Roots Music

Last night we visited the Burnt Cove Church Community Center to catch a performance of the Loose Cannon Jug Band.  It was a foot-stomping, knee-tapping way to end a sunny Saturday on the Labor Day weekend.

The LCJB is five musicians who play just about every traditional musical instrument you can think of:  tenor banjo, guitars, fiddle, harmonica, squeeze box, washboard, . . . and two jugs, of course.  The only thing they seemed to be missing was a spoons player.  They performed traditional songs and original creations, all in the style of early blues, bouncy gospel, and other American roots music of the ’20s and ’30s.  The songs, old and new, were terrific and often funny, and the band members all seemed to be having a great time — which meant that the audience was having a great time, too.  The audience sing-along to Mud Flat Laundromat was a highlight.

The Loose Cannon Jug Band show was one of the many offerings of the Summer Entertainment Series in Stonington.  For a small community, the Series offers an impressive array of shows — in fact, last night there was a second performance, of folk music, at the Opera House itself.  The LCJB show occurred at the Burnt Cove Church, pictured below, which is a beautiful old church turned into a performance venue, complete with pews for seating and pressed tin ceiling.  When the band launched into one of their raucous gospel numbers about sin and Satan, it was a perfect combination of sound and setting.

Goodbye To Merle

I arrived home tonight to learn that Merle Haggard had died.  It’s a huge loss to American music, because Merle Haggard was one of the giants of country music, roots music, and the kind of music you just want to listen to when you are sitting on a bar stool.  Coupled with the lost of George Jones three years ago, Haggard’s death means that two of the most genuine voices on the American music scene are no longer with us.

The live performance of one of his greatest songs, Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down, that I’ve posted above, is vintage Merle Haggard.  The lyrics are classic, and the Hag’s performance is fun and relaxed.  If you’ve ever been dumped, you know what Merle Haggard is singing about in this song.  (And, because I think the song is great, it’s the only song to have a video performance posted twice on the Webner House blog.)

I’d always liked old, traditional country — not the glorified pop crap that cowboy hat-wearing posers churn out these days — and Merle Haggard and George Jones, among others, really epitomized it.  They were giants, and if you’ve never gotten into their music you’re missing something.  Tonight, on the day of Merle Haggard’s passing, you could find a worse way to spend you time than listening to some of his greatest songs.

A Sad Note In The Bluegrass World

Earl Scruggs died yesterday at age 88.  Scruggs was a fabulous banjo player who was half of Flatt and Scruggs, the legendary musical duo with the even more legendary name.

Most Americans know of Earl Scruggs’ music through his performance on the theme from The Beverly Hillbillies.  Many people beyond a certain age feel pangs of guilt about the fact that they love that rousing ballad about Jed and his discovery of black gold, which is one of the most memorable TV theme songs ever.  Scruggs’ unique three-finger picking style helped to make that song iconic, and also introduced a generation of musically curious people to bluegrass music and the joys of songs like Foggy Mountain Breakdown.  If you liked the sound track of the movie Bonnie and Clyde, you liked the music of Earl Scruggs.

Bluegrass music has a bad reputation among some people — mostly self-consciously highbrow people who are only dimly aware of it in the context of corn pone shows like Hee Haw and who have never really listened to the music itself.  It’s as much American “roots” music as blues or jazz or ragtime; born in the hills and dales of the American countryside and first played using fiddles, banjos, and other instruments that the folks of the village made themselves or had already available in their households.  It was Saturday night music, designed to get people dancing and moving after a week of work.  The structure of good bluegrass music is pretty sophisticated, but mostly it’s fun to listen to and guaranteed to get your toes tapping.  Check out Earl Scruggs’ performance of Foggy Mountain Breakdown (with Steve Martin) below if you don’t believe me.

Rest in peace, Earl Scruggs.  You helped to open the door to an entire musical genre for many of us.