Jug-band democ­racy

Pasatiempo - - Terrell’s Tune-up -

I’ve said it be­fore, I’ll say it again: jug-band mu­sic was the orig­i­nal punk rock. It’s been said that punk rock, in its early days, was the most demo­cratic kind of mu­sic, be­cause you didn’t have to know how to play your in­stru­ment to be in a band. But with a jug band, you don’t even need to have a real in­stru­ment. An­ti­quated house­hold ap­pli­ances like the wash­tub and wash­board serve as your rhythm sec­tion. You could be­come a vir­tu­oso on kinder­garten per­cus­sion in­stru­ments and ka­zoo. And, of course, there’s the jug, which is cheaper and much eas­ier to trans­port than a tuba.

And jug-band mu­sic re­fuses to die. The genre’s di­rect in­flu­ence can be heard on the re­cent South Mem­phis String Band al­bum Home Sweet Home (re­viewed here a few weeks ago), fea­tur­ing Alvin Young­blood Hart, Jimbo Mathus, and Luther Dick­in­son— though they didn’t use a jug. And it lives in Maria Mul­daur & Her Gar­den of Joy and the Asy­lum Street Spankers’ lat­est al­bum, God’s Fa­vorite Band, which is one of the group’s best.

His­tory in a jug: No­body knows who was the first per­son to blow into a jug to pro­vide the bass part in a band. Ac­cord­ing to Don Kent’s liner notes for the ex­cel­lent jug-band com­pi­la­tion Ruckus Juice & Chit­tlins, by the year 1900, there was a group called the Cy An­der­son Jug Band play­ing in the streets of Louisville, Ken­tucky. And by 1913, a banjo player named Earl McDon­ald had a steady gig for his jug band at the Ken­tucky Derby. The jug-band virus spread south to Birm­ing­ham, north to Chicago and Cincin­nati, and to Mem­phis, where it gave birth to in­flu­en­tial groups like The Mem­phis Jug Band and Can­non’s Jug Stom­pers.

Jug-band fever faded af­ter the ’30s. But it reared its head again dur­ing the folk re­vival of the 1960s. One of the prime movers was an out­fit called The Even Dozen Jug Band, which never got fa­mous dur­ing its short life­time, even though its alumni in­clude The Lovin’ Spoon­ful’s John Se­bas­tian; man­dolin great David Gris­man; gui­tarist Ste­fan Gross­man; Steve Katz, an orig­i­nal mem­ber of Blood, Sweat & Tears; and Mul­daur, then Maria D’Amato. She be­came best known in the main­stream for her early ’70s hit “Mid­night at the Oa­sis,” but she first got a taste of na­tional fame with jug-band mu­sic.

I just met a girl named Maria: She later joined what be­came the most im­por­tant of the jug-band re­vival groups, Jim Kwe­skin & The Jug Band (which in­cluded singer/gui­tarist Ge­off Mul­daur, who would be­come her hus­band). Kwe­skin, whose band ap­peared on sev­eral na­tional tele­vi­sion va­ri­ety shows, spawned a num­ber of other jug bands around the coun­try.

There was loads of tal­ent in Kwe­skin’s group, but, es­pe­cially for the boys, Maria D’Amato Mul­daur was the star. Try to lis­ten to her ver­sion of Mis­sis­sippi John Hurt’s “Rich­landWo­man” without fall­ing in lust.

Gar­den of Joy is a glo­ri­ous re­turn to jug-band mu­sic for Mul­daur. Even Dozen bud­dies Se­bas­tian and Gris­man are here, as is fel­low Kwe­skin vet Fritz Rich­mond, who poots forth on jug on “Sweet Lovin’ Ol’ Soul.” There are other no­table guest stars, too. None other than Taj Ma­hal plays banjo and gui­tar on sev­eral cuts.

And then there’s Dan Hicks. He shows up for a snazzy duet on the med­ley of the sexy “Life’s Too Short” and the silly “When Ele­phants Roost in Bam­boo Trees.” Plus Mul­daur sings a cou­ple of songs from Hicks’ lat­est al­bum, Tan­gled Tales —“The Diplo­mat” and “Let It Sim­mer.” She was al­ways a won­der­ful in­ter­preter of Hicks. “Walkin’ One and Only” was a high­light of her first solo al­bum, while she got the ti­tle of her sec­ond al­bum, Wait­ress in a Donut Shop, from Hicks’ song “Sweet­heart.”

While jug-band mu­sic is a joy­ful and nos­tal­gic sound, there’s an edge to Gar­den of Joy, which is sub­ti­tled Good Time Mu­sic for Hard Times. The last two songs on the al­bum em­pha­size the hard times. Th­ese are the De­pres­sion-era tunes “Bank Fail­ure Blues” and “The Panic Is On.” She has up­dated the lyrics of the lat­ter. “Obama’s in the White House sayin’ ‘ Yes we can’/I know he’s gonna come up with a real good plan.”

Mean­while, back in heaven: One of the best tunes on Gar­den of Joy is “He Calls That Re­li­gion.” This old Mis­sis­sippi Sheiks tune calls out greedy, lech­er­ous preach­ers (“He calls that re­li­gion, but you know he’s go­ing to Hell when he dies”).

This song would fit in per­fectly on the new Asy­lum Street Spankers al­bum. God’s Fa­vorite Band is a rau­cous live record full of clas­sic gospel tunes — “Down By the River­side,” “Wade in the­Wa­ter,” and BlindWil­lie John­son’s “DarkWas the Night, ColdWas the Ground,” for in­stance. And singer Christina Marrs, while no Maria Mul­daur, belts out “Each Day” and “By and By” with brass and bravado.

It’s also got some left-field gospel, such as Vi­o­lent Femmes’ “Je­sus Walk­ing on the Wa­ter,” and the ul­tra-goofy orig­i­nal tune “Volk­swa­gen Thing,” in which singer/ wash­board man Wammo claims God drives the ve­hi­cle of the ti­tle.

But for me, the high­light on this set is “It Ain’t Nec­es­sar­ily So.” This song is from Porgy and Bess and per­haps best known from Cab Cal­loway’s ver­sion. My first real con­cert mem­ory is hear­ing Cal­loway singing that dur­ing a half-time show at a Har­lem Glo­be­trot­ters game. It twisted my head off! I didn’t know any­one was al­lowed to sing things like “The things that you’re li­able to read in the Bi­ble, it ain’t nec­es­sar­ily so” and poke fun at bib­li­cal sto­ries in pub­lic— at least not at a bas­ket­ball game in Ok­la­homa!

It’s not shock­ing that the Spankers would do a song like this. But end­ing an al­bum full of gospel songs with it is de­light­fully sub­ver­sive in it­self.

Fill that jug: I’m go­ing to do a lengthy jug­band set Fri­day night on The Santa Fe Opry, on KSFR-FM 101.1 and stream­ing live at ksfr.org. My show starts at 10 p.m., and the jug-band set will start at 11 p.m.

And check out my new Big En­chi­lada pod­cast at bi­gen­chi­ladapod­cast.com. The last set is made up of some of my fa­vorite jug-band tunes.

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