All Things Ukulele: Summer of uke



This week marked the beginning of my career as a performer in a jug band. Alice Chalmers and the Stick a Cork in Your Jug Band took the Pioneer Stage at the Indiana State Fair on Tuesday at 10 a.m. Life will never be quite the same.

In preparation for the momentous day, I decided it was important to fortify myself with knowledge regarding the whole jug band genre. For starters, I wanted to know about the importance of jug bands in Indiana. I thought the best place to start was by asking my friend Geoff Davis for his take on the matter. He told me that the pioneer in academic jug band research was an Indianapolis attorney named Fred Cox, who, along with two other researchers, interviewed many original jug band musicians.

Based, on their research, it turns out that jug band music apparently got its start right across the Ohio River in Louisville. The music has its origins among rural blacks, who used every day items, like empty liquor jugs, spoons, washboards and saws, along with traditional instruments, to create a unique musical sound. Two musicians, one known as B. D. Tite, who also played banjo in a Louisville string band, and the other only known as “Black Daddy”, seem to be the founding fathers of jug band music. They played together in the 1890s, and, by 1900, found themselves taking jug band music on a 7-year river boat tour, thus spreading the musical craze along the shores of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

Jug band music can include old time, blues or jazz tunes. As long as there are some homemade instruments, and you have a jug band, you can have yourself a jug band. Historically, a jug band had to have a jug player. In the early part of the 20th Century, bands that played jug-band style music but lacked a jug were known as skiffle, spasm or juke bands. Since we lack a jug, I suppose might be more accurate to call The Alice Chalmers and The Stick a Cork in Your Jug Band a juke or spasm band, but these days, the moniker jug band applies to all sorts of combinations.

You can read more about the history of jug bands at the The Juggernaut Jug Band’s website:


As you can imagine, I’m pretty excited about this jug band thing. But, for folks who usually associate ukuleles with Hawaiian, pop or jazz, I’m sure there’s some head scratching going on regarding the relevance of a ukulele in a jug band. The fact is, because they were fairly affordable, ukuleles have played a part in roots music pretty much since they hit the mainland in the early 20th Century.

Here’s a 1980s clip of Florida blues legend, Washboard Bill, playing his ukulele.

You can learn more about Washboard Bill here:

Ukes continue to play a strong role in old time and jug band music. Here’s a modern day jug band that features a ukulele, performing the jug band standard, MY BUCKET’S GOT A HOLE IN IT.


The thing I like about this wacky Aussie family jug band is that one of the girls plays a banjo ukulele. And then, there’s that washtub bass, also fueled with feminine power. They scare me a little, but they are actually pretty darn good musicians. And, what a great way to have plenty of quality family time!



Jug band music underwent a revival during the 1960s folk music movement. New York City was the place to be for old time string bands like The New Lost City Ramblers. Before she was made famous by the 1974 hit song, MIDNIGHT AT THE OASIS, folk singer Maria Muldaur lent her folksy/bluesy voice and feminine presence to the Kweskin Jug Band.

While she doesn’t play jug band music per se, discovering Madame Pamita was, nevertheless, a treat for me. While she may be a little kooky, calling herself a “ukulele playing mystic,” she happens to be a modern day wax recording artist; she also dresses in fabulous vintage clothing, and performs in a carnival side-show style format. Family lore has it that my grandfather had worked as an actor in a traveling medicine show in the 1920s, so I have always been a little fascinated by the idea of traveling medicine show and carnival side shows.

Making use of some vintage cinematography techniques, here’s Madame Pamita’s own MY SOUTHERN CAN IS MINE.


The girl-fronted band known as The Konuts demonstrate the cross-cultural appeal of ukuleles and American traditional music. Here’s the jazz standard, YES SIR THAT’S MY BABY played Jug-band-girl-style… they talk a lot before playing; just endure—it is a wonderful performance.

It’s not just the girls who are hogging the jug band stage in Japan. I am completely blown away by the talent that's spread around among The Sweet Hollywiians. They pack such amazing style; they’ve even shared the stage with fabulous American uker and chanteuse, Miss Janet Klein. Here they are performing a smoking hot version of the song that ukulele legend Roy Smeck made famous, Twelfth Street Rag:

Then, there’s the more purist jug band group, the Old Southern Jug Blowers:


It’s beginning to feel like our house is being overtaken by the Spirit of Jug Band Music. I’m going to keep on practicing right up until the very moment we take the stage. Meanwhile, you can amuse yourself with this clip of the marvelous Steve Martin, picking and grinning with the Muppet Jug Band:



September 18, Louisville KY

Ukes have been welcomed with open arms at this jug band event. Both Pholly and the Key Strummers have Jug Band Jubilee appearances under their belts. Headliners this year are jug band legends Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldour; the remaining line up for this year is yet to be announced, but past performers have included the Juggernaut Jug Band, The Old Southern Jug Blowers, The Carolina Chocolate Drops and of the Blue Stone Folk School's favorite visiting performers, Pokey Lafarge.


The next meeting is Thursday, August 10, 7-9 PM at the historic Judge Stone House, 107 South 8th Street in Noblesville. Bring a uke and a song, or just come to listen.


Blue Stone Folk School director, Geoff Davis is offering a weekly ukulele workshop Wednesdays, August 18-Septembern22, from 7-8:30 PM. $60 for the class, BYOU (bring your own uke). Preregistration is required. Contact


If you couldn't escape work on Tuesday morning, you’ll get another chance to see us perform at Locals Only on Friday, August 27th.


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