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Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band was the original "Americana" band, playing everything from classic blues to hillbilly country, ragtime, jazz, and rock 'n' roll. They perfectly captured the 1960s mix of exuberant anarchy and heartfelt sincerity - one of the many other jug bands they inspired evolved into the Grateful Dead - but no other group attained their unique blend of youthful energy and antiquarian expertise, tight musicianship, loose camaraderie, and infectious swing.
The Kweskin gang made the jug band style of the 1920s sound fresher than ever. As Jim said, "We don't sound like anybody ever sounded before. What we are doing is taking old styles and building new things out of them. We're ourselves all the time." That spirit took the Jug Band from the Newport Folk Festival, where they were reliable crowd favorites, to many appearances on national television where they baffled Johnny Carson by handing him a kazoo and urging him to jam. On one show they convinced Bette Davis to play washboard with them. Other folk-blues revivalists were nostalgic, but the Kweskin gang were revolutionary hipsters. "We were dedicated to presenting a life experience and pioneering experiences for people," says Geoff Muldaur. "We were trying to get that kid in the fourth row to finally pick up a guitar or take a trip - or just get down."
The Jug Band made you feel like you wanted to jump onstage and join them. "The whole trip was so innocent," Maria Muldaur recalls. "We just did it like crazies and got up there and sang... It was just a pure love of music and a real community feeling." That community centered around Jim Kweskin, a formidable ragtime blues guitarist with a gift for good-time jazz. He pulled together a mismatched bunch of talented individuals: Geoff Muldaur sang blues with eerie soul and played guitar, mandolin or washboard percussion, Maria Muldaur played fiddle, kazoo, or tambourine and sang like a cross between a hillbilly lass and an old sexy blueswoman. Other cast members included Fritz Richmond jug player extraordinaire and "poet of the washtub bass," banjo player Bob Siggins, the great harmonica player Mel Lyman, David Simon aka Bruno Wolfe, the banjo virtuoso Bill Keith and fiddler Richard Greene, both alumni of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys.
Fifty years down the road, Kweskin, Keith, and the Muldaurs have separately kept making music in myriad configurations but the Jug Band is where they started and there is a special magic when they come back together. The rock critic Ed Ward once listed the most important bands of the early 1960s as the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Byrds, and the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, adding: "I'm not kidding." No one who knows the Jug Band would have thought he was.