Banjo player and founding member of the Charles River Valley Boys, Bob Siggins, passed away on Friday, September 22, 2023. He was 85 years of age.
George Robert “Bob” Siggins started life (thought to be on December 29, 1937) in Miami, Oklahoma, and graduated from Grand Island Senior High School, Grand Island, Nebraska, in 1956 and then went to Harvard University to study. He went on to pursue a career in molecular neurophysiology.
Because of his mother’s passion for playing and teaching piano and organ, he began playing music in high school and then professionally in college.
He started picking banjo in 1957, using a strum and frail approach after Pete Seeger, before during a summer break from school he mastered the three-finger style.
He played multiple stringed instruments and sang harmony, and was a founding member of three Boston groups, the Charles River Valley Boys, Kweskin’s Jug Band (a significant element of the folk and blues revival of the 1960s) and The Mother Bay State Entertainers. He also performed with other notable musicians, including Joan Baez, Tom Rush, Bob Dylan, Liz Meyer and Friends, Hazel Dickens and Alice Seeger, Geoff and Maria Muldaur, Chris Darrow, and the Hula Hodads.
Latterly, he played regularly in two bands in the San Diego area; Cheeky Monkey and Bonehead.
The Charles River Valley Boys was formed by students in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1959, meeting at a local coffee house, Tulla’s Coffee Grinder, to jam together. They played at Club 47, which opened that same year.
With various personnel they released four LPs during the 1960s, by the far the most well-known is Beatle Country, bluegrass arrangements of a dozen songs from the repertoire of the famous Merseyside group that had taken the music world by storm during the early part of that decade.
The Charles River Valley Boys recorded parts of their album, Bringin’ in the Georgia Mail, in London in July 1961. Siggins later recalled that they were well received as they toured folk clubs and pubs in London, and that, “[we] did get a little flavor of pre-Beatles London at the time … there were a lot of great musicians bubbling up all around us while we toured … we heard rumors about [the Beatles] in Germany and how great they were.”
Following the release of the Beatles’ Rubber Soul album in December 1965, the Charles River Valley Boys learned I’ve Just Seen a Face, and when they performed it before a large audience at Boston’s Winterfest, “the place just erupted,” according to guitarist Jim Field.
Siggins said later,
“A lot of the folkies were into the Beatles big time, on the sly if nothing else, including us. We just thought a lot of [their songs] would adapt themselves to a country sound… As we got into learning the songs, we discovered that the singing they did lent itself well to bluegrass harmonies, which we liked to kind of layer on top of the lead vocal. And they did some kind of similar things…. We just had a lot of fun with it. It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun work. Working out the harmonies, especially. We weren’t like super-hot, hard-driving instrumentalists, really, although we tried. And that’s, in a sense, why we hired some of the guys we hired for the record. ‘Cause we were more into vocalists, vocalizing. That was the fun part for us, I think… The only flak we got was from Joe Val initially. He was kind of edgy about it. I think he was worried about what some of his friends might say, some of his hardcore bluegrass fans. Our approach was to do it as hardcore bluegrass as we could. And I think that kind of settled his mind on it a bit… He had fun with it too. Other than that, we got only approval, basically, as near as I could tell. Especially on the west coast, when we came out to play some of it on tour.”
At this time the group comprised Siggins, Field, Joe Val (vocals and mandolin), and Everett Alan Lilly (bass).
After Paul A. Rothchild, the producer of the Charles River Valley Boys’ second album, began working as a staff producer for Elektra Records, the group sent him a demo tape which included I’ve Just Seen a Face and What Goes On. Rothchild was impressed, and suggested the band record an entire album of Beatles’ songs.
The album was recorded in Nashville with additional support from Buddy Spicher (fiddle), Craig Wingfield (Dobro), and Eric Thompson (lead guitar).
Charles River Valley Boys – I’ve Just Seen A Face
Charles River Valley Boys – She’s a Woman
“It was one of the great experiences of my life, being able to go to Nashville, hang out at the Opry … then they put us up in a hotel and basically paid us just to play music all day and all night, and practice you know, and eat.”
Rothchild then began working in California with rock bands, most notably The Doors, and the album was not followed up.
The Charles River Valley Boys split up in 1968, although they had reunion concerts every few years on both the east and west coasts.
Hazel Dickens – Mannington Mine Disaster
recorded at Highlander Center, New Market, Tennessee – October 1972
Everett Alan Lilly knew him well …
“I will never forget Bob Siggins both for his friendship, his musicianship, his highly distinguished professional career, and his contributions to bluegrass/old time music in New England. While the Charles River Valley Boys are best remembered for the record, Beatle Country, it was their unique brand of bluegrass and old time music, Bob’s great stage presence, his highly creative banjo playing, and his relationships with our audiences that left lasting memories for me.”
Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr., commenting about the CD release of Bluegrass and Old Timey Music (Prestige / Universal Music 24280, 2003) described the Charles River Valley Boys as “a crack outfit of down-home pickers” who offered “raw” and “authentic” performances of “good revival bluegrass.”
[This album includes all the tracks from Bluegrass And Old Timey Music and Blue Grass Get Together.]
Geoff Muldaur, Jim Kweskin and Bob Siggins
Bob Siggins, Geoff Muldaur and Jim Kweskin at Acoustic Music San Diego (AMSD) Concert series by Carey Driscoll, December 15, 2007
George Bob Siggins – I’ve Just Seen A Face
The Charles River Valley Boys – I’ve Just Seen A Face / Help!
at the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival in February 2013
R.I.P. Bob Siggins
Charles River Valley Boys
- Bringin’ In The Georgia Mail (Folklore Records FLEUT/3, [UK] 1962)
- Bluegrass And Old Timey Music (Mount Auburn Records MTA 1, released 1962)
- Blue Grass Get Together (Prestige Folklore FL 14024, June 1964), with Tex Logan
- Beatle Country (Elektra EKL 4006, 1966) re-issued on Rounder CD SS 41, March 21, 1995.
- The Prestige / Folklore Years. Vol. 6, Comin’ From The Ball/Back Bay Bluegrass (Fantasy PRCD 9920-2, 1999) re-issued as Bluegrass and Old Timey Music (Prestige PRCD 24280-2, 2003)
- Goin’ to Georgia (B.A.C.M. 503, [UK] October 26, 2015)
Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band
- Jim Kweskin And The Jug Band – Unblushing Brassiness (Vanguard VRS-9139, 1963)
The Mother Bay State Entertainers
- 17 Songs: Vocal and Instrumental (Riverboat RB2, 1966)
- Fire & Fleet & Candlelight (Vanguard VRS-9250, 1967) – 97 Men In This Here Town Would Give A Half A Grand In Silver Just To Follow Me Down
- Is Having A Wonderful Time (Reprise Records (MS 2220. 1975) – Jailbird Love Song
- Password (Hightone / Shout! Records HCD 8125, 2000) – At The Christmas Ball and K.C. Moan
- Old-Time Banjo Project (Elektra EKS 7276, 1964) – Old Jimmy Sutton; Skillet Good And Greasy; and Don’t You Cry, Melinda
- The Newport Folk Festival—1964: Evening Concerts Vol. 1 Recorded live at the Newport Folk Festival, July 23-26 (Vanguard VRS-9184, 1965)
- While with the Jim Kweskin And The Jug Band – I’m a Woman, Sadie Green and My Gal.
- Come All You Coal Miners (Rounder 4005, 1973) with Hazel Dickens –
- Cold Blooded Murder, Clay County Miner and Mannington Mine Disaster
- Fire At Club 47: Peter Stanley & The Cambridge Folk Music Years
- Peter Stanley Collection – Volume 1 (Talkeetna Records 25001, 1999)
- Geno Foreman, Bob Siggins and Joan Baez – All The Good Times Are Past And Gone