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The Memphis Jug Band: “On the Road Again” and “Stealin’ Stealin'”

The last hurrah for the Grateful Dead is set for Chicago in a couple of weeks. One of the standards the band did (at least early on) was a song that it called “Stealin’.” The song initially – as much as it’s possible to say with old blues – was called “Stealin’ Stealin’” and was by Gus Cannon, a member of The Memphis Jug Band.

The band was mentioned in an interesting featurette about Samuel Charters, a very important collection of early blues music. Charters died in March.

A site that delves into the history of The Grateful Dead provides the lyrics to the song and background on The Memphis Jug Band. It was founded in the city of the name in the 1920s by Will Slade, who had heard records of an even earlier band, The Dixieland Jug Blowers, which played out of Louisville, Kentucky, where jug bands had long been popular.

The profile says that the Memphis Jug Band was a loose knit group with constantly changing personnel.

There is a very direct line between The Memphis Jug Band and others like it and the rock era of the latter half of the twentieth century. Some of the progenitors got more credit than others, who tended to be lost in the mists of time. The Memphis Jug Band hasn’t gotten its due. Wikipedia summed up this particular band’s contribution:

The Memphis Jug Band was key in developing the jug band format, which evolved into the blues combo that is the basis of much of the popular music of today. However, their legacy, like that of other acoustic blues musicians of their era, has been largely overshadowed by the electric blues musicians of the 1950s. Modern jug bands still play many Memphis Jug Band songs, but generally the only songs recognizable to a wider audience are those that were covered by rock groups in the 1960s.

Another early Grateful Dead song, “Overseas Stomp (the Lindy),” is credited to Shade and Jab Jones, another member of The Memphis Jug Band.

Above is “On the Road Again,” which includes some objectionable language (the “N word”). It is, however, an important song and seems to have been the band’s most popular. The video of earlier driving is quite interesting. The profusion of cars, pedestrians, street cars and horses following no particular rules of the road makes it seem amazing that anyone survived. “Stealin’ Stealin’ ” is below. The artwork is by R. Crumb.

Roots of the Grateful Dead and Wikipedia were used to write this post.