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The Duet
Photo © Kate J. Hudson

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Historicist, poet and tubologist Dale "Sourdough" Myres recently spent two years in Iraq, and sent us this interesting account:

I didn't take any musical instruments with me to the Big Sandy as you don't know what to expect. I arrived in Baghdad as a civilian contractor in late November of '04, in the middle of the wet cold season. I soon had some harmonicas and my G# native American flute sent over from the states. I bought a nice guitar from a soldier (which I still have) and started looking for the raw materials to make my rhythm section, a WTB.

My first attempt at building a WTB in Tikrit, Iraq in January of '05 was from a discarded metal galvanized American-built commercial grade mop bucket, a seasoned olive limb and an Iraqi-made 100% 1/2 cotton rope. I waxed the rope with some candles I found in a dumpster (it was all about scrounging over there, another story for another time.) It didn't sound very good but those that saw me play were amazed that I could get any sound out of an old mop bucket. About a month later, I built a tub from a #1 galvanized American-manufactured wash tub that the First Division band had given me and the same olive limb and rope from the mop bucket bass. It produced a little better results but with such a small tub, it didn't produce much on the low end of the scale. I started playing with a group of soldiers and they caught on with the tub, so soon I could play my guitar and someone else thumped on the tub. We had some good times and forgot about where we were for a little while playing in our little impromptu groups.

I was transferred to another base near Samarra in July of '05 and that little washtub went with me, although the flight crew of the Blackhawk didn't like me having the tub on their bird (it took up valuable space) I held it between my legs for the 25 minute flight. Once back on the ground, I met up with a young medic that was a bluegrass mandolin player from Florida so again we started playing when we could. Sometimes in the middle of a song, wounded soldiers would come in and I had to rush out of the makeshift ER so our medical teams could do what they do best (another story). When I left country for good in February of '06, I gave the tub to the medics hoping it would be used. As I always do, I used a permanent marker to inscribe the "built" date on the inside wall of the tub along with a little history of who I was and so forth. Sometimes I still wonder if the little bass that I made is still in use out there in the desert country.

I have many stories about my experiences in the desert. Some are very funny and some not so good. I was just doin' what any ol' country boy wouldover in the Big Sandy-- I was makin' do with the resources at hand. Ithink it was good to bring the soldiers some relief (and myself.) I wentthere to make some good money but came back with so much more than agreenback could ever buy me.

And believe me , I always plunk in peace.....

Your humble fellow tubist, Dale

Visit Sourdough Myres' Website and hear cuts from his CD.

6 Degrees From Fritz Richmond
Early Fritz Richmond
The Young Fritz
Brassiness album cover
Cover of the JKJB's 1st album
FR at Smithsonian
Giving WTB to Smithsonian

If you started playing washtub bass sometime after 1966, chances are there's a faint little chain of cosmic connection between you and the late Fritz Richmond. Maybe you never heard of Jim Kweskin's Jug Band, but unless you drew your inspiration directly from Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers, the Memphis Jug Band or another of the black string bands of the 1930's, then the guy you first saw playing the washtub bass probably got the idea from someone who heard someone who'd heard Kweskin's band, with Fritz Richmond on the tub. There were other jug bands and washtub bass players involved in the revival of jug band music in the late 60s (as well as on-going wtb traditions in some regions of the country), but it was undoubtedly Kweskin's group that introduced it to a mass audience (one largely white and middle-class.) And Fritz Richmond, who went on to the Big Jam in November of 2005, became the model for plunkers all across the country.

Not everyone would agree with the frequently expressed view that Richmond was the greatest of all washtub bass players, but he was absolutely a master of the three bass essentials: delivering the beat, playing in tune, and supporting the style of the music. Examples of Richmond's art are currently available on Ry Cooder's album Into the Purple Valley (Reprise CD 2052), Tom Rush's album Blues Songs and Ballads (Fantasy 24709) , and John Sebastian's I Want my Roots (MusicMasters 65137-2), as well as Acoustic Swing and Jug (Vanguard 79521-2), a reissue of some of the Kweskin band's most popular tunes.

Plunk in Peace, Fritz. We'll remember you in our music.

                                                          ------------------                            Photo Credits

To read Fritz Richmond's own recollections on the jugband revival and the music scene of the 60s, check out Bugs Engel's interview with the man himself. For a 2002 overview of Richmond's career, read John Foyston's article in OregonLive, the web presence of the Portland Oregonian. (Just cancel the pdf download.) And for a complete listing of Richmond's recording credits as musician or as engineer, visit

Jaako T-Chest
Jaako & Box
of The Werner Brothers Band

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These miscellaneous comments on the topic of tubs have been gleaned largely from the internet newsgroups, the Cyberpluckers Autoharp list, and the archives of The Bottom Line-- a now-defunct online symposium on basses and bassists)
  • "One night,on the way home from work, I heard this guy singing and playing bass. I couldn't see him directly, so I searched the station for the sounds. As I got closer and could hear a little better I kept thinking 'this guy's laying down some cool lines.' I turned a corner and was totally blown away! He was putting out these incredible lines on nothing more than a washtub, stick, and a string! What an eye-opening slap in the ears! ... I came to the conviction that it's not the instrument, but rather the sum of what makes up the person playing the instrument." (Shawn Burns)

  • "...they sounded hot, and I really wanted to check out the bass player. The pianist told me that, unfortunately, he had already left for the night. He shook his head in amazement, and said that he could never figure out how the bass player got such great sound out of that thing, then pointed to the corner of the room. I looked over expecting to see an upright leaning in the corner (I too am constantly amazed that anyone can actually play an upright) but there was none there. Instead, there was a washtub bass-- a jug band instrument made out of a broomstick, a piano string,and a big galvanized metal washtub!" (David Mitchell)

  • "...One of the best bass players I've seen was a guy in New Orleans playing a washtub bass he'd clearly made himself. He was accompanying a woman on saxophone and a guy on Dobro. It sounded great in that context. This guy was no bass hero, but he had good intonation and good time. On top of all that he had a good musical sense. It was hard to beat the coolness factor for this as well." (Anon)

  • "In about '85, I was on a boat cruise in Fiji and got to sit in (stand in? what-ever) with a local band on washtub bass. The washtub was I guess about 18 inches in each dimension, and it looked like a pretty airtight box to me. The band had three female vocalists with great voices, so I spent about 2 hours thumping away till about 4am. Most fun I'd had in ages, although the kava probably helped.

    I remember waking up next morning with ENORMOUS blisters on my non-fretting hand; the string turned out to be like packing twine and it just tore my fingers to pieces. I was playing regularly in a band at home, so my callusses were pretty much OK before the washtub put me out of action for a couple of weeks. Important tip: Use surgical tape on your fingers when you're playing unless you enjoy a bit of pain." (Dave Mitchell)

  • "What can we say, it's a bass made from a washtub, it plays okay, and it sounds, well, resonant! Buy this one or you'll have to make your own. Remove the back and you can wash your clothes!" (Ad on the Elderly Brothers Instruments website, referring to a 4-string WTB for sale. --See Pic #3 in the WTB Gallery.)

  • "How'd it sound? Could you distinguish individual notes, or was it like a loud and very bad sounding subwoofer in the back of a Vega going down the road, with a little doppler effect added?" (Anon)

  • "... the bass player played a washtub bass, home built and lookin' like the hills of Tennessee. I knew this was gonna be fun. Then, after the guy gets his ax set-up and he's sittin' down plunkin' a few notes and settling in....HE HANDS ME A CORD AND SAYS "Where do I plug in?"

    Well...hold on...let me get my jaw off of the floor before someone steps on it. So I plug him into the bass rig and darn if he doesn't sound great!! We did have to turn him waaaaaay up, tho'. I also used my tone knobs (for what I believe is the very first time) to get rid of an unwanted mid-range feedback. But there was this distinct THUMP that really got your attention. Full and rich....and COOL!

    ... Now, of course, a lot of it was root-fifth ping pong, but he nailed every ping, I mean to tell you. Tempo and tuning were totally in there. On the third tune, he did his first WALKING line. Ohhhhh man! Never flubbed a note! Every one was right in tune and the timbre of each note was impeccable. What a player!!" (Lane)

Entries in this section will largely be LPs, cassettes, private issues or albums with national distribution. If a band has CDs and/or MP3s available through their own website, it will be listed in the WTB on the WEB section, not this one
(NOTE: DELETE the "REMOVECAPSTOSEND" to activate e-mail addresses.)
TitleArtistOther Info
Boxcar's BallyhooBoxcar's Poor But Honest Jug BandContact Boxcar Whitey, 1530 E 1300 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84105
Into the Purple Valley Ry Cooder (Reprise CD 2052) Fritz Richmond's WTB on "Hey, Porter" and "FDR in Trinidad".
Blow My Blues Awayincl. 2 cuts with
Dewey Corley on wtb
Arhoolie CD 401
Goodtime Washboard Three Goodtime Washboard Three Fantasy Records #3361. Dixieland/20's music
Old Tyme Favorite TunesGrand Coolee Old Tyme Jug BandCustom Soundaround Productions CS-76H22 (1976).
No Problem Happy Hits String Band$16 to A. Richardson, P.O. Box 618, The Valley, Anguilla, BWI.
Acoustic Swing and Jug Jim Kweskin And The Jug Band Vanguard Records CD: 79521-2. Other Kweskin Jug Band albums are also available.
Good Morning JudgeFurry LewisFat Possum 80374-2 (2003) Recorded 1962-67. Dewey Corley on WTB, some cuts.
Panama Limited Jug Band PLJBHarvest/EMI SKAO-387 LP (Rare- Out Of Print)
Dulcimer Strings & Other ThingsThe RiverpickersContact Marilynn Reder or Ron Wilde
Blues Songs and Ballads Tom Rush, w. Fritz Richmond on WTB(Fantasy 24709) 2-fer reissue of two albums cut for Prestige in 1962
Chasin' Gus' Ghost John Sebastian and the J-Band: Jugband Blues Hollywood Records #162227
I Want My Roots John Sebastian and the J-BandMusicMasters CD: 65137-2
Beat It, Blow It, Strum It, Hum It The Sunshine Skiffle BandFlying Fish CD: FF 70589
Sonny Terry's Washboard BandFolk Blues Folkways #52006
Peter and The Wolf Dave Van Ronk & Jugband Alacazam Productions, PO Box 429, Waterbury, VT 05676

The Barre-L-Tone
from Tubotonia R&D Laboratory

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Those of you who visit the Page regularly have probably seen these things many a time, but if you're a new visitor you might enjoy checking out the following items from the archive of previous editions (the WTB Page is going into its eighth year!)
  • WASHTUBS GALORE -- Organizer Jim Uticone's account of the 2004 First Ever Gathering of Washtub Bass Plunkers.

  • A WASHTUB REVIVAL? -- An overview of the resurgence of interest in Washtub Bass making and playing.

  • TALE OF A TUB-- An account of a plunking expedition from Kansas City to Nova Scotia and back, in 2000.

  • And of course, speaking of archives, there's the Washtub Bass Gallery, where all the WTB pictures previously seen in other major sections are now on display-- over 100 of 'em!

WTB In Iraq     Fritz Richmond     Colorfast Quotes      WTB Recordings     Archives