On Sunday night, the big news is that Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band will celebrate its 50th anniversary. For those of you that don’t know Jim or the outsized role he and his cohorts played in 1960s folk music, read the interview with him below. For those who do, it’s worth noting that there will be a dazzling tribute to Kweskin and company that includes sets by Maria Muldaur, Samoa Wilson and the Four O’Clock Flowers, modern-day juggers the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Kweskin’s own banjo superhero Bill Keith’s band, and a duet with Kweskin and longtime collaborator Geoff Muldaur, among other Kweskin-related goodies. If that ain’t enough on Sunday, there’s Taj Mahal; Albert Lee, who will play his own set and share a jam session with Bill Kirchen; and some super-nasty zydeco assaults on the dance stage with Watson, young third coasters Feufollet, and Steve Riley.
Kweskin will be the unofficial guest of honor at this year’s fest. He will be surrounded by his longtime jug band accompanists: Maria and Geoff Muldaur, Bill Keith, and Richard Green, and backed by the BBQ Orchestra. We discussed his upcoming appearance, his music, and his deep folk music legacy.
How would you describe jug band music? What distinguishes it from other forms of traditional music? I was always a big fan of New Orleans and Chicago style jazz, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller. I loved folk music too with Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Leadbelly. So I guess I play a combination of early jazz and folk music. That’s pretty much what jug band music is.
Tell us how the original band got together. I played three times a month at the old Club 47 in Cambridge. The calendar said Jim Kweskin but it was never just me. I invited friends with me onstage and we would jam. Nine or 10 people on jugs, washboards, kazoos, fiddles, harmonicas, Fritz Richmond up there on washtub bass, and we would all just jam. I pulled the band from those sessions.
With a 50th anniversary tour, it’s hard not to get nostalgic. How do you feel about the band being together at this time? Well, we’ve played a few gigs together, including a bunch in Japan this past spring, a few in the Bay Area, each time with great musicians joining us. This time we’re going to have Fritz’s old band from Portland, the band he had for the last 12-15 years, called the BBQ Orchestra. We’re going to dedicate our appearance at this festival to Fritz’s memory.
Let’s talk a little about the late Fritz Richmond. What made him special to this band and its sound? Fritz played the washtub bass. There’s only one person I’ve heard that’s played that and make it sound like a real instrument. That was Fritz. Not only did he get great solid notes, he was a creative bass player, and added a lot musically. He also was an amazing jug player. He could play “The Flight of the Bumblebee” on the jug! Yeah, we miss him big time.