Starting in 1963, they breathed new life into the then-already-decades-old jug band music genre as members of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band; in the process, they inspired bands including the Grateful Dead and the Lovinʼ Spoonful. And at the Lobero Theatre on Saturday night, together with fine fiddler Suzy Thompson, they continued their tradition of wowing their audience with old (and mostly obscure) American folk songs.
But first, the evening started with an engaging set from Tom Ball (harmonica, vocals, guitar) and Kenny Sultan (guitar, banjo guitar), who have been playing together for 30 years and who are well known to and loved by patrons of Cold Spring Tavern and other drinking establishments around town. Ball and Sultan were joined by Jody Eulitz, who was able to produce an impressive range of sounds by playing a cardboard winebox with brushes.
Ball and Sultan superbly delivered their good-time blues-based repertoire, with songs dating all the way back to 1903 with “I Got Mine,” which they revealed that they first heard covered by Kweskin, updated to include a reference to Cold Spring Tavern. Later, Sultan and Eulitz played an instrumental version of “Bill Bailey,” another song that they had heard covered years ago by Kweskin.
Other highlights, both musically and comically, included “All Talk and No Action,” which was written for talkative audiences that they have tried to play for, “Brown Liquor in a Dirty Glass” and “Don’t Roll Your Bloodshot Eyes at Me.”
Kweskin, Muldaur and Thompson kicked off their set with the stompin’ “Blues in a Bottle,” which Kweskin said he only recently discovered was originally by Prince Albert Hunt.
They proceeded to play cool covers of other songs from the “American roots songbook” of yesteryear, sometimes as learned from Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music and always with an interesting introduction that told a bit about the songs, including (with the respective original artist) “Fishin’ Blues” (Henry Thomas), “You Took Advantage of Me” (Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart), “Boll Weevil Holler” (Vera Ward Hall), the fiddle showcase “Yellow Dog Blues” (W.C. Handy, Wise String Orchestra) and “Turn Your Money Green” (Furry Lewis).
Other catchy old tunes were “Papa’s on the Housetop” (“Scrapper” Blackwell), to which Muldaur groaned when Kweskin reminded him that they had playing that song for almost 50 years; the protest song “Down on Penny’s Farm,” to which the audience sang along for the choruses; and one song not from the American roots music songbook, the South African “Guabi Guabi.”
As was apparently the case back in the 1960s — my excuse: I don’t remember the ‘60s because I wasn’t alive then — Jim and Geoff cracked spontaneous jokes between songs, including such gems as “If we would’ve had electric tuners in the ‘60s, that decade would’ve gone by twice as fast” and “Geoff likes to say that we play for old people ... and their parents.”
The evening’s highlight came when Ball, Sultan and Eulitz joined in with Kweskin, Muldaur and Thompson, starting with “Minglewood Blues,” giving a fuller sound and lots of smokin’ playing. The whole gang followed up with “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me” and the encore “Rag Mama.”
What a treat to have the talented and amusing musicians that graced the Lobero stage turn us all on to so much “new” old music!
Tom and Kenny Setlist
All Talk and No Action
I Got Mine
Brown Liquor in a Dirty Glass
Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home?
It Should’ve Been Me
Don’t Roll Your Bloodshot Eyes at Me
Kweskin and Muldaur Setlist
Blues in a Bottle
You Took Advantage of Me
Boll Weevil Holler
Yellow Dog Blues
Papa’s on the Housetop
Sweet to Mama
Turn Your Money Green
Down on Penny’s Farm
Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me
— Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.