When a person mentions the Kruger Brother’s, eyes twinkle. Recently the trio performed at The Rose State College Hudiburg Center, which finished off the Banjo Fest, sponsored by The American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City. I had the opportunity to visit with Jens, Uwe, and Joel before the concert kicked off. It was at this moment, that realization kicked in that their road to fame was not a golden one.
Uwes stated, “I was hitchhiking in 1980, in Munich. This guy picks me up, and he had music playing, that was banjo, guitar and fiddle. We were street musicians, and I told the guy that I wasn’t getting out of that pickup without that tape. So he gave me the tape. I took it up to Jens, and said listen to this. We learned everything on that tape.” According to the story, in 1981, before The Krugers came to America, they were attending a festival and it got rained out. So, they were directed to go “jam” under a small tent with some Americans. It was to their surprise that “that” tape was who they were jamming with.
The group consisted of well known fiddle sensation, Byron Berline, John Hickman (banjo) and guitarist Dan Crary. Jens had learned every note that John Hickman had played on that tape, so close it was almost like a shadow of Hickman. The Krugers knew all the songs but had no clue as to their titles, yet they played on with the superstars and made a lasting impression and built a friendship. Berline offered them a cigar, which they declined, and Berline said, “You don’t drink, you don’t smoke cigars, how can you play bluegrass music?” This group took that statement to heart, and have proven themselves many times over.
In 1982, the Krugers came to the USA, and now make their home in North Carolina. Jens Kruger, (banjo, harmony vocals) Joel Landsberg, (bass, harmony vocals) and Uwe Kruger (guitar, lead and harmony vocals) have a unique style of blending all genres from classical to roots bluegrass. However, they tend to refer to themselves as American folk musicians. Their discography has continued in growth.
Jens, who picks the banjo for up to 8 hours a day was having an issue with wearing out frets on his banjo every 9 months. So when Deering banjos created a Tennbrooks model for him in their artist series, they installed with stainless steel fretsfor durability. With Jens’ Deering banjo, he can now go almost 2 years without changing or redressing his frets. Jens takes complete control of the banjo, playing a wide range of music including classical and folk.
Uwe, who has the most beautiful harmonious tones to his voice, gives you some of the best top-notch guitar playing. Uwe is a lyrical genius when it comes to original songs for the trio. By 8 years old their dad had given him a guitar and by the age of 11, he started singing American folk, A mere 9 years later he wrote his first original tune. Writing a song while crafting words that will touch a soul, is not easy work, but Uwe makes it appear as simple as counting to three. Uwe writes the lyrics and Jens composes the music. “I think music is a form of communication. It is the live performance and sharing with an audience that serves my soul.”
Joel Landsberg, a New York native, joined the trio in 1995. After moving to Switzerland in 1989, Landsburg set out to play with The Krugers. Bringing his extensive musical background to the Kruger Brothers has been an asset from the early days. Joel picked up the bass guitar at 12, and that was just the beginning. “The way we communicate on stage is not canned, it is nonverbal because we have played together so long. We always include the audience in our conversations, and never exclude them from our creativity on stage.”
From what began as hitchhiking street performance, to the often unattainable Golden Road of Fame, The Kruger Brothers deserve to be seen as one of the top bluegrass bands, ever.