If you ask Bill Howard why he likes jug band and ragtime music, one of the first reasons he’ll give is that “it doesn’t suck.”
“Growing up in the ’80s, everything that referred to jug band music was kind of a joke,” he said. “So when you finally land on these recordings from the ’20s and you hear people really blowing jug and playing the kazoo seriously and ripping various banjoes and killer harmonies, just such a killer vibe… hearing what it’s supposed to be, it’s like, ‘Oh my goodness.’”
Howard makes up one half of The Ever-Lovin’ Jug Band alongside Minnie Heart, who, on their first band tour to B.C. out from Waterlou, Ont., will be playing at Ground Zero Acoustic Lounge (8-464 Island Hwy. West, Parksville) on Jan. 11.
Together, they play a combo of fiddle, banjolin, kazoo and foot-bass on Heart’s side, and guitar and jug on Howard’s side, often at the some time and while trading lead vocals.
They bring an authentic old-time sound, while seeking to show that this style of music has not only kept on going, but is seeing renewed interest, they said.
For Howard’s part, he said moving into an apartment had him exploring acoustic music, eventually coming upon jug band tunes. “I just really liked it and kept on digging and making up tunes like that, and discovering other people playing it.”
One of those was Heart.
Both Heart and Howard are quick to admit that jug band music has a negative stereotype among many people. “It’s kind of portrayed as like weird bumpkin music or something like that, some drunk guy blowing one note on the jug,” said Howard. But it’s the musicianship of early jug band and ragtime music that gets people hooked, he said.
“When you hear Earl McDonald from the Louisville Jug Band… really blowing melodies on the jug… it’s like, ‘Holy cow, how are they doing that?’”
It took Howard a year or two to figure it out, he said, and then only with the help of Bruce Cockburn, he said.
As Heart and Howard have dug deeper into this genre of music, they say they’ve seen more and more people interested in it.
Though finding those pre-war era recordings to be inspired by used to be a chore, the music became much more readily available online after 2006, said Heart.
Now the pair will find musicians in their early 20s who play nothing but ragtime guitar, and they both grow excited over just how good they will get if they stick with it.
As for the Ever-Lovin’ Jug Band itself, it’s put out two full-length albums of original tunes since 2013, both of those with a larger group.
Though other bandmates have gone in other directions, Howard and Heart said they enjoy their two-person group.
It allows for more improvisation and an easier creative process. Performing multiple instruments at once also brings a certain spectacle for crowds, they said.
Coming up, the band will be releasing an album full of their previously released original music, but in their two-person format. And later on, they’ve got exciting plans for something all-new, but don’t want to give it away just yet.
For their first band trip out to B.C., they’ll be playing Duncan on Jan. 12 and Sayward on Jan. 13, but after their performance in Parksville Jan. 11.
Doors open at GZAL at 6:30 p.m. with the show beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance. For tickets and more info, go to www.gzalounge.com/upcoming-concerts.html.