnke, Pat Eliason and Laura Whitney—to establish the Jacob Mahon Fan Club. At the same time Owen was playing bass guitar with the Skunch Brothers which included Adam Johnson (lead guitar), Nick Robinson  (drums) and Joseph Anderson (saxophone). In June 2020 the Skunch Brothers released its debut album, NO NO NO YEA YEA YEA. Later Owen joined the Jeffry O’Laughlin band as a drummer, this being the first group he played the drums with.  

Colleen Myhre (AKA Boss Mama) has known the boys for the past six years and recalls that, when she saw a YouTube recording of Jacob, she set out to book him for the Holy Hootenanners’ annual show in her hometown Matowah. Following up, he attended a few shows of hers, and next thing you know she invited him on stage to play with her, as she had been doing with other local musicians. When she met Owen and subsequently booked Jacob Mahon and the Salty Dogs for her Matowah show, it was the beginning of a beautiful musical relationship.  

Jacob signed up for Homegrown in 2019, initially under his own name, but expanded it to Jacob Mahon & the Salty Dogs for the printed program. Not long after, the band was renamed New Salty Dog to better reflect the importance and contributions of all the members. Today the band  is comprised of Owen and Jacob together with Calvin “Calzone” Lund, Sam Detters and Byron “Lefty” Johnson.  

In naming their musical influences, Jacob and Owen’s list is almost endless: Jay Hawks, John Prine, Tom Waits, Old Crow Medicine Show, James Taylor, Frank Zappa, Phish, Goose, Grateful Dead, John Hartford, Mississippi John Hurt, Miles Davis, Reverend Gary Davis, Dylan (of course), Sinatra (!), etc. not to mention local musicians and bands such as Charlie Parr, A Band Called Truman, Feeding Leroy and Woodblind. As the boys tell it, they went through various musical phases even including a Heavy Metal phase (System of A Down band). However, those who have seen them perform know that they have developed their own distinctive sound, which is one reason for their popularity.  

The outlook for these two young men and the bands they play in is most promising and worthy of further coverage.