Birmingham’s Steel City Jug Slammers provide audiences with a one of kind experience. From the moment that they take the stage, spectators will immediately take a step back in time. From their appearance, to their instruments, to the old southern banter, this group has all the charm of a century-old traveling music show fresh off the train, and will keep your attention captive from the first time you hear the blow of the jug and pluck of the tub bass.
It may be a lost art, or a piece of music history that has been forgotten over decades of technological advancement in the music industry, but the old fashioned jug band is still alive and well in Birmingham - at least with one particular group of local musicians. The Steel City Jug Slammers made a name for themselves locally about four years ago, hitting the lively Birmingham music scene with a splash, but now, with a new album, extensive touring and the band's recent induction into the Jug Band Hall of Fame, the local band is making a national name for themselves.
The Steel City Jug Slammers started in late 2012 with an inspiration to learn and recreate the sound developed and recorded by the original jug bands of the 1920's and 30's. Taking influence from bands such as the Memphis Jug Band, Cannon's Jug Stompers, the Louisville Jug Bands, and so on, the band eventually began to write songs of their own. The project's main focus was busking and playing unplugged where ever they could. The Jug Slammers soon recorded an EP. The band's first single "Save My Soul" was featured on Animal Planet's Pit-bulls & Parolees in 2013 being played live by the band on TV. The subsequent music video was filmed and released the same year on YouTube featuring main cast members of the television show as well. The band's debut Self Titled album was recorded in New Orleans by Joseph Faison and released officially in 2014. The band was also featured in 2014 at the 10th Anniversary of the National Jug Band Jubilee where they had finally found a home for jug band music. The band's second single "She's Long Gone" was filmed during the making of the documentary "If You Don't Love It Change It" and released in 2015 and featured in the film as the director films his way across the entire united states. That same year the band was featured on NPR's Live From Here (then known as A Prairie Home Companion) and both songs were introduced to a national audience. The band also won the battle of the jug bands in Minneapolis and was dubbed their 2015 jug band champion. During this time the band was filmed and featured in the movie Jug Band Hokum. In 2016 the band was featured by Jerry Springer himself on his podcast and the band was yet again introduced to a wider audience. By this time the band had toured most of the country making life- long friends along the way, sharing their blend of rowdy jug band ruckus. The band was seeing radio play on local and national stations with their Self Titled record after their appearances on NPR and TV, combined with constant touring and in 2017 the band was honored and privileged to be inducted into the Jug Band Hall of Fame along side the heroes they had been inspired and influenced so heavily by. During this time at some point the bands second record was made in Nashville, TN. at The Bomb Shelter studio and remains un- released to this day. The Jug Slammers go through significant line up changes at this point marking the end of an era. The band re- introduced themselves and their next single "Mobile Shake" to the world in 2017 on Abby The Spoon Lady's YouTube channel featuring her playing spoons for the video. Work on the next album "Tall Tales" began. The album was recorded by Shane Hopson and released in 2018. A video for the next single "Mr. Steel" was also released and the song was featured on Radio Bristol for the bands first "Radio Bristol Sessions" appearance at the Birthplace of Country Museum. During this time the band toured extensively and was featured on the Brooklyn Folk Festival. In 2019 the band's line up expanded and work began on the third official studio album "Hot Butter". The record was made in Water Valley, MS. at Dial Back Sound where blues legends such as T- Model Ford, Junior Kimbrough, & R.L. Burnside recorded during the studio's Fat Possum Records years. Hot Butter features Grammy Award winner Jimbo Mathus of The Squirrel Nut Zippers on piano for several songs, and also features electric guitar and pedal steel for the first time in the bands catalog. The first single "Let It Roll" was released just before the album and the second single "Make That Money" was announced with the album release by The Bluegrass Situation. Touring for the album began and lead the band eventually to their first international tour dates in Canada for the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Two generations of jug bands also collided in 2019 as the Jug Slammers would join up with Jim Kweskin to form his backing band for touring and an appearance at the National Jug Band Jubilee. Jim founded the legendary Jim Kweskin Jug Band in the 1960's and is in many ways the father of the modern jug band movement. The band joined Mr. Kweskin on stage in Winnipeg to celebrate the life and music of Pete Seeger for his 100th birthday hootenanny, which the band considers a high honor. In 2020 the band founded The Alabama Jubilee Vaudeville & Old Time Variety Show which is a monthly showcase of music, dance, comedy, sideshow, and local art. Over the years the Steel City Jug Slammers have shared the stage with amazing artists like Dom Flemons, Pokey Lafarge, Old Crow Medicine Show, R. Crumb, Blind Boy Paxton, Sierra Ferrell, Rebirth Brass Band, Molly Tuttle, & many more. Off stage the band has brought jug band music to the community by teaching thousands of kids and adults Jug, Kazoo, and Washtub Bass lessons. Keep an eye out for more jug band ruckus to come from Steel City Jug Slammers.
A jug band is a band employing a jug player and a mix of traditional and home-made instruments. These home-made instruments are ordinary objects adapted to or modified for making of sound, like the washtub bass, washboard, spoons, stovepipe and comb & tissue paper (kazoo). The term jug band is loosely used in referring to ensembles that also incorporate home-made instruments but that are more accurately called skiffle bands, spasm bands or juke (or jook) bands (see juke joint) because they are missing the required jug player.
The eponymous jug is made by taking a jug (usually made of glass or stoneware) and buzzing the lips into its mouth from about an inch away. As with brass instruments, changes in pitch are controlled by altering lip tension, and an accomplished jug player could have a two octave range. The stovepipe (usually a section of tin pipe, 3" or 4" in diameter) is played in much the same manner, with the pipe rather than the jug being the resonating chamber. There is some similarity to the didgeridoo, but there is no contact between the stovepipe and the player's lips. Some jug and stovepipe players utilize throat vocalization along with lip buzzing, as with the didgeridoo.
The swooping sounds of the jug fill a musical role halfway between the trombone and sousaphone or tuba in Dixieland bands, playing mid- and lower-range harmonies in rhythm.
Early jug bands were typically made up of African American vaudeville and medicine show musicians. Beginning in the urban south, they played a mixture of Memphis blues (even before it was formally called the blues), ragtime, and Appalachian music. The history of jug bands is related to the development of the blues. The informal and energetic music of the jug bands also contributed to the development of rock and roll.
The well known Memphis jug bands were small street groups, generally on Beale Street, and had their own blues style, using guitar, harmonica, banjo and a jug to accompany their blues and country dance songs
The first jug bands to record were the Louisville and Birmingham jug bands. These bands played popular dance band jazz, using the jug as a novelty element. Vaudeville-blues singer Sara Martin and America's blue yodeler Jimmie Rodgers both employed these groups on their recordings.
The Memphis area jug bands were more firmly rooted in country blues and earlier African-American traditions. Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers and Will Shade's Memphis Jug Band,recorded the great songs that became the basis for the later jug band revival: "Stealin'", "Jug Band Music", "Whoa, Mule", "Minglewood Blues", "Walk Right In" and many others.