To someone raised on the music of Eric Church or the Zac Brown Band, jug band music may seem as anachronistic as a Model T Ford.
Although jug bands enjoyed the height of their popularity in the 1920s and 30s, the creative decade of the 1960s saw a revival of jug band ethos in such popular rock combos as the Lovin Spoonful and Grateful Dead. Both of those Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bands owed their inspiration to the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, a good-time combo that formed in the Boston area in 1963.
It was the peak of the folk revival, and Boston was vibrant with talented folk.
There were a lot of musicians in their 20s who were very excited and learning all kinds of wonderful traditional American music, jamming together and partying together, says Kweskin, who will perform at the ArtsCenter Wednesday with former Jug Band member and lifelong friend Geoff Muldaur. There were several venues, the most prestigious of which was Club 47, but there were several others. There was a lot happening.
Before dissolving in 1968, the band released six albums and featured a changing, yet stellar cast of musicians. Members included Maria DAmato (who married Geoff Muldaur), Mel Lyman, Fritz Richmond and bluegrass innovators Bill Keith and Richard Greene.
Kweskin and Muldaur have remained active since their jug band days. Kweskin tours as a solo act and with folk and jazz combos, including the Crockett Sisters and Samoa Wilson. Muldaur performs solo and with others. Earlier this year, the two friends joined forces with other Jug Band alumni for a series of concerts marking the bands 50th anniversary.
Although part of the 60s folk revival, the Kweskin Jug Band was different from other acts. While the Kingston Trio and other commercial groups presented a clean, frat house image in suits, ties, and cardigan sweaters, and had well-rehearsed stage banter, Kweskin and company were more casual and spontaneous. Their approach to the music and presentation endeared them to a different audience who shared their vision.
It was not just our music, but also the way we performed, Kweskin says. We were one of the first acts to get on stage and be ourselves. We didnt have set jokes and patter. We didnt wear costumes. Everything we did was spontaneous. Everything we did involved the audience.
We told stories about ourselves and what was going on in our daily lives, or talked about the songs. Every time we played, what we talked about was different. We kidded each other and joked around, but we didnt have a routine, and that was very unusual. Each set was different songs or a different arrangement of the tunes. So we were very improvisational.
Inspired by many genres
Not restricted to a particular style, the jug band drew material from a variety of genres. Kweskin says the only covenant was that the song fit their personality and was suitable for one of the members to sing.
Wed draw from such sources as old-time jazz bands like Louis Armstrong or Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton bands, to Western swing bands like Milton Brown and Bob Wills, to Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, and all the way up to Chuck Berry.
Their loose, fun-oriented demeanor appealed to other musicians as well as fans. In California, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Ron Pigpen McKernan were inspired by Kweskin and formed Mother McCrees Uptown Jug Champions, a forerunner of the Grateful Dead. In New York, John Sebastian established the Lovin Spoonful, which recorded such hits as Jug Band Music.
At 73, Kweskin remains active, satisfying the creative impulses that nourished the good times and enjoyable music of a half-century past.
I have a lot of projects in mind, he says. Im also learning new songs all the time. Im a working musician so I keep growing, keep adding repertoire, keep doing gigs and playing with different people. I mix it up and keep it interesting.