Aug 22, 2019
by Robert Feuer
Those of you who remember the Jim Kweskin Jug Band’s early days will fondly recall their upbeat sound, part of the general spirit and clamor of the 1960s. Kweskin, now 79, will be at the Occidental Center for the Arts on Sept. 22, accompanied by Meredith Axelrod, a young woman who has played with Dan Hicks, Maria Muldaur, Geoff Muldaur, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, and David Grisman. Both musicians will be on vocals, guitar, and banjo, with possibly a jug tune or two from her.
Axelrod shares Kweskin’s enthusiasm for early American music. Their repertoire, Kweskin says by phone from Boston, is the music of the 1920s and ‘30s, “bluesy, jazzy folk music,” with some standards from the American songbook. Adding jugs, washboards, and kazoos helped create the rural, primitive sound of jug bands. His music, from the beginning, has focused on new arrangements of old songs, while expanding and maturing since the early days.
Kweskin first heard music on his father’s 78s. “From the time I was a young child I just loved that music,” he says. Decades later, jamming at the legendary Club 47 in Boston, the owner or president of Vanguard Records approached him for a record proposal, if Kweskin could put a band together. “I had a record deal before I had a band.”
Kweskin met Geoff Muldaur on a co-bill in 1962, where they shared a few songs. A year later, Maria D’Amato, then a member of the Even Dozen Jug Band, saw them play and fell in love with Geoff. She joined Kweskin’s band, shortly thereafter becoming Maria Muldaur
“The Kweskin Jug Band was communal, it was a family, it was democratic,” Kweskin says. They lived near each other, socialized all the time, and were very close friends. They were innocent, in that they weren’t seeking major careers, just “having fun.”
Kweskin appeared on many national television shows. On one of three Steve Allen Show appearances, Kweskin joined Allen who was on piano, with another guest, Johnny Carson on kazoo. On a Mike Douglas Show, Kweskin played guitar with Bette Davis on washboard.
After five years with the Jug Band, as they became increasingly popular, Kweskin says, he gave it up. “It was starting to get repetitious. My creative juices were no longer being excited.” While raising his kids and working in construction, he did only 15-20 gigs/ year during the ‘80s.
Returning to music with 40-50 shows/ year, he now plays in various configurations – some solo or with Happy Traum, Geoff Muldaur, or Suzy Thompson; also two jug bands, a jazz band, even his granddaughter. “I love playing for people, getting them singing along.”
Kweskin enjoys the current proliferation of young people’s jug bands, string bands, and old-timey bands. He’s not claiming responsibility for this, but says, “We carried on the tradition. We were probably the longest-lasting and most influential.”
As of his time in the ‘60s, he’s realistic. “I loved the ‘60s and had a wonderful time, but everyone feels that way about their youth.”
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