Hornbeam Recordings, the good folks who brought us new music from Bonnie Dobson in 2014 as well as the late Tom Paley and Spider John Koerner, are to release a new album from the legendary Jim Kweskin called Unjugged. The label invited Jim over to the UK in 2016 to record the album – his first outside the USA. The album features a collection of American and English folk songs in which he is joined by Canadian folk singer Bonnie Dobson, fiddle player Ben Paley, bassist Tali Trow and on harmonica Bill Denton.
The album is released today on both CD and Download and can be ordered here. Take a listen to Spike Driver Blues
I first heard this song by Mississippi John Hurt on the Harry Smith Anthology Of American Folk Music, an eye-opener for me. There have been many great three-finger pickers, from Reverend Gary Davis to Blind Blake and country artists like Merle Travis and Chet Atkins, but Mississippi John Hurt is one of my all-time favourites.
The name Jim Kweskin is synonymous with the ’60s East Coast folk scene alongside Von Schmidt, Geoff Muldaur, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk. I first came across Kweskin’s name when reading Van Ronk’s memoir The Mayor of MacDougal Street many years ago in which he recalled stories around Club 47 on Palmer Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall back then – one story that has stuck in my mind is of Van Ronk performing at Club 47 ‘boxed out of my bird’ after Jim persuaded him to have a toke on a joint on the promise that he wouldn’t call him up to perform. He did call him up, however, and Van Ronk, despite being mesmerised by what his fingers were magically doing, managed to pull off a good enough performance to then be booked to by the Club 47 manager.
Van Ronk makes it clear that Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band were creating some serious ripples and after witnessing the crowds he was pulling Max Gordon, the Village Vanguard owner at the time attempted to recreate all this back in Greenwich Village with the short-lived Ragtime Jug Stompers featuring Van Ronk.
Kweskin’s influence went beyond many expectations and some of the best known key rock groups of the 60s and 70s began life as or were influenced by jug bands: The Grateful Dead, John Sebastian and the Lovin’ Spoonful, Country Joe & the Fish, The 13th Floor Elevators all took on the anarchic DIY freshness of the Jug, Jook or Spasm band.
Author and journalist Ed Ward (and co-founder of Austin’s famous South by Southwest) is quoted as saying “The most important bands of the early 60s? Glad you asked: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Byrds, and The Jim Kweskin Jug Band. I’m perfectly serious.”
Just as he did with the Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band, featuring Maria and Geoff Muldaur,Jim continues to recreate and modernised songs from the ’20s and ’30s on Unjugged, adding his own magic and twist here and there where he sees fit and the occasional new verse or two.
Jim sounds as fresh as ever and it’s sure to place a smile on your face with his choice collection of classics and some great humour along the way (The Mermaid Song). Don’t hesitate in buying a copy – you won’t be sorry.
Jim is playing a launch gig tonight (27 October) at Come Down and Meet the Folks in London (The Apple Tree, 45 Mount Pleasant London WC1X 0AE). More details here: http://www.comedownandmeetthefolks.co.uk/