Mar 22, 2013

July 1964: Mother McCree's Interview

PETE WANGER: Now a while back after these guys were on, my partner Wayne Ott went downstairs in the bottom of the Tangent and got a good interview with these guys, so if you want to know what makes a group that sounds this crazy, if you want to know what makes this kind of a group tick, listen in now with an interview with the jugband by Wayne Ott.
OTT: OK, we're downstairs at the Tangent, and we're going to talk to one of the groups which performed tonight and is on the tape; this is Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, and you are -
GARCIA: Jerry Garcia.
OTT: Why don't you tell us something about the origin of the group, where are the individual people from?
GARCIA: Well, you mean recently, or originally?
OTT: Well, both, if you can cover it.
GARCIA: Well, I'd rather let everybody speak for themselves. I'm originally from San Francisco and recently from Palo Alto. I live in the area and I'm a music teacher.
OTT: Are you more or less the originator or the organizer?
GARCIA: More or less, yeah.
OTT: Well who's next on the list?
GARCIA: Uh...well...go ahead.
WEIR: Who's next on the list.
GARCIA: Go ahead, you are.
WEIR: About everybody's next - oh, well, yeah. My name's Bob Weir, and I was originally from San Francisco and now live in Atherton, and...I have nothing to say. (laughs)
OTT: OK, what are you doing -
WEIR: You won't get anything from me but my name! Oh, what am I doing in the band.
OTT: Yeah, what do you do, what's your function?
WEIR: Well, I play a whole mess of instruments - guitar, washtub bass, jug, kazoo. I sing, I dance -
GARCIA: You tell funny stories.
WEIR: - tell funny stories. Play the [foot thresher] every once in a while and things like that...
OTT: OK, why don't we pass it on?
STONE: This is Tom Stone. I was originally born in Boston, and then my father being an engineer, have mopped around the world until I finally ended up here in Palo Alto, and was playing, and then was somehow drafted into the jug band as banjo player and occasional mandolin player and second guitar player.
PARKER: Great. My name is Dave Parker, I live here in Palo Alto, I joined the jug band about 5 or 6 months ago. I play the washboard and double, as just about everybody in the band does, on a couple other instruments - kazoos and assorted rhythm instruments.
OTT: Very good. That's a pretty fair cross-section, I think, wasn't it?
GARCIA: There are two missing, they also have equally peculiar functions; one of them is Ron Pigpen McKernan. He plays harmonica and sings blues quite well, I might add.
OTT: The total is six, right?
GARCIA: Six, right, and then there's another fellow whose function we haven't quite established but sometimes plays bass and sometimes plays second guitar and kazoo and just a general assortment of things; his name is Mike Garbett.
OTT: Very good. One question I think which many people have is, where is music like this chosen? What gives you the ideas for these selections, where do they come from?
GARCIA: I think there are about four major categories of music that we actually play, and we boil it down under the name of jugband music. Actual jugband music is a sort of early blues-band music that was recorded during the '20s and '30s, not sophisticated music; it might feature guitar and harmonica played blues-style, kazoo, possibly a five-string banjo, possibly a jug, which acts as a tuba does in an old-time dixieland band. That is one of our major areas of material, one of our sources. Another is early dixieland, you know, New Orleans jazz. We get some 1920s, 1930s popular music, and a lot of - not a lot of, but a certain amount of more recent blues, from within the last 10 or 15 years, that includes some very recent, within the last 3 or 4 years, rhythm & blues songs. So we have quite a large area, and it makes it more fun for us, and certainly more satisfying because it doesn't restrict us to one particular idea or one particular style, and the result I think is pretty interesting, and it's a great - just a gas, I'd say. Anybody want to add to that?
OTT: I think it's very interesting for the audience too. One question then, to wrap things up - where does the future lead from here? What are you guys gonna do next?
GARCIA: I'm gonna go home and go to bed! No, it's hard to tell - I think we'll play the music probably as long as we're together, we all live in the same area. Like I say, it's fun, it's rewarding, it's great to get together. We don't expect to make a fortune at it, or ever be popular or famous or worshipped, or hit the Ed Sullivan show or anything like that, or the circuses or the big top or whatever. Anyway, we play at a few places in the area; I think that we may be restricted to that, just because it's impractical to travel too long a distance. But as long as we can play, we'll play, regardless of what it's for, who it's for, or anything. It's fun for us, that's the important thing.
OTT: OK, great, thanks an awful lot for being on the microphone tonight, and thank you also for allowing us to have the recordings. We appreciate them very much.


  1. Two Stanford students, Pete Wanger & Wayne Ott, recorded the jug band one night in July 1964 for their WZSU radio program "Live from the Top of the Tangent," documenting local folk music. Many other bands were also taped, and ten half-hour programs ended up being broadcast - Mother McCree's being one of them.
    More info is on the page. Fortunately, the tapes were saved, and later used for a Mother McCree's CD release.

    It's notable how Garcia takes charge in the interview. Weir seems interview-shy, and Pigpen avoids it altogether, but Garcia's perfectly willing to give a little lecture on their music. (It shows us a glimpse of Garcia the music scholar.)
    Membership in the band was constantly changing; it had briefly included Bob Matthews (one of the founders) and many other friends. The songs recorded that night were just a random part of their repertoire.
    The group had gotten together in January 1964 and would last til January 1965, when a few members decided that jugband opportunities were getting played out and it was time to change instruments...

  2. Was Eric Thompson in Mother McCree's in January 1964? He was just leaving The Black Mountain Boys around then, being replaced by Sandy Rothman.

  3. Eric Thompson was in the jug band at some point, but pinning down the exact time may not be possible. McNally says Rothman replaced Thompson in the Black Mountain Boys because Thompson moved east in late 1963; but he was definitely back in Garcia's scene again by 1965. Membership in the jug band probably changed from month to month, as people came and went.