Put the five members of the Steel City Jug Slammers together for breakfast on a Saturday morning at Al’s Diner and Grill in Birmingham, and conversation flows like the music they play onstage at venues all over the Southeast. The boys were worn out from a long night of performing at Local Color in Birmingham.
“There were about 50 people there — the place was packed out,” said guitarist Jerrod Atkins, who also plays kazoo and harmonica. “They really listened, too.”
The band members, all Birmingham natives, have been friends for a while, some of them most of their lives. So it’s no surprise they ended up playing music together.
“We kind of fell into it,” Atkins said. “Nick was playing around on some instruments and it morphed into the sound we have now.”
Nick would be Nicholas Bate, the band’s resident mandolinist, nose flutist and, along with Atkins, kazooist.
“We were playing punk bluegrass songs, but something was missing,” Bate said. “I found the Memphis Jug Band, and I knew I had found it. It infected all of us from there — it’s just poor man’s jazz.”
Along with the multitalented Bate and Atkins, the Slammers’ sound is made by Jacob Mathews on the washtub, Corey Medders on the four-string and tenor banjos and Bate’s brother Stephen playing two types of guitars and the banjo. Taking care of the jugs in Steel City Jug Slammers is Zac Peoples who explained, “There’s these jugs in our band … I play ’em.”
According to Bate, the band was originally called the Steel City Jug Stompers, but the band felt like that was too common — “so we’re the Slammers,” he said, “the 1 percent.”
Most of the members play in other bands on the side — without the jug, everything from hip-hop to metal. When asked their favorite venue, the consensus was Gip’s Place in Bessemer, one of the last surviving juke joints in the United States. But the Jug Slammers can find a stage anywhere, playing on street corners and often doing private events.
The band is keeping busy with a self-titled album coming out soon and 12 upcoming shows on the schedule. In September, they head to Louisville, Ky., for the National Jug Band Jubilee.
“If you get invited to play at the jubilee, you’ve made it in the jug band world,” explained Atkins.
The band will tour with two other bands en route to Kentucky, the Drunken Catfish Ramblers and the Hokum High Rollers. For now, the boys say they aren’t interested in becoming immensely popular — they just enjoy playing music together.
“We just want to get to the place where we are comfortable with what we’re playing and aren’t eating dollar menu and ramen all the time,” Peoples said.
Catch an interview with the band on Birmingham Mountain Radio, www.bhammountainradio.com, Thursday and Sunday from 7-9 p.m. The band played at Cheaha Brewing Company for the brewery’s one year anniversary and returns to Anniston to play there on June 28.
Staff Writer Elizabeth Manning: 256-235-3550. On Twitter @emanning_Star.