Rag Mama (Jim Kweskin)

I don’t remember exactly when I got Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band’s Greatest Hits!, but I sure remember listening to it, over and over, and over. It was silly aKweskin greatest hitsnd rowdy and fun — or at least those were the songs I liked best, Jim’s goofy features rather than Geoff’s soulful blues (though I loved Geoff and Maria’s “Never Swat a Fly,” and of course Maria’s “I’m a Woman”). There were 24 songs on the two LPs, and at one time or another I played at least half of them.

I later realized that the Kweskinites were also the first performers I can clearly remember seeing in person. It must have been 1964, which would have made me five years old, at a children’s concert in what I remember as a large auditorium of some kind, and the only song I know they played was “The Animal Fair,” with Fritz Richmond doing the part of the elephant on his jug — except Jim tells me that I’ve remembered that wrong and the song was actually Leroy Carr’s “I Carried Water for the Elephant.” Anyway, it was a memorable experience, and jug bands have had a warm spot in my heart ever since.

“Rag, Mama” was one of the first songs I learned after getting their double album, which was appropriate, because itJim Kweskin had been Jim’s solo showpiece before he put the jug band together. It was originally recorded by Blind Boy Fuller, and Jim had clearly picked up some of Fuller’s guitar style, but he changed the song a fair amount, adding a scat flourish and dropping Fuller’s repeated chorus, and much as I love Fuller’s work, all Jim’s changes were improvements. Of course, like much of the music of that period, it was sexist as hell, so I dropped it from my repertoire in the 1970s, but I still enjoy the opportunity to pull it out and give it a little run now and then.