First-time director Todd Kwait’s feature-length documentary, “Chasin’ Gus’ Ghost,” traces the history of jug band music from such 1920s pioneers as Gus Cannon and Cannon’s Jug Stompers to the ’60s revival spearheaded by the Jim Kweskin Jug Band to the contemporary Sankofa Strings (now known as the Carolina Chocolate Drops).
Spurred on to make the film after seeing Woodstock resident John Sebastian in concert 11 years ago, Kwait’s original idea for the film was much simpler. “We were just going to shoot a concert by Sebastian and the J-Band, do some backstage interviews and then add some photographs and maybe some narration on the history of jug band music in between the songs,” Kwait explains. “It was going to be relatively simple.”
Unfortunately, the band’s legendary jug player Fritz Richmond – who was also a founding member of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band – became ill, and the concert was canceled. “So I began to sort of shift my focus and start accumulating these various interviews,” recalls the Cleveland attorney and businessman, “and the project sort of took on its own life.”
As a result, Kwait tracked down a wide variety of roots musicians, which gives the film a broader scope. It includes interviews and performances by Sebastian, Kweskin, Richmond, Geoff Muldaur, Charlie Musselwhite and Bob Weir (of the Grateful Dead, who began their musical career as Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions).
The film had its east coast at the Woodstock Film Festival in 2007, and was finally released on DVD this year by Rediscover Music.