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For Bluesboy Jag, it's all about the (cigar) box

3.16.16 Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Bluesboy Jag plays guitars, and while he's a nonsmoker, he does have a thing for cigar boxes, which have long proved useful for more than just containers.

"I had always been aware of Bo Diddley's choice of guitar, and had read that Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Guy were also fans of cigar box guitars or had gotten their starts on them," says Bill Jagitsch, the North Little Rock musician who's known as Bluesboy Jag. "And when I saw a copy of a magazine named Make, it had a story, sort of rudimentary, for kids, on how to make them.

"And so I decided to try my hand at that and have been at it since about 2004, I guess, when I moved back here after a stint in Austin, Texas. I had been doing a one-man band blues act, and the cigar box guitar was an extra eye-catching thing to help me stand out from the crowd."

In 2008 and 2009, he won the Arkansas River Blues Society's Blues Challenge and went on to compete in Memphis. He has performed at the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena and the Deep Blues Festival in Minneapolis. A documentary on cigar box guitars, Songs Inside the Box, features him and he played at a Huntsville, Ala., festival where the film was made.

Huntsville Alabama CBG Fest 2007.

He reckons he has made and sold a few thousand instruments and also makes amplifiers out of the boxes. So far he has gotten his cigar boxes from stores or through the Internet, which is also where most of his guitar and amp sales take place; perhaps half his sales are to music fans in Europe.

Though Jagitsch has previously done his solo thing on Thayer Street, along with taking part in various tributes there, he notes that the show tonight will be his first full band gig at White Water Tavern.

"I played there as a solo 'hill country' bluesman," he says, "and in the 1980s and early '90s, I was part of the bands Homicidal Briefcase and The Glands."

He was instrumental in organizing the recent Last Waltz tribute there and years ago was part of tributes to Frank Zappa and Roky Erickson and his band, 13th Floor Elevators.

His Juke Joint Zombies -- who have been together for two years -- are drummer Steve Braud, lead singer and percussionist Karen Harris, bassist and vocalist Wightman Harris and keyboardist Steve Vogler. Jagitsch plays slide tunes on his cigar box guitars, and also brings along his old-fashioned, T-Bone Walker jazz-type guitar.

The group specializes in "swingin' blues like it's 1955," Jagitsch says, adding that means "period-correct versions of classic songs played close to the original versions, along with nonclassic songs, but done by famous people."

In other words, the band steers clear of what it calls tried-and-true standards, preferring to mine the music that's lesser known.

"And we have probably five or six originals and some other stuff we have re-interpreted," Jagitsch says, "such as R.L. Burnside and others from the 'hill country' genre of blues."

Wightman Harris (who is married to singer Karen Harris) got involved in the band after he spent years as the booking manager for the late Michael Burks, who died unexpectedly in May 2012.

"I picked up a bass guitar and started noodling around," he says, "and began to figure out stuff, and about three years ago, I heard Jag needed a bass player so I told him I'd audition. He introduced me to the 'hill country' blues style of playing and it's been a good musical relationship.

"We play songs by Jimmy Reed, Al Green, Bettye LaVette, Delbert McClinton and Susan Tedeschi and the old-school stuff, and we've been getting a pretty good response."

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