I've been musical as long as I remember. The first instrument I thought I might want to play was the trumpet, but we were still living in Germany as resettled refugees in the aftermath of World War II and there was no money for something as frivolous as a musical instrument, let alone expensive lessons. (Not to mention putting up with a kid learning to play the trumpet in a tiny apartment. Ain't gonna happen...) My parents did recognize my desire, though, and encouraged me to play in the school orchestra, where I was assigned the marimba.
Occasionally we are joined by...
We came to America in October of 1957, and for the first few months my parents left me at my grandmother's house in Essex, CT while they established themselves in New Haven. My teenaged uncle's record collection was my first introduction to a wide variety of American pop music. (My mother's favorite station in Germany had been the Armed Forces Network, but they mostly just played safe, white-bread pap for the troops. What did stand out in that programming, though, were greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Sarah Vaughan, whose music I devoured.) Now I heard edgy Jerry Lee Lewis, lyrical Sam Cooke, the Everly Brothers' smooth harmonies, and got thoroughly stoked. I had arrived right in the middle of the creative explosion of pop music in the Fifties, and I soaked it all up. Shortly afterwards pop creativity seemed to fizzle and, as always happens, devolved into lots of derivative crap. I lost interest in listening to radio for a couple of years, but when I returned to daily listening in the early 60s, the Great Folk Scare was in full swing and I was hooked, particularly by blues and old-timey country music. Then the Beatles and the Yardbirds and the rest of the British Pop Invasion blew in, and suddenly the boundaries were gone. I remember sitting in my friend Dave Howard's room for hours after school and listening to stacks of records by, in no particular order, Dave Brubeck; early Doc Watson with Clarence Ashley and other old-time country pickers; Lead Belly; Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue; Chuck Berry; Flatt & Scruggs; Nigerian drummer Olatunji; Leonard Bernstein's original score from "West Side Story;" Mississippi John Hurt; the Carter Family; and on and on. It never occurred to us that our tastes in music lacked focus; we just played what we liked, and we liked it all.
I began to play for audiences in high school as soon as I had learned my first two-and-a-half chords. For a while I had fun being a ham in those days, folk audiences applauded people for merely trying hard but what really blew me away was a Jim Kweskin Jug Band concert, where I got my first taste of accomplished musicianship on home-made instruments, live. It led me to form my first band, the Crescent Cutters, a loose agglomeration of "musicians" as enthusiastic as we were unskilled.
I stayed an amateur for the first twelve years, throughout my Navy hitch and living in Berzerkeley, CA and starting college back in Connecticut. Back living near New Haven, in 1973 I chanced upon a high-school chum, Peter Menta, who had played the washboard in a jug band at Fordham University and had since developed into a fine Delta- and Chicago blues harmonica player as well as a skilled percussionist. His barfly Yalie friend, Howard H. Horn, brought a fine, three-octave voice voice and serious chops on washtub bass, clarinet, tenor banjo, and jug to the group, and so the Ten Years Late Jug Band was born. The name alluded to our exquisite timing, years after public enthusiasm for our brand of folk music had largely faded. I stood up front and did all the yelling (long before taking some very necessary voice lessons). We played our first paid gig in 1974, in some dungeon of a Yale student lounge, and made $17 (total!) for the night.
TYL did pretty well working the New York-Boston-Vermont ski area triangle, and lasted until 1981. I still stay in touch with Peter and Howie occasionally; check them out at The Blue Lights and buy their music - it's good stuff! From then until my former wife and I left Connecticut in 1985, I formed DuoGlide and also did lots of solo gigs as "Blind Bob Dylanski, World's Oldest Living Polish Blues Singer" (click on video). Go ahead and laugh that gig paid the bills on a comfortable middle-class lifestyle.
Music is where I go when things get hectic and I need a reminder of what's truly important. Playing my guitar and singing songs always sets me on an even keel and reconnects me to my essential state of being. You can call it "soul" if you want. Without music, life would be utterly pointless for me. To paraphrase those notorious sages, the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, "Music will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no music!"
There is something about American roots music, particularly the Blues, that pulls at me relentlessly. Even though I came from a foreign culture, it immediately resonated in me and has never let go. I have no idea how a German-born, white northern European of Polish/Baltic German descent got the Blues into his system, but it is definitely lodged in solid. Some time ago I stopped trying to figure it out and just rolled with it. The Blues is universal! Been playing since high school, and have no intention of ever stopping. Who wants to retire from having fun?
One of my great passions is Jug Band Music (more info from Yahoo!). In 2001, I formed the Emerald City Jug Band with some friends here in Seattle. We are...
We played a number of fairs and festivals in our first year to great acclaim, so we knew we were on the right track. We perform for corporate and non-profit functions as well as for civic organizations and arts councils. If you want energetic musical entertainment that runs the gamut from Ragtime to Rap (OK, folk rap), e-mail me and we'll get you started.
- Certified crazy man Thaddeus Spae of Snake Suspenderz on mandolin, trombone, guitarron, and a really strange, sliding PVC-pipe didgeridoo.
Other jug band stuff: the Ten Years Late Jug Band long since morphed into Washboard Slim played with the Juggernaut Jug Band from Louisville, KY a few times at various fairs and Vermont ski gigs. They're a good bunch of guys and put on a great show.
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