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Jim Kweskin and Samoa Wilson



June 22, 2024

About the Artist


Six decades after his first record, American music legend Jim Kweskin continues to create vibrant, vital music, and his latest album, Never Too Late, ranks among his most personal projects. Never Too Late, due out January 26th on StorySound Records, is a duets album with Kweskin singing with several of his favorite female musicians that he has performed with over the years. “When we do these gigs, there are always a few songs that are special,” the 83-year-old Kweskin explains. “And I thought wouldn’t it be great if we could make a record out of some of these special tunes?”

Kweskin’s singing partners include Maria Muldaur, who first performed with him in the early 60s as part of the fabled Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band. Two other Never Too Late vocalists, Samoa Wilson, and Meredith Axelrod, have both done full-length albums with Kweskin while Rose Guerin and Juli Crockett have frequently sung with Kweskin in concerts he has done on the east and west coast respectively. Kweskin’s granddaughter, Fiona Kweskin, also sings on several tracks, and she too has been singing with him at shows in recent years.

Besides honoring the many talented female singers Kweskin has worked with during his career, Never Too Late also spotlights the generation-spanning and genre-hopping nature of his musical interests. The album’s 18 acoustic-based tracks suggest a Great Americana Songbook, where Leadbelly’s “Relax Your Mind” precedes the Tin Pan Alley tune “Sheik of Araby,” which leads into Forties country hit, “Remember Me. The set’s range also encompasses the Irving Berlin Broadway song “You’re Just in Love,” Woody Guthrie’s WW II ditty “Sally Don’t You Grieve, and the Carter Family’s somber train wreck tune, “Engine 143.” While the material has varied moods, styles, and origins, they have one thing in common: they’re all songs Kweskin loves. “Every one of them is personal to me,” he shares. “That’s why I chose them.”

Several of the songs on Never Too Late, Kweskin has recorded before, but he has reasons for re-visiting them. “Relax Your Mind” was on his ’64 solo album of the same name; however, he loves the way Rose Guerin sings it with him and wanted to capture that. Kweskin re-did “Side by Side” too because the version he has been performing live with Fiona has been so much fun to do. Kweskin first recorded “The Cuckoo” in 1964 with Mel Lyman, but felt that Jessie Benton’s vocal with him was so powerful, he had to release this new version.

It's worth noting that not all the songs are of pre-WWII vintage, although they might sound like it. The track “Moby Dick” sounds like an 1860s English maritime ballad, but the tune was actually written by Ron McElderry, an old friend of Kweskin’s from back in the 1960s. The title track, meanwhile, sounds like classic western swing; however, it’s a song one of his duet partners, Juli Crockett, penned just a few years ago.

On several tracks, Kweskin takes a back seat on the vocals and lets his guests handle the primary singing. Samoa Wilson delivers a soulful performance on “Honey in the Rock” and Rose Guerin nails Memphis Slim’s “Mother Earth.” The two also share main vocals on “I Ain’t Never Been Satisfied.” “The Lone Pilgrim” features a stirring lead vocal by Kweskin’s good friend, Nell Foote, who had never been in a recording studio before. “There was no reason for me to take the lead on any of those songs. They had it covered. They didn't need me,” Kweskin elaborated. “I was just happy to be a backup singer and guitar player on those tunes.”

The album was basically recorded in five days in early 2023 at Dimension Sound Studios in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, near Kweskin’s Boston home base. Almost every song on Never Too Late was either the first or second take, according to Kweskin, because everyone was so good and prepared. It helped that he had experience with his supporting players: fiddler Suzy Thompson, dobro & steel guitar player Cindy Cashdollar, harmonicist Annie Raines, and his regular bassist/producer Matthew Berlin, all of whom Kweskin has performed with many times. “So many things could have gone wrong, but it all worked out great,” Kweskin relates.

Kweskin and Berlin did travel to Northern California to record Maria Muldaur’s tracks, “The Sheik of Araby” and album opener “Let’s Get Happy Together.” The album closer, Jessie Benton amd Kweskin’s rendition of the old Appalachian banjo tune, “The Cuckoo,” is the only track that is from an earlier recording session. A long-time friend of Kweskin, Benton was an extremely talented singer who never pursued a musical career. He cajoled her into singing this song a few years ago when she visited him in the studio. Following her death earlier this year, Kweskin added this track to this album and has dedicated Never Too Late to her.

Jim Kweskin’s storied music career was launched in 1963 when Vanguard Records co-founder Maynard Solomon saw him play at Club 47 in Cambridge, MA. An instantly impressed Solomon offered to record Kweskin and his band. Since the gig was really a jam session, Kweskin didn’t have an actual band, so he proceeded to put one together. The Jim Kweskin Jug Band included singer/guitarist Geoff Muldaur plus washtub and jug player extraordinaire Fritz Richmond as key original members. Harmonica and banjo player Mel Lyman joined them later, as did singer Maria D'Amato (who later married Muldaur and became Maria Muldaur), and future newgrass standouts Bill Keith on banjo and Richard Greene on fiddle came aboard too.

The Jim Kweskin Jug Band rose to prominence – including many appearances on prime time national TV shows such as The Steve Allen Show and The Tonight Show - with a free-wheeling style in stark contrast to the popular early 60s folk groups, who were more formal with scripted stage routines. While well-rehearsed musically, the Jug Band’s live performances were unscripted. “We got up on stage and did and said whatever we felt like,” Kweskin recalls. The Jim Kweskin Jug Band only lasted five years and released just four studio albums, but they made an indelible mark on the music scene. The esteemed critic Ed Ward included the group alongside the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and the Byrds as the most important bands of the early 60s. Groups like the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Grateful Dead, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks (to name a few) began their careers by listening to the Jim Kweskin Jug Band’s early recordings.

Kweskin released his first solo album, Relax Your Mind, in 1964 while still in the Jug Band and continued to make music after the group’s break-up. Among his many projects over the years, he has made solo albums, recorded with jazz bands, started the Jim Kweskin Band with Samoa Wilson, was the leader of the U&I Band, and did a children’s record. In 2016, he reunited with Geoff Muldaur for the well-received album, Penny’s Farm, which is among a number of records he has put out in the 2000s. In total, Kweskin has released more than 20 albums.

Kweskin developed his passion for music, particularly turn-of-the-20th century music, when he was a child. At a very early age, Kweskin fell in love with his father’s collection of early jazz recordings by music greats such as Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Bessie Smith, Jelly Roll Morton, Bix Beiderbecke, and Sidney Bechet. A little later, during high school, he became enamored with the folk scene, listening to Pete Seeger, The Weavers, Burl Ives, and others. At first, Kweskin never considered combining his two favorite musical interests until one night in 1962 at Club 47 he saw Eric Von Schmidt perform Jelly Roll Morton’s “Buddy Bolden’s Blues,” an old New Orleans jazz tune, but he was doing it as if it were a folk song. It was a light bulb moment that led Kweskin to see jug band music as a way to combine his love for folk and early jazz. He also modernized the ragtime-blues fingerpicking style of Blind Boy Fuller, Pink Anderson, and especially Mississippi John Hurt into a distinctive style that is powerfully evident throughout all his recordings and is prominent on Never Too Late.

Jim Kweskin has long been recognized for his ability to uncover old, forgotten gems and introduce them to audiences. “If music was great then, it is always great,” he states. “It doesn’t become less great because it is 80 or 90 years old.” On his new album, Kweskin reminds listeners that it’s “never too late” to fall in love with a good song.

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