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I’ve Got the Neo-Jug Band Blues

1 Feb

Jug Band

Forget, for a minute, all about that olde 1920’s country folk/blues/ragtime stuff. Just imagine: it’s 1963, and radios all around you are blaring “The Sukiyaki Song” and bogue tunes from that shitty Singing Nun film. Yes, it’s grim. And all of a sudden: THE ROOFTOP SINGERS come a-swinging with “Walk Right In”. Now, you might not know this song was originally done in 1930 by Gus Cannon & CANNON’S JUG STOMPERS. And yes, these ROOFIES do sound pretty featherweight. But the tune, the song, the harmonies . . . they hit on a primordial, genealogical-tree nerve buried deep inside you. It gets you wondering: hey, what’s up with this new, jug band revival thing?

Yep, the jug band revival of the late 50’s/early 60’s ain’t the hippest cultural legacy going, but without a doubt it was an exciting, ear-poppin’ musical development for those too luddite for the rockin’ instrumental surf music at the time. It’s proponents certainly cued off the early hijinks of COUNTRY JOE & THE FISH, THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL, THE GRATEFUL DEAD, and even THE 13th FLOOR ELEVATORS. And though I admit alot this stuff gets me thinking about my dad wearing thick, square glasses and a Stanford U. letterman’s jacket, there’s actually many other, really great images this kinda stuff’ll conjure up in craniums that are a little less context-bound. Listen to enough of this stuff, and I guarantee you’ll be fitting a broom-handle and a bass string to a washtub in no time flat.

Jolly Joe’s Jug Band – “Jug in the Shade” (from the Fonotone Records (1956 – 1969) box set, Dust-to-Digital Records, 2005) Was this the first retro jug band to be recorded? If it’s from ’56, it probably was. Jolly Joe Bussard was a teen gtr player/record collector who spent the better part of a couple decades bothering the heck out of nice ol’ country people door to door, on the off chance he might come across some rare-as-hen’s-teeth blues recordings pressed into brittle shelac. His mission was a selfish one, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t all benefited from some of his better finds. He also succeeded in creating a 78-rpm alternate universe via his Fonotone label, wherein he pretended it was 1928 for well over a decade – almost succeeding in stopping time entirely! Get his Fonotone 5-CD box and trip out on how weirdly obsessive American kids used to be.

The Orange Blossom Jug Five – “Salty Dog” (from their Skiffle In Stereo LP on Lyrichord Records, 1960) The other contender for first jug revivalists on the block – this was recorded in ’58. And oh my this is so frickin’ lo-fi, you might start believing them little bones in your middle ear did shatter at your last MOTÖRHEAD gig. Famed-folkie Dave Van Ronk plays on this, but totally renounced it: “it was truly appalling, but we couldn’t stop them from putting it out.” Thank god the finicky opinions of musician-types sometimes get overridden – the jug air is really a-blastin’ on this one.

The True Endeavor Jug Band – “Blues, Just Blues, That’s All” (from The Art of the Jug Band LP, Prestige Records, 1963) Blues historian Samuel Charters called this band his own. Is it as good as other critic-led groups like, say, Lester Bangs’ BIRDLAND? Or R. Meltzer’s VOM? Well, I don’t listen to them bands neither, so I suppose I could get away with saying: yeah! At least no one’s reading bad poetry over the top of this rec. And the cover (see above) gets me wondering how cool it would be to blow a jug on Mars.

The Even Dozen Jug Band – “Take Your Fingers Off It” (from The Even Dozen Jug Band LP, Electra Records, 1964) These guys are the most enthusiastically cornball of the bunch, but I find enthused-corn to be an increasingly useful commodity, the older I get. How else am I gonna irk annoyingly po-faced dipshits when they slink around here? And clearly, corn was a staple food in the diet of all the original, 20’s jug bands as well. Gtr-professor Stefan Grossman played on this when he was still a teenager, and there’s some vague LOVIN’ SPOONFUL connections here I can’t tell you about, as I ain’t from that coast. There’s a cheap CD of this floating around; what’s stopping you?

Dave Van Ronk & the Ragtime Jug Stompers – “Moritat” (from the Dave Van Ronk & the Ragtime Jug Stompers LP, Mercury Records, 1964) Dave Van Ronk eventually put out a jug record he could stand proudly behind, and it’s a good one. Nowhere near as primitive as his first try with THE ORANGE BJ 5, but certainly energetic and bursting with good jugular ideas. Of special note is their jug-led version of Kurt Weil’s “Mack the Knife” – it’ll strip the pants off of NICK CAVE any day of the week. No doubt, a murder ballad like this woulda gone over well someplace like Memphis in 1928, then known as “The Murder Capital of the World”.

Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band – “Blues in the Bottle” (from their See Reverse Side For Title LP, Vanguard Records, 1966) Much more than dollar bin do-wacka-do. This entry’s a bit late in the game, but these folkies was juggin’ it in ’63 too. Jim always surrounded himself with some of the best young ‘uns in the business (Fritz Richmond, Geoff and Maria Muldaur, Bill Keith), and his voice could cut straight through any haystack you might think to roll in front of it. Here, he’s reimagining a HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS tune in ways the original never even hinted at. Gotta give this man a hand.

David Lightbourne’s Stop & Listen Boys – “Beat You Plenty” (from their Monkey Junk CD, Upland Records, 1999) Couldn’t end without working in a neareSST relative here somewheres. A quarter century after the rest of this stuff, this S & L BOYS CD was released, produced by one-time SST house philosopher Joe Carducci and engineered by Bill Stevenson and Stephen Egerton of THE DESCENDENTS/ALL. It’s a great & gruff run through jug & country blues songs that your grandma woulda sang to you, if your dad hadn’t been playing those dang HERB ALPERT recs so loud. This particular cut goes and sticks it’s kazoo right up your wazoo.

Would Greg Ginn ever really have signed anything like this to SST? Well go listen to his new TEXAS CORRUGATORS CD before you ask me that, son.