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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Monday, July 19, 2010


Yesterday was jugbandmeister and Cambridge folkie Jim Kweskin's 70th birthday. The photo, copyright Steve Covault, comes from the current website of the Me&Thee Coffeehouse in Marblehead MA, where there's a Q&A session with Kweskin. Here's his entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Kweskin, Jim [1940 - ]
James G. Kweskin was born on July 18, 1940 in New England and attended Boston University, where he was inspired by local folk group the Hoppers, centred upon John ‘Fritz’ Richmond. After Fritz was drafted Kweskin began to perform himself, cultivating a lightly humorous stage presence and a large moustache. Looking much like Dennis Weaver, in fact, he linked up with GEOFF MULDAUR and in 1963, together with harmonica and banjo player Mel Lyman and a returned Fritz Richmond, he formed the Kweskin Jug Band. A mix of energetic playing, pre-war repertoire and comedy made them an immediately popular live act and earned a Vanguard Records contract. Augmented by Maria D’Amato (who swiftly became MARIA MULDAUR), the Kweskin Jug Band remained Cambridge-based.

Mel Lyman left the group in 1964 and was replaced by ex-Bill Monroe Blue Grass Boy Bill Keith - but Lyman still played on ‘solo’ Kweskin albums like 1966’s Relax Your Mind and his malign influence over Kweskin was ever more ascendant. Soon after the band signed to Reprise and made various national TV appearances, Jim Kweskin disbanded it and moved into Lyman’s monomaniacal religious commune ‘family’ in Boston’s scuzzy Fort Hill, where he remained for some years. In 1971 came the album Jim Kweskin’s America co-starring Mel Lyman & the Lyman Family, which had been recorded in San Francisco with Lyman on harp and vocals, Kweskin on guitar and vocals and Jim’s wife Marilyn Kweskin on further vocals. The tracks were familiar old songs like the MEMPHIS JUG BAND’s ‘Stealin’’, Stephen Foster’s ‘Old Black Joe’ plus ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ and ‘Dark As A Dungeon’, but the sleevenotes included a long, myopic declaration by Kweskin about the soul of America, ending with this: ‘I am singing America to you and it is Mel Lyman. He is the new soul of the world.’

Lyman eventually disappeared, in still-mysterious circumstances, and Kweskin re-emerged, making further records, forming the 1980s group the U & I Band and remaining in Boston. He was among those who turned up and played at the celebration reunion held in 2000 in the old Club 47 premises soon after ERIC VON SCHMIDT had been given an ASCAP Lifetime Achievement Award for Folk Music.

Dylan first met Jim Kweskin when both appeared at the Indian Neck Folk Festival in Bransford, Connecticut in May 1961. That September, at Gerde’s Folk City, Dylan and Kweskin were performing together when someone taped the two sharing vocals on JESSE FULLER’s ‘San Francisco Bay Blues’ and WOODY GUTHRIE’s ‘The Great Divide’; and at some point that fall, according to CLINTON HEYLIN, he and Dylan shared a Gaslight residency. Peter Stampel of the Holy Modal Rounders, interviewed on Bob Fass’ radio show on WBAI in New York in about 1970, recalled seeing Kweskin and Dylan together at the Gaslight back then:

‘He’s very easy to play with, Dylan is, and, uh, we did a couple of things. He did a lot of things with Jim Kweskin.... somebody must have tapes of him and Kweskin singing together, man. They were doing...folk-hippie 1961 tunes like “Long Black Veil” and “San Francisco Bay Blues” when hardly anybody was doing it, and they did like the best of that I’ve ever heard.... I play kazoo. Wow, it was just mind blowing. Dylan would flatpick and Jim would fingerpick, and they’d play like in... they’d use capos so that they would both play in different configurations so they wouldn’t get on each other. They were so gas...’

Gas or not, Dylan and Kweskin don’t seem to have played music together again since 1961. Nor has any tape of the two of them ever surfaced, except for those two songs from Gerde’s.

[Jim Kweskin & Bob Dylan: ‘San Francisco Bay Blues’ & ‘The Great Divide’, Gerde’s, NY, Sep 1961. Jim Kweskin: Relax Your Mind, nia, Vanguard VRS-9188/VSD-79188, NY, 1966, CD-reissued Universe CDKWESKRELA, US, 2003; Jump For Joy, nia, Vanguard VRS-9243/VSD-79243, NY, 1967; Whatever Happened to those Good Old Days . . ., nia, Vanguard VSD-779278, NY, 1968; Jim Kweskin’s America co-starring Mel Lyman & the Lyman Family, SF, nia, Reprise RS6464, US, 1971. Jim Kweskin Jug Band: Unblushing Brassiness, Vanguard VRS 9139/VSD-2158, NY, 1963; Jug Band Music, Vanguard VRS-9163/VSD-79163, NY, 1965; See Reverse Side For Title, Vanguard VRS-9234/VSD-79234, NY, 1966; Garden of Joy, Reprise R-6266/RS-6266, US, 1967. Stampfel interview as transcribed by Harvey Bojarsky, seen online 2 Oct 2005 at ‘Bob Dylan Roots’, at]


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