Sunday, March 22, 2009

Foot-Stompin' Music

I love music, but I must confess that as a history writer I do not explore the music world as much as I do the world of the past. I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled across the myspace page of Curbside Jimmy and Washboard Jean and listened to some of their songs. Their rendition of “Will the Circle be Unbroken” reminded me of a childhood Sunday morning. Their music has a down-home, country feel that left me tapping my feet, humming and smiling. I was equally surprised that I somehow managed to catch Curbside Jimmy for a quick interview, and at the end of the interview, he made some interesting comments about history, as well!

DSD: Jimmy, your website identifies you and Jean as the sole survivors of the Curbside Jug Band, a popular San Antonio band from the 1990s. Can you tell us a bit about this group?

Curbside Jimmy: It is true that we played out of San Antonio. However, we weren't popular. We always got a good response wherever we played but we were never well known. Live music is not popular. Most live music venues end up being musicians watching other musicians. The band started in 1999 when I was a cab driver. I kept a guitar or banjo in my car. Over time several of us began playing at cab stands when we were waiting for fares. Hence the name curbside. That’s where we started, on the curbside.

DSD: When did you first start playing music?

Curbside Jimmy: My grandmother gave me a harmonica when I was about 12. I have carried one ever since. I started playing guitar as a young teenager. In the 60's I played bass with a band rock and roll band called the Runaways. Also as a teenager, I played bass with a country band at an ice house on Sunday afternoon. I got paid $8.00 for 4 hours and that was good money for a kid on Sunday. The rock and roll band paid better. We each usually got $25.00. The rock and roll band actually was popular.

DSD: How would you describe your music, and what attracts you to this particular style?

Curbside Jimmy: What I play now is raw and unpolished blues and old country. I am a minimalist in everything I do. The music sounds the way it does mostly because I am slightly awkward, and not good at copying others. With a lot of practice I have become little less awkward, so it comes across as relaxed I guess. My mistakes have started sounding like they belong in the music.

DSD: How does one learn how to play a “jug?”

Curbside Jimmy: It helps if they have played bass and have bass lines rolling around in their head. The jug is played by vibrating the lips while blowing into the jug. The most important thing is knowing what a bass part sounds like. The technique takes practice.

DSD: You play the Guitarron, as well. What exactly is a Guitarron and how does the sound add to your music? Is it difficult to play?

Curbside Jimmy: A guitarron is a bass instrument that is made in Mexico and played in different types of Mexican music. It serves the same function as a string bass. I find that it has a stronger presence acoustically than a string bass.

DSD: You apparently have strong feelings about electronic sound tracks and virtual instruments. Could you explain that for us?

Curbside Jimmy: I don't have any feelings about it. If someone makes music by programming a machine that is real skill. Most people love electronic drums. They are used in most commercial recordings. Virtual instruments offer a degree of precision that persons such as I can't match. But there is a warmth and a sense of sincerity that is lost in virtual music. I can offer warmth and sincerity in my music. A musician has to trade one for another. Both goals are worth while.

DSD: How do you feel about musicians who record their own music?

I must like them because I am one of them. Any other song I record is public domain.

Jimmy: I need to say something about music and history since you are a history person. Music gives a very accurate account of history as experienced and perceived by the poor and middle class. A person could read a book and find out how dangerous train travel was 100 years ago and back. The same person could listen to the "Wreck of The Old 97" and get a clear picture also.

The myspace page for Curbside Jimmy and Washboard Jean can be found at:


Anonymous said...

I love learning about history through song. There is something soothing about it. It can make you cry while smiling. It also is a good way to pass along stories that are not in the history books but are still intreating.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

I agree! One of my favorite songs as a child was Tennessee Ernie Ford's version of "Sixteen Tons." The song fascinated me so much that I asked more and more questions about it and soon became obsessed with the history of mining in the United States. Songs are wonderful documents of history.

Christmas dinner for a family, from a series of photos documenting Gen. John J. Pershing's 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico. ...