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December 19, 2013

New Favorite Blog - Stack o' Sides

Ok folks, so I don't get much time on the internet these days, what with living off-grid and all. But I just discovered that one of my favorite musicians, Kit "Stymee" Stovepipe, has started a blog and begun offering up his collection of old jug band 78s for download. It has quickly become my favorite place on the internet. Check out Stack O' Sides!

June 5, 2013

The Great Cascadian Jug Band Revival

Hi Folks,
It's been a year since my last post. I'm not dead, just busy in the real world. Busy making music!

As you may know, I love the shit out of jug band music. I was born and bred on the stuff. And there have been so many bad jug bands because folks see a washboard or a washtub bass and think to themselves "hey, I could do that", that it's sometimes hard to find the good ones, or believe that it didn't die off decades ago. But dear listeners, let me make you aware of one thing:

Jug band music is not dead.

Jug band music is not only alive and well, it is stomping along mightily and has numerous glorious bastard children. If you are not aware of this, it may be because you are not living in Cascadia, also known as the pacific northwest, the new epicenter of this music, after New Orleans. You also may not know about it because true to their street-performing ancestors, most of these bands have a scarce presence on the internet. They're too busy rattlin' the dimes out of people's pockets and shakin' the geebies out of people's pants to bother with streamlined websites and self-indulgent twitterisms.

But in the span of two weeks there have been 3 great gatherings of kitchenophonic music.
The first and oldest of these is Seattle's Northwest Folklife Festival. While it embraces all manner of folk music, including world music of many varieties, on every corner of sidewalk you can find folks busking, and it seems to be a beacon for street performers from all over the country. They gather to busk at the nation's biggest free music festival, and make sure that any high-falutin' folk snobs are brought back down home with some toe-tappin tunes.
This year also featured the first annual Cascadia Ragtime Rendezvous Jug Band Jubilee in Portland, OR. Boasting 26 bands, it was surely one of the best gatherings of its kind. I wish I could have gone, but instead I went to the preview event, a gathering of six bands in an old speak-easy and naughty-film-screening-secret-theater. Most of these bands are described below:

Baby Gramps

The old king of hokum and amalgamation of all things "old weird america" is Baby Gramps. He is Harry Smith's anthology of American Folk Music compressed into a single person. He has been at times the single champion of the bizarre, with his wild ragtime-rockabilly, throat-singing, mad-talking-foot-stomping, hokum falokum idiosyncratic palindromatic amusing musical musings. He was old before it was cool. And will be old after it's cool too. He has inspired countless others to cast off their chains of sex-appeal and charm and invite the demons of strangeness and syncopation to become their new spirit guides. Check out his website.

The Crow Quill Night Owls

Among those who was taken aback and then taken aforwards by Gramps was a young Kit "Stymee" Stovepipe. He has since locked himself in numerous metaphorical and probably literal closets with nothing but a gramophone, some old jug band records, and an instrument. By so-doing, he's mastered the resonator guitar, washboard, harmonica, and blows a mean jug besides. Syncopation pervades his entire being. Upon emergence from his musical cocoon, he started two fantastically good jug bands. The first, The Inkwell Rhythm Makers, in Eugene, OR, was probably the best thing to come along in jug band world since the Cheap Suit Serenaders. The second, The Crow Quill Night Owls, is the best thing since the Inkwell Rhythm Makers. They're probably the best jug band in the world, at once fully classic and traditional-sounding, and also unique and fresh. In the Crow Quill Night Owls, Kit Stovepipe is joined by Windy City Alex on tenor banjo and kazoo, and Baylin Adaheer on washtub bass and kazoo. When Maria Muldaur wanted to make a jug band album a couple years ago, she thought it would be impossible because no one is playing that music anymore. Then she discovered the Crow Quill Night Owls, and took 'em on board to record the only Jug Band album ever nominated for a grammy. Check out their Facebook and Bandcamp sites. They just came out with a new album, a week ago. I bought it the first night it was on sale.

The Gallus Brothers

Joining Maria Muldaur on her album (and tour, and subsequent kids album), are The Gallus Brothers, who also fill out the Crow Quill Night Owls quite often (making the band an unstoppable 5-piece to be reckoned with). The Gallus Brothers have two things that turn heads immediately when they start playing: suspenders and circus tricks! Well, that may have been what first drew folks to the band 10 years ago, but it's the impeccably great fingerpicking guitar of Devin Champlin and the ohmygodwhatthehellisthatthing irresistably infectious suitcase percussion kit of Lucas Hicks that keep folks comin back to boogie until they fall over and get the boogie cramps. Trust me, once you hear the combination of suitcase, low-hat, bones, spoons, washboard, and things that rattle and ding, you will understand why I don't hesitate to call Lucas the most inventive percussionist this side of Moondog. And somehow, though he's the only one doing what he does, it sounds as if all these old good time country blues songs were written with his playing implicit in their rhythm. And whatever the style of the song, Devin plays it perfectly, with just the right bit of bounce to keep your toes attentive.
Check out their bandcamp and website.

Sour Mash Hug Band

And there are a few contemporary bands for whom jug band music is just one of many influences. These are some of the best indefinable bands out there, fully of roots and original vigor too. Jug band music takes a turn to the east with the Sour Mash Hug Band and their beguiling combination of vaudeville, klezmer, gypsy swing, and some good olefashioned trombone, accordion, and banjolele downhome new orleans shakers. They're like the 1934 world's fair condensed into a band. Curtains, please! They're running a Kickstarter campaign right now to raise the funds to press their next album. Really. RIGHT NOW. They've got about 24 hours left to meet their goal. Go check it out!

Hot Damn Scandal

And lastly, there is the band that's been primarily responsible for my absence from the blogging world.
While I can't pretend to be unbiased about Hot Damn Scandal, I can say that even if I weren't personally involved in the band, I would still drink up the music like hot chili whiskey and dance my earballs off at all their shows. Imagine a post-apocalyptic jug band with Tom Waits on lead vocals, Django Reinhardt on slide guitar, and Mississippi John Hurt standing behind the musicians on-stage, beaming his sly, self-contented smile at those young folks who took his way of pickin' and brought it so many different places. If those three legendary musicians had a child together, and it dropped out of school, thumbed a ride across the country and ended up in New Orleans, it might sound something like Hot Damn Scandal. The repertoire of songs consists of everything from outlaw ballads to dirty jazz, gypsy blues, circus freakouts, ragtime sea shanties, string band funk, lonesome heart breakers, and the occasional tender love song. The singing sounds like a street singer who took one lesson from Paul Robeson, another from Tom Waits, and a third from the bottom of the bottle of life. The music sticks in your head like dirty bubble gum on your soul, and shakes the hips of even the devout seatbound folks, but there are just enough moments of unexpected tuneful dissonance and dueling syncopated solos to keep even the most diehard avant-jazz-head coming back for more.
As Scott Casey put it,
“Hot Damn scandal performs music that seems to be carved out of the broken heart of the American dream… you feel like you have heard these songs all your life. These are your favorite boots, your lucky hat, your Saturday night shirt, Your old dog that disappeared after the rain”
Hot Damn Scandal is doing a Kickstarter campaign right now to raise the funds to press their upcoming album. If they make it to their ultimate goal, they'll release it on vinyl. How cool would that be, guys & gals? Check it out. Really! There's only one week left to make the goal.
And if you happen to live in or want to visit Northwest Washington in August, you can catch most of these folks and more at the Subdued Stringband Jamboree, one of my favorite little festivals.

January 24, 2013

The Pipering of Willie Clancy Vol.2

Willie Clancy: 1918-1973
Willie Clancy was an iconic figure in the revival of the uillinn pipes and traditional music from the 1960s onwards. His father Gilbert played flute and concertina and had known and listened to legendary blind travelling Clare piper Garrett Barry. Willie played his first tin whistle at five years. He was also influenced by his grandmother, who had a keen ear for music. Like his good friend Junior Crehan, he was also influenced by the west Clare style of fiddler Scully Casey from nearby Annagh.

"Willie Clancy possessed amazing talents -whistle player, flute player, singer , storyteller, philosopher and wit. He was particularly known for his mastery of that most complex of wind instruments - the Uilleann Pipes.

Born on Christmas Eve, 1918, Willie grew up in an atmosphere of music, singing and storytelling. Both his parents, Ellen and Gilbert, sang and played instruments. Willie started playing the whistle at the age of five. He was greatly influenced by his grandmother, by his father and by Garrett Barry, the legendary blind piper from Inagh. Garrett Barry died in the workhouse in Ennistymon at the close of the nineteenth century. His piping style was passed on to Willie by his father Gilbert. Willie was aware that Garrett Barry possessed a heritage of music unique to himself. The music of Garrett Barry is known and cherished today because of Willies determination to pass on this treasure. (See image below.)

Willie was seventeen years old when he encountered the great travelling piper, Johnny Doran. By the early Forties Willie had mastered the basic piping techniques and in 1947 he won first prize at the Oireachtas competition.

Unfortunately, he could not make a living from his music and he was forced to emigrate to London, where he worked as a carpenter. While there, he continued with his music and made contact with other notable players, including Seamus Ennis. With the death of his father in 1957, he returned to Miltown Malbay and married Doirin Healy. He developed a highly distinctive and individual style of piping. From 1957 until 1972 the Summer music sessions in the West Clare town became widely renowned, with Willie Clancy as one of the main attractions. Pipe-making, reed-making and all things connected with the instrument were explored and advanced by the Clancy influence. He gave many performances on both radio and television as well as live sessions in his local area.

His sudden death in January 1973 at the age of fifty-five was widely mourned among friends and musicians alike. He is buried in Ballard Cemetary just outside the town of Miltown Malbay.

As a tribute to this extraordinary man and gifted musician, it was decided to set up an annual Summer music school in Willies home town. The school quickly established a name for good music and high standards in tuition, a fitting tribute to a fine musician." -- from County Clare Library

Willie Clancy - The Pipering of Willie Clancy Vol.2
Year: 1958-73 (recorded); 1994 (released)
Label: Claddagh