There’s an irony about your jug band: you are virtuoso musicians, but on instruments like the jug, the kazoo, the harmonica, the washtub bass. The most important thing with any good band is that musicianship has to be top quality. Everybody has to really play, and our arrangements have to be good. We rehearsed a lot, so when we finally got onstage we made it look easy. I had extremely talented musicians in the band. For example, Bill Keith is one of the best banjo players that ever lived. I got him after he left Bill Monroe’s band!
I imagine you didn’t ask him to try out then, did you? (Laughs) Well, I actually did because I knew he could play bluegrass banjo, but I didn’t know if he could play ragtime banjo. But I found out pretty quickly that, of course, he could.
What role did the Newport Folk Festivals play in your career? Just to be on the bill was a boost to our career. It gave us validation that we were one of the top acts in acoustic music. We also got to meet and see amazing musicians that we’d only heard on old records like Bukka White, Son House, Skip James, Muddy Waters, and Reverend Gary Davis. Getting to hear them in person was just amazing. The after-performance parties at the hotels later on in the night were also incredible. For example, I remember Rick Farina and Eric Von Schmitt jamming with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez with us in the middle of it.
You and Geoff have played together a lot over the years. Can you describe the chemistry you have with him? The combination of Fritz passing and the movie Chasing Gus’ Ghost kind of brought us together after 40 years. We decided to put together a show and it felt natural, like we hadn’t skipped a beat. We spent a summer rehearsing a duo act, 20 songs or so, and that’s what we do now. It’s a blast and playing with Geoff is a treat for me.
It has to be satisfying that in this age of technology there’s still an audience for jug band music — which is as analog as it gets. I can’t explain it. There are hundreds of jug bands here now, and in Japan too. Jug band has a certain attraction to it. It attracts crazy people! All kinds of traditional music have followings like ours: old-time mountain music, acoustic blues. But it sure is gratifying to see that young folks are coming out to see us.
Rhythm & Roots Festival | August 30-September 1 | Ninigret Park, Rt 1, Charlestown | 888.855.6940 | rhythmandroots.com