Genuine Jug Band authentic in sound, scope

SURREY/WHITE ROCK — Often, when you hear revivalist music, it may come off as a quirky nod to the times it hailed from.

For local trio Genuine Jug Band, which plays music from the turn of the century, "revivalist" means getting it down to a tee.

The band plays acoustic jazz and blues "jug band" music in the style of the 1890s to the 1930s.

And thanks to musicologist Douglas Fraser, who leads the band as vocalist and plays banjo and tenor guitar, they do it all authentically.

"We play the kind of music that was played at the turn of the century," Fraser said, sipping on a coffee at an independent White Rock café.

"It’s mostly jazz but we also play traditional delta blues. This is how it would have sounded when it was first created," he said, adding that "nothing is electric, it’s all acoustic and true to its form."

The band also includes Tony McBride on drums and Terry Devine on the "gutbucket" – a one string fretless upright bass – and, of course, the jug.

McBride’s drum kit, which includes two washboards, a cowbell, a French horn, a bass and snare set on the floor and more, was featured in the August 2014 edition of Modern Drummer magazine, an American music publication.

Fraser, who designed and built the kit, said it’s been in the works since 1965.

McBride submitted a photo and a write-up to the magazine on his unique setup nearly two years ago, and wasn’t expecting to see his drum set in last month’s issue.

"Every month, you get the magazine and there’s a ‘Kit of the Month’ section and they review people who have something unique to share," McBride said.

"I thought, ‘Well, I think mine qualifies, to be honest.’ There’s drums involved and there’s percussion aspects involved…. For two days I didn’t open (the magazine). When I finally opened it up and looked at the back, I couldn’t believe it."

While the Genuine Jug Band’s percussion setup is definitely one-of-a-kind, ironically enough, the kit is anything but modern.

"At the turn of the century, before they had developed a way to mass-produce, if you wanted a musical instrument, you went into an instrument builder, ordered the instrument and they made it for you," explained Fraser, who studies music historically and recently penned a nonfiction book called Early Entertainment.

"If you were middle-class or poor and this wasn’t your vocation and this was just a hobby or a side interest, you probably wouldn’t put the money aside for this kind of venture, it was too expensive. But people who are musical and want to play won’t let those little things stop them; they made their own instruments and you would find banjos made out of pie tins, with a stick on the end and they really used anything they could get their hands on. One thing they found was that blowing a certain way into an empty jug of whiskey you could make it sound like a tuba – hence the name ‘jug band.’ And instead of buying drums, you could make a percussive sound on a washboard by tapping it and running your hand down it."

Fraser, who said he is "big into washboards and this original music," said that’s how lower-class musicians began using kitchen washboards in "hillbilly blues" bands.

Funnily enough, the American-based Columbus Washboards – the last in the world to produce the "instruments" – made McBride and Fraser a special order for two teak-based, stainless-steel washboards to use with the drum kit.

"Some washboards were made out of glass. They don’t last long, and the ones that were made out of metal last longer but for us, not quite long enough," Fraser said with a laugh.

That’s why the band had to go with something a little more durable.

To catch an earful of this unmatched percussive masterpiece in action, you’ll have to attend a Genuine Jug Band show, which will prove to be a veritable blast from the past.

"When we do that we walk through the evolution of music from the mid 1800s to about the 1940s," Fraser said.

The trio recently played the Abbotsford Berry Festival and has been invited to perform a few festivals south of the border.

Unfortunately, the band laments, there aren’t too many venues around the Lower Mainland interested in paying for this authentically vintage live show.

"Almost every time we’re hired, it’s a private party or a private company… so it’s more of a convention situation," Fraser said.

To catch a live performance of the Genuine Jug Band, check for updates or to book a show.

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