Join Bear And A Banjo On A Wild Ride Through American Music History

The new musical podcast, Bear and a Banjo, an incredibly tall tale of a band that time forgot, marries the musical talents of Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd and “Jingle Jared” Gutstadt with the acting talents of Dennis Quaid to deliver the story of two traveling musicians who have a surprising influence on some of the greatest music of all time. Dennis Quaid plays Dr. Asa B. Quickly, a musicologist who’s spent his career learning everything about Mr. Bear and Jay Banjo to find out if they’re real or just an urban legend. Surely musicians who rubbed shoulders with Leadbelly, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bob Dylan, and Johnny Cash would have been recorded in history somewhere? But to Dr. Quickly’s dismay, most of his knowledge is nothing more than rumors and stories. “It's almost as if Bear and Banjo exist out of time, or are part of a time that perhaps never really existed,” he tells us. “Bear and Banjo could've been conjured in the imagination of a Mark Twain and then seeded in our collective consciousness.” Until a mysterious package is delivered, full of six reel-to-reel tapes and one 16-millimeter film. Could this be the hard evidence of Bear and Banjo’s legacy that Dr. Quickly has been looking for?

When Dr. Quickly and his assistant, Laurel Johnson, play the tapes, they hear Banjo’s voice saying, “If you're listening to this, then I'm already dead.” A narrator helps the story along, telling us that Jay Banjo is “quick on his feet and always ready with a smile and a song. He's also a rascal...a raging ball of id, looking for kicks wherever he can find them," and his musical partner, Bear, "was lucky enough to be born with a talent so big it couldn’t be harnessed in his lifetime...gifted with quasi-magical properties...prescribed other-worldly dimensions to both his character and his actions.” The tape was recorded on the train Bear and Banjo were traveling on with legendary music producer Leonard Chess, auditioning a song they hoped Muddy Waters would put on his new album. But Banjo, being a rascal, went looking for a card game, and got in too deep with the powerful mobster Blinky Palermo.

He didn’t have the money to pay him, of course, and Blinky sent heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston to beat it out of him anyway. “I’m not sure,” Dr. Quickly tells Laurel, “but there is a chance we’re listening to the sounds of a man being beaten to death while one of the greatest bands of the 20th century has a jam session in the adjoining room!” But thanks to that jam session, Blinky overhears the song that Bear and Banjo had written for Muddy Waters, and it was so “achingly beautiful” that Blinky decided to lay off. “It’s like it speaks to me or something,” he tells Banjo. “Something deep inside of a sadness.”

Dr. Quickly has gotten more evidence than ever before of Bear and Banjo’s musical influence, but the surprises aren’t over: the 16-millimeter film turns out to be a treasure trove. It’s full of “dull as dishwater” footage of the hearings in the 1959 Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor Management, “also known as the McClellan Committee,” the narrator says. “It was all about the mafia. Specifically, its infiltration of labor and trade unions, and the young Robert Kennedy was the star of that show.” Dr. Quickly is about to see Bear and Banjo caught on tape for the first time. 

Listen to the episode for the entire exhilarating story of Bear and Banjo’s tangle with the Mafia – and then with Robert Kennedy – and to hear the irresistible soundtrack written by four-time Grammy winner Poo Bear and Jingle Jared, produced by T-Bone Burnett, and with lyrical contributions from Bob Dylan, only on Bear and a Banjo.

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