Within an American musical landscape cluttered by synthesized pop songs using auto-tuned vocals, electronic percussion and sophomoric lyrics, it is refreshing to find bands that play from the heart with instruments that invite everyone along for the ride.
A band called the Jug or Nots manages to bring both the simple instrumentation and American roots music to a generation unaware of the basis of the music they enjoy. I caught the Jug or Nots at LaBrie’s Lounge in Glendale recently and was blown away by the authenticity, whimsy and general fun real American music can provide.
As another attendee said, “It’s impossible to walk out of that show without a smile.” Since I was grinning from ear to ear, I couldn’t disagree.
The acoustics at LaBrie’s definitely added to the experience. According to Jug or Nots member Dave “OD” Aaron, “It was the first time we actually heard ourselves in a live environment.” I can concur with that. The audience was treated to hearing each instrument clearly and enjoying the show as it was intended.
The Jug or Nots bring a fresh yet carefully antiqued voice to the live music scene. Ranging from the whimsical 1920s rags to the slave/worker dirges of Reconstruction to a deconstructed version of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” this band truly “gets it” in terms of America’s musical contribution.
Using acoustic instruments like the washtub bass, ukulele, resonator guitar, cigar-box guitar, washboard and slide-whistle, the Jug or Nots are a throwback to the time of Prohibition and the Great Depression. Drawing from the blues, bluegrass, country, zydeco and work-song traditions, the Jug or Nots manage to touch upon America’s great contributions to music in a way that is enjoyable and authentic.
The band is the brainchild of 21-year Burbank resident Sam Dlugach, yet has a more serendipitous story. Mandolin player Aaron followed bluegrass/folk legend David Rawlings on MySpace and recognized Dlugach (a fellow Rawlings follower) at a show.
The two became fast friends and saw several shows together in the Southland. According to Aaron, “Sam turned to me at one show and said ‘I’ve been thinking about doing a jug band, what do you think?’”
“I told him I would join if I could play washboard,” Aaron said. “After the first rehearsal I realized I didn’t have the stamina or interest to play washboard, so I learned mandolin just to play in this band.”
This is a band for a roots music enthusiast.
“We’re digging back as far as the history of recorded music will take us, looking for a simpler musical expression,” Dlugach said. “In doing so, we’ve found that the 90-year-old songs we sing about economic upheaval and social inequality still have relevance today.”
To conclude and elucidate, I leave you with the lyrics of the 1928 song in the Jug or Nots set:
“I’ll build a Whitewash Station
Two miles from glory
So the jug band have a chance”
I gave them a chance and can’t stop grinnin’.
Lance A. Wawer has been a freelance writer for 25 years for publications throughout Southern California.
What: Jug or Nots Band (www.jugornots.com)
Where: LaBrie’s Lounge, 806 E. Colorado St., Glendale
Contact: (818) 243-1522 or online at www.labriesla.com