New Haven, Connecticut based Washboard Slim and the Bluelights have been performing together for over 40 years, and have evolved into “one of the most versatile and original of jug bands around.” Led by founder Peter Menta (a.k.a. Washboard Slim), the act features not only the washboard, but also instruments like the wash tub bass, jug, banjo, kazoo, harmonica, fiddle, and drums. The band combines this with powerful harmonies to sell out dance halls all over the northern US, and Canada.
“In the late 60s, Jug bands were part of the underground folk scene,” Peter told me. “It was a rougher, bluesier alternative to the mellow main-stream folk music prolific at that time.”
Jug bands were first recorded in the 1920s in Louisville, KY, and then in Memphis, TN. “They were race records for the most part,” Peter said, “Performed mostly by African Americans, on a combination of home made and conventional instrument. They sold pretty well as 78 rpm singles. A lot of it was party music, some of it was down and dirty blues music, and some of it was even jazz and gospel oriented,” he said. The band strives to honor that tradition.
Their current CD, Back To The Well, features a slight deviation though. “We drew from the well of southern traditional roots music to re-interpret and update old gems and to write new ones,” Peter said. “Of course we included jug band and blues music, but we also took in Cajun, gospel and early country string band styles.”
Also featured is the distinct sound of rockabilly, and it’s not by accident. “We’ve invented a style that’s a cross between jug band music and rockabilly that we call jugabilly,” Peter said “This record is a little more fire and brimstone and little less traditional jug band,” he said. “It’s a different direction for us, and for a jug band.” Legendary blues/folk artist, Eric Von Schmidt described Washboard Slim and the Bluelights as “traditional music on overdrive.”