When it comes to the best in current American roots music, there’s no time like the past. Young musicians around the country have been discovering this over the last ten years, as artists like Dom Flemons and Pokey LaFarge gain in popularity.
Now, G Burns Jug Band from San Diego can be added to this growing list of young artists who are learning to master the art of pre-War old time music. They bring a fresh passion, energy, and light to the music that was popular prior to World War I and after the Civil War. During much of that time, there were no radios, so fans depended on street musicians known as songsters to recreate their favorite tunes.
With the same spirit in mind, G Burns Jug Band’s first self-titled album debuted in 2014. It was well received by critics and fans roots music. They are now in the final days of a Kickstarter campaign to complete its follow-up.
This authentic jug band is led by Clinton Davis (vocals, guitar, tenor banjo, and banjolin), who grew up listening to the music from his early childhood in Louisville, KY, where the music was first recorded in the 1930’s. According to Davis, his love for the style came as natural as learning to walk.
“My Dad made sure I grew up hearing good music,” he says. “He would take me to see jug bands that showed the historical connection with where we lived.”
Although his desire to learn to play this style of music didn’t take hold until he was in college, what he found was something more than mainstream pop sounds. “I find a vitality and joy in the intensity of this music,” he explains. “There’s a depth of feeling … that makes playing it very rewarding.”
So, when Davis moved to San Diego, he formed the G Burns Jug Band, named for the classic 1928 song by T.C. Johnson, Bluecoat Tom Nelson, and Porkchop, titled, “G Burns Gonna Rise Again.” A brief listen to the original recording from a beautifully scratchy 78 rpm on YouTube, compared with recent G Burns Jug Band live performances on their YouTube channel, reveals how faithful Davis and his collaborators remain, to the spirit of the music and the precise replication of style and sound. Their sound is infectious and joyfully chaotic as jugs, tubas, and washboards merge with banjos, guitars, and mandolins.
The band consists of an unusual line-up of musical instrumentation for today’s music scene – even for Americana. However, in the tradition of songsters, busking, and Vaudeville, these instruments are considered common.
In addition to Davis’s many instruments, the line-up is rounded out by Batya MacAdam-Somer on fiddle, Meghann Welsh on accordion, Jonathan Piper on tuba and jug, and Anders Larsson on washboard. All the band’s members chip in on vocals, too.
The new album they’re raising funds for (due July 4, 2015) will include songs such as “On the Road Again” and Ma Rainy’s song about sexual escapades, “Prove It on Me.” They also promise a turn on “Jug Band Blues,” originally recorded by Sarah Martin – the first musician to record with a jug band. If G Burns Jug Band’s live performances are any indication, the result will be a joyous and soulful restoration of one of the lost treasures of American musical tradition.
For more information on G Burns Jug Band visit their website at http://gburnsjugband.com/