Jim Kweskin’s Duets with My Friends both brightens (‘Let’s Be Happy Together’) and darkens (‘The Cuckoo’) classic old-time folk songs. All shine. “The record started out with the idea of doing duets,” Kweskin says. “I was thinking about all these women who I perform and record with. We have some really cool songs.”
Alt-Country Specialty Chart: Describe working with Maria Muldaur today.
Jim Kweskin: Maria joined my band in 1964, but we haven’t sung together often over the past fifty years. We don’t do the same songs now that we did back then, so we’re always learning new things. Maria and I did two songs on this album: “The Sheik of Araby” and “Let’s Get Happy Together.” We did “The Sheik of Araby” a long time ago, but “Let’s Get Happy Together” is new. We’re always adding songs to our repertoire. These are all old songs, but they’re new to me sometimes.
Explain what drew you to ‘Let’s Get Happy Together.’
That song originally was recorded in the Forties by Lil Hardin Armstrong. She was Louis Armstrong’s wife back in the Twenties and played piano on his Hot Five and Hot Seven records. She was his second of four wives and went on to have her own career writing and performing. She wrote “Let’s Get Happy Together.” Maria brought the song to me.
You’ve said you ‘uncover’ traditional songs instead of covering them. Explain.
Well, think about it. You do songs that somebody else wrote nowadays it’s called covering them. No such concept existed back in the olden days. A song would come out and there would be six or eight versions immediately. There would be country, blues, pop and maybe a jazz version. Everybody was recording new and old songs. Now you do a song that’s written by Adele or the Beatles and it’s called covering.
I was playing for a friendly audience one night and said, “Am I covering a song if I do a song recorded a hundred years ago?” “No,” they said, “you’re uncovering it.” I loved that concept. That’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. I find these wonderful old tunes that people might not be familiar with and record them. I don’t even think about covering or uncovering. I’m just picking a good song.
Your ‘Cuckoo’ is darker and haunting than most.
“The Cuckoo” just felt like it should have been done that way. I originally heard Clarence Ashley’s version. He recorded “The Cuckoo” on the Appalachian banjo back in the late Twenties in modal tuning. I thought, Might be cool if I finger pick the song in a minor key. I tried doing it fast, but that didn’t fit my feeling and rhythm, so I slowed it down until I was happy with it.
Talk about Jesse Benton who sang the song with you.
I’ve known Jesse since the mid-Sixties. She had a beautiful soprano voice but never wanted to be an entertainer or performer. Jesse came to visit me during a recording session and I said, “Hey, let’s do this song together. You wanna sing ‘The Cockoo’ with me?” “Okay. What the hell.” It was a magic moment. I finally got her to release a song. She could have been a star like Joan Baez, but she just never wanted to be.
– Brian T. Atkinson
Artist: Suzy Bogguss
Hometown: Aledo, Illinois
Album: Prayin’ for Sunshine
Release Date: November 3, 2023
Record Label: Loyal Dutchess Records
Artist Website: suzybogguss.com
On recording the album: “This is the first time I’ve written my whole album. I was asking myself, ‘Does anyone really want to hear where I’m at right now?’ Then we had the lockdown and I got so close to the people who watched my live streams every week and learned that they didn’t want to just hear the songs they already knew. I got the confidence to make a record of my own songs all of a sudden.” – Suzy Bogguss
- Brian T. Atkinson
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