The Bedlam Brothers String Band is a group of four musicians who have played together in one form or another for the last 40 years. Jeff McHugh on banjo, Dave McCann on fiddle, Mike Kachuba on guitar, hammered dulcimer, and accordion, and Geoff Kooris on bass and lap steel guitar are still at it.
The nucleus of the band formed when they were just a few years out of college, in the early 70’s. They met quite by accident, living in the same neighborhood, and not knowing it. It all started by getting together to play music on Sunday mornings at each other’s houses. Old Time Music seemed to take preference over most other acoustic folk music forms. Old Time is the music that came before Bluegrass. It’s a blend of influences, most notably traditional tunes, born out of slavery, played by African American string bands, whose tunes were soon being played by white Southern musicians. Even the banjo, a staple of Old Time and Bluegrass music, is a direct descendant of several African instruments, including the Banjar and the Akonting. The other major component is the wealth of Irish, English, and Scottish fiddle tunes that came over with people who settled in the American rural South and Appalachia. Add to that all the singing traditions that came with these groups and you’ve got a wonderful and inspiring mix.
So more than 40 years later, with band members and band names come and gone, the four of them still play these old tunes. Along with traditional songs from Appalachia, Ireland, England, and Scotland, Uncle Dave Macon, Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers, Charlie Poole, and countless others, as well as a smattering of ‘new’ songs written by a Bedlam Brother or a contemporary songwriter that they like to do in their style, are the sources that these songs come from. Fats Waller, Merle Travis, and the Carter Family also find a place on the set lists, along with Steve Earle, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Stephen Foster, and a few more.
In addition to traditional arrangements and other folks’ tunes, Mike Kachuba, a former Connecticut State Troubadour, has written more than a few good songs, and they’ve featured some of his songs onto their CD collections. All of them love to sing, and work things out in four part harmonies. Traditional southern gospel tunes, sea shanties, work songs, and country music from the 20’s through the 40’s are a usual part of their offerings.
They’ve played at coffee houses, festivals, town concert series, churches, synagogues, and a few pretty strange events we won’t mention here. Audiences have ranged from 20 to over 3,000. Sometimes they look at pictures of themselves and can’t believe that they’ve been making music and have been friends for this long. Many years ago, a concert promoter told them that they were great at what they do, but they’d made a terrible choice for a music career. I guess they couldn’t help themselves.