The beauty of Kweskin and his band though is they were not traditionalists. There was a good dose of humour and more than a passing lip service to the music of the 1960s. They were in love with pre-rock country, folk, ragtime, trad jazz, and pop but they didn’t despise rock and roll either.
As the jug band “boom” faded many of its practitioners took those influences into rock and what became roots rock whilst others like Kweskin went solo and dug deeper into Americana, folk and pre-war music.
There are very few originals compositions but Kweskin digs up obscure (and not so obscure) songs and puts his mark on the same. What songs he chooses and how he styles his albums (and I suspect he has a lot of creative freedom as there aren’t major marketing considerations) give him as personal and singular voice as any singer songwriter.
This is personal music but I suspect people like Kweskin and Leon Redbone are happy to keep traditions alive and also keep the music relevant by drawing analogies between the past and the present.
The result I love listening to even if there is little broad appeal.
Clearly, Kweskin’s raison d’etre dates back to this album in 1967 and I suspect even further back to his earliest days. I can’t say that with any certainty as I haven’t heard a lot of his early music but I suspect that is the case.
For whatever reason I discovered Leon Redbone first (I I found his “No Regrets” LP from 1988 in an op-shop in 1990…clearly someone was not impressed) and I got off on his distinct love of and enthusiasm for pre-rock music.
Kweskin is the same.
Here, with his “neo-passe jazz band” he indulges himself in a myriad of styles (especially Dixieland jazz) which are stylistically linked by the fact they are all pre rock and ultimately all styles that had very little bearing on rock n roll.
Perhaps it is a little stupid talking about rock when discussing Kweskin because he doesn’t seem to have indulged much in rock but he came of age in the rock era and at a time when rock was at its most inventive.
He was no less inventive but he looked to the past to distinguish himself from his contemporaries.
After all, everything that is new can be found in the past.
And Kweskin is testament to that notion.
Likewise his instrumentation is raw and low-fi, and at odds, generally, with the 30s groups he loves who had (or tried to have) a richer and fuller style. Kweskin is either channelling the regional sounds of small combos that dotted the landscape of American Friday and Saturday nights pre-World War Two or he is introducing the gritty ambiance you would expect from a small rock combo or perhaps he is doing a bit of both.
Either way, he or his sound, can be heard as influences in rock bands like Country Joe & the Fish, The Grateful Dead, The Band, The Fugs and The Lovin' Spoonful.
I acknowledge that this music isn’t for everyone but if you haven’t watched a lot of old B&W film on late night television then think of it as a soundtrack to a Woody Allen movie especially if the movie is set in the mid-west or backwoods USA.
And, importantly, if you haven’t heard these sounds before then it is new music isn’t it?
So, open your mind, take a seat, pour a drink and enjoy the idea of someone in 2014 listening to someone in 1967 playing something from 1933.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Moving Day – (Jim Kweskin) – Kweskin clearly knows his music. This is authentic but with 60s observational attitude.
- Memphis Blues – (W.C. Handy / George Norton) – Handy would only have complimentary things to say about this version. The song is oft recorded. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Memphis_Blues
- Kickin' the Gong Around – (Harold Arlen / Ted Koehler) – First, and most famously done by Cab Calloway & His Orchestra in 1931. “Kickin' the gong around” was (apparently) a slang term for smoking opium
- You're Not the Only Oyster in the Stew – (Johnny Burke / Harold Spina) – Great fun though quite suggestive or maybe that's my dirty mind. A hit for Fats Waller in 1934.
- He's in the Jailhouse Now – (Pink Anderson) – a hoot and a cover of Black bluesman Anderson’s 1950 song. 1950 – a contemporary song by Kweskin standards.
- Melancholy Baby – (Ernie Burnett / George Norton) – the old standard done well and quite, errr melancholy. Bing Crosby’s 1941 version is perhaps the most famous version. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Melancholy_Baby
- There'll Be Some Changes Made – (Billy Higgins / W. Benton Overstreet) – with the false start this seems a take off on Elvis' "Milkcow Blues". Kweskin here dips heavily into the trad jazz book
- Medley: O Miss Hannah/That's My Weakness Now – (Buddy Deppenschmidt) – I’m not sure about this – it’s credited to jazz drummer Deppenschmidt (b;936) but it seems to be older.
- Jazzbo Brown – (George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin / DuBose Heyward) – nice and flavourful. Wikipedia: “Jazbo Brown was, according to legend, a black delta blues musician from around the turn of the 20th century …He also appears in the opening scene of George Gershwin's opera, Porgy and Bess, with the spelling 'Jasbo Brown'. He takes no part in the plot, but plays "a low-down blues" on the piano while couples dance. This goes on for several minutes, expanding as the chorus and orchestra join in, before transitioning into the song "Summertime"”.
- Staggerlee – the old familiar tale – done by everyone
- I Can't Give You Anything But Love – (Dorothy Fields / Jimmy McHugh) – Pretty, very pretty. Associated with Lena Horne (1941) or Marlene Dietrich from her 1940 film with John Wayne "Seven Sinners". It has however been done by a lot of people. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Can't_Give_You_Anything_but_Love,_Baby
- Louisiana – (J.C. Johnson / Andy Razaf / Bob Schafer ) – done by Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and others.
Another winner…. I'm keeping it.
Are you kidding, Kweskin defines “the fringe” in popular music …. No chart action
You're Not the Only Oyster in the Stew
There'll Be Some Changes Made