ABOUT 'BACK TO THE WELL'
In this CD, we have evolved from our previous recorded efforts. None of the “Tin Pan Alley” novelty songs and good time ragtime /early jazz songs that people associate with a jug band made it into this recording. Instead, we drew from the well of southern traditional roots music to re-interpret and update old gems and to write new ones. Of course we included jug band and blues music, but we also took in Cajun, gospel and early country string band styles. Oozing the music we grew up with, our songs include drums and a back beat, our nod to early rock ’n roll and rockabilly that we call “jugabilly.”
After we decided what songs to include on the CD we noticed that most of the songs roughly fell into two categories, songs about Memphis and the River on one hand, and songs about sin, redemption, and salvation on the other. Because we all grew up listening to LP’s with an “A” side and a “B” side, we thought it might be fun to treat this CD as an LP from back in the day.
About the Songs:
I’m Talkin’ ‘Bout You comes from the first queen of the country blues, guitarist and singer, Memphis Minnie. Her career began in the 1920’s and continued into the early 50's. Unlike Bob Dylan, nobody booed when she went electric.
Alligator Man is a country song composed by and released as a single for the country market. Our version comes from The Greenbriar Boys, a legendary New York bluegrass group.
Fourth Street Mess Around was recorded by the most successful of the early jug bands, The Memphis Jug Band, and was sung by one of the strongest singers they ever had, Charlie Nickerson. Anna Castleman, our featured vocalist, is a jug band blues singer to be reckoned with, as she delivers heartbreak with power.
Jug Rag was first recorded by the Prairie Ramblers. A studio group, they were one of the first bands to blend country and jazz. Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, cited them as an early influence and they were one of the last prewar groups to record with a jug.
Memphis Shakedown was one of the later efforts by the Memphis Jug Band. The original features the scat vocals of Charlie Burse, who tried to kick the band into the swing age (and whose story is told in “Laughing Charlie” a later song on this CD). We combined the two songs into one, writing the bridge between them, because they were both fiddle tunes from the same era.
Song for Gus is an original song our bandleader, Washboard Slim, wrote in homage to Gus Cannon’s, Jug Stompers, a three-piece band from Memphis whose sound was as powerful as any six-piece band. Besides Cannon’s catchy banjo playing, the Stompers featured one of the early stars of the blues harmonica, Noah Lewis. He sadly died broke and penniless on the streets of Chicago.
Laughing Charlie is another Bluelights’ original about the influence Memphis Jug Band’s guitarist Charlie Burse had on Elvis. This much is fact, Elvis was taken to a club in Memphis on Beale Street by music promoter Robert Henry to see Charlie sometime in the early 1950’s. According to Henry, “[Elvis] got that shaking, that wiggle, from Charlie Burse right there at the Grey Mule on Beale.” This much is also fact, Charlie’s songs often included his infectious laughter to help audiences get into the rowdy spirit of the music. The rest is musical fantasy. John and Peter, with help from Peter’s sister Anne-Marie (a bandleader in her own right), wrote this lilting nod to the source of the King’s signature moves.
Bound To Lose was written by Peter Stampfel who along with Steve Weber, made up the Holy Modal Rounders. They were a seminal roots string band out of the Greenwich Village original folk scene and had some national recognition as a folk rock band with psychedelic overtones. Their “Birdsong” was featured in the movie “Easy Rider.” We dub them the first “Punk Folk” group.
Bulldog our rockin’ original, was inspired by the Canned Heat version of "Bullfrog Blues." Canned Heat, led by Alan Wilson, created something new by rocking the older country blues rather than the Chicago Blues. Wilson, besides being a stone cold blues man, was into world music way ahead of his time.
Sin and Woe, which begins the “B” side of our recording, was written by our own Brooks Barnett. It is inspired by his love of gospel music, not his current condition. Brooks was originally from West Virginia and grew up with bluegrass and country music all around him.
Hello Stranger was composed by The Carter Family. Our version was inspired by Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. The bluesy feel of this song comes from Leslie Riddles, who played lead guitar with The Carter Family, though he never recorded with them.
Adam and Eve was plucked from an album by the Otis Brothers. Pat Conte, one of the “brothers” is an outstanding roots string player and singer equally at home with blues or old time string band music. Other versions of the song exist with different melodies.
Get Right with God was written by the great Lucinda Williams. Enough said.
Our version of Lord, I Just Can’t Keep From Cryin' Sometimes, a gospel standard, was inspired by Blind Willie Johnson the Texas guitarist/singer. Some consider him the equal of any of the more celebrated Mississippi slide guitarists from the 1920’s and 30’s.
Mistreated Mama was written by the great blues and jazz artist, Sarah Martin from the 20’s and 30’s. Our version comes from Doc Boggs, the West Virginia banjo man, with a little Geoff Muldaur thrown in.
The melody and chords to Key Lime Pie have been in our repertoire for a very long time. Our singer, Anna, wrote the words for this recording.
The very funny I’m Gonna Die With The Television On was written five to ten years ago by our friend Bob Nield, an outstanding songwriter and roots musician out of Waterbury CT.
ABOUT OUR PRODUCER
Collin Tilton, best known for his sax and flute playing on Van Morrison's quadruple platinum selling classic album, Moondance, Collin also played in Etta James's band, opening for the Rolling Stones on their "Some Girls" tour in 1978. Most recently he served as horn arranger with the late Clarence Clemons & the Red Bank Rockers and has worked with a number of regional bands, notably the Shaboo All Stars. He joined Eight to the Bar in 1989 and has recorded and produced the band's last eight CDs at his own Barnone Studio in Northford, CT. Collin has also written several songs on Eight to the Bar's latest three CDs.
INFLUENCES THAT HAVE SHAPED OUR MUSIC OVER THE YEARS
Dave Van Ronk and the Ragtime Jug Stompers - These guys might have been the hottest revival jug band ever recorded. Danny Kalb, still going strong, played a jazzy lead guitar all over the record as a counterpoint to Van Ronk’s shredding vocals.
The Sun Rockabilly Greats - Elvis, Scotty, Jimmy Lee Riley, Johnny Burnett, Carl... these guys are what we hear in our heads when we play rock’n roll.
Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, The Stanley Brothers - They could all play the mountain blues and gospel and send chills down your spine with their harmony.
Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers / The Memphis Jug Band - Cannon’s band had the down home jug band sound on the slow blues and the raggy numbers as well. Gus Cannon was a great showman but the records seem to be about the music first. Harmonica player Noah Lewis’s tone was so strong and full that he almost sounded like he was playing through a guitar amp.
The Memphis Jug Band recorded more humorous and off color material and therefore sold more records.
Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band - As an underground folk sensation they lead the way. They drew their sound equally from the Memphis jug bands and the Louisville units, and they were not afraid to play rock ’n’ roll. Jim, Maria Muldaur and Geoff Muldaur are still in fine voice and going strong. We had the privilege of playing with Fritz Richmond and to me he was the premier jug and wash tub bass player. No jug band bass player I ever heard mastered both like he did. Geoff was a blues vocalist like no other, a great utility man: played everything from clarinet to washboard. Kweskin was and remains a hot finger picker with great drive. Maria has a voice halfway between blues and old country, sometimes very spooky.
Alan Wilson and Canned Heat - The Brian Jones (founding member of the Rolling Stones) of the modern rock’n blues could do it all, sing, play expert harp and guitar, write originals and rearrange traditional material. Possibly, the most amazing of all was his ability to accompany and inspire on records, the likes of John Lee Hooker and Son House. His own demons got the best of him and he died at too young an age. Under his leadership they were the only “blues band” from the late 1960’s who actually had hits on the “Top Forty” charts.
Muddy and Howlin’ Wolf are the kings of the Chicago Blues. If you came of age in the sixties you could not escape their influence. When you amp up a jug band it’s hard not to want to kick it up a bit like they did. These two always used two guitars playing off each other; the concept of what we call lead and rhythm guitar did not exist for them. The Memphis Jug Band had that going on too. It makes for a more interesting sound. Howlin’ Wolf’s one chord drone was a starting point for sixties psychedelic rock.
Through these guys we found Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard and Etta James, and finally we need to mention the great gospel artists, Blind Willie Johnson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
All of them were truly the founding figures of rock ‘n roll. They all played hot rhythmic music that we have incorporated into the Washboard Slim sound.