(Photograph ©John Hildreth 2014 and used with permission.)
I can remember the first time I ever heard The Kruger Brothers’ music. I had heard the name Kruger Brothers and was aware that Jens was an amazing player but that was as far as I knew. “Wind in the Wheat” was the song I heard first. I remember listening to that song over and over again. I knew right away that this music was something special. I also knew I needed to listen to everything they had recorded. And so I did.
Each time I read an interview of Jens, I was struck by his eloquence and how thought provoking some of his ideas were. I knew I wanted to interview him as well and so I put the wheels in motion for that to happen and on August 18, 2014 I found myself with my friends John Hildreth, Tom Snediker and Chris Miller all armed with cameras and microphones sitting in a lovely studio in North Wilkesboro across the room from Jens Kruger. The result is this two-part interview. There is a lot of fascinating information here and Jens was most generous with insight and detail and willing to talk about anything. The highlight of the conversation for me were his tellings of his time with Bill Monroe (this story is one of the most fascinating things I have yet heard about Monroe), and his philosophy about what music is and what it does.
In Part 1 Jens talks about his parents, growing up in Switzerland, his musical beginnings on the tenor banjo, he and Uwe setting out as street musicians. He tells about the people he and Uwe met and were inspired by on the streets and how they lived. He shares both happy and sad moments from his family life. Throughout the interview, he holds his banjo and when the mood strikes him he gives musical examples to animate his stories.
Part 2 of the interview starts when Jens and his wife come to America and end up meeting and being befriended by Bill Monroe. The couple stay on Monroe’s farm and Jens gets to play at the Grand Ole Opry, do farm work with Monroe and is pretty much treated like a member of Bill’s family. When they returned to Switzerland after that, Jens set out to learn all he could about the banjo and it’s role in music and eventually decided to move to America for good. He discussed his friendship with Doc Watson and deciding to settle in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina which is where this interview took place.
I have been struggling to find a way to summarize Jens and our conversation. To say that he is a fascinating, sensitive, generous, talented and insightful person would be a vast understatement. To say that his philosophy of what music “is” has occupied a large percentage of my thoughts for the past several months would also be an understatement. I feel as if I don’t even have the right words to say these things in an accurate way, so I will borrow a line from the video and say Jens has “it” and leave it at that. With that said, I present Parts 1 and 2 of our conversation for your viewing pleasure.
And thank you again to Radford University, McConnell Library Archives and Special Collections, John Hildreth, Tom Snediker, Center for Innovative Teaching and Technology (CITL), Chris Miller, Steve Helm, Julie Macie, and especially Jens Kruger.