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Jug Band History at SLAC

Cigar boxes, trash cans and washboards may be nothing but junkyard fodder for most people, but for the Tarantulas Jug Band, these are the makings of great music. The genre had its heyday in the late 1920s, but it is still alive and well in the Bay Area: The 3rd annual San Francisco Jug Band Festival will be held August 15–17, 2008. The 6th International Jug Band Festival will take place September 27–28 in Sutter Creek. These sights and sounds may be familiar to some SLAC employees who recall several jug bands that have played, and formed, at SLAC.

The community of SLAC employees, with its wide variety of interests and talents, brought together a previous jug band, way back in 1981. SLAC employees Bebo White, Alan Spragens and Bruce Erickson were introduced through friends who recognized their common love of this down-home style of music. Together they formed The Grinnin' Dawgs Jug Band. The group made jug band fans out of many SLAC employees when they played at a few SLAC functions, including Family Day 1981. Many years later, another band of White's called the Loose Licks played at Family Day 1994. These days, White is associated with the Tarantulas, a nine-member band that made its most recent SLAC appearance in 2006, at the International Conference on Web Engineering (ICWE) dinner. The photographs here show the Grinnin Dawgs and the Tarantulas, both playing outside the Panofsky Auditorium breezeway, 25 years apart.

Jug band music is a hard genre to nail down. Linked with the early development of American blues, it diverged by adding home-made instruments like washtubs, combs and of course, the jug. Any variety of glass, earthenware or stoneware jug adds unique flavor to more traditional stringed instruments. The California Jug Band Association quotes genre pioneer Geoff Muldaur as saying, "The essence of the jug band idea is people jamming music for free and for fun with an extremely unrehearsed, spontaneous nature to it." Many people consider Chicago blues to have its roots in jug band music, and a few jug bands of the 1960s evolved into classic-rock groups, including The Grateful Dead.

—Calla Cofield
SLAC Today, August 6, 2008

(Photo - The Grinnin Dawgs in 1981)
The Grinnin Dawgs: (left to right) Alan Spragens, Bebo White, Peder Jones on the jug and Bruce Erickson play at SLAC in 1981. Photo courtesy of Bebo White.
(Click images for larger versions.)

(Photo - The Tarantulas in 2006)
Tarantulas: Bebo White holds the microphone with the Tarantulas jug band at SLAC in 2006. Photo Courtesy of Maria Bielikova.