Singer, songwriter, harmonica player, pianist, guitarist and banjo player Jason Eklund did not start out as a folk singer, but in a hardcore punk-rock band while in high school in southern Illinois. After three semesters studying drama at Eastern Illinois University, the young Eklund decided to live -- not just sing about -- the life of a traveling folk singer. Taking his cue from folk heroes like Woody Guthrie, he left Illinois and set out for Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he worked as a busker, playing for tips. But after finding Pete Seeger's home address in a banjo instruction book, he wrote to the folk singer and later hitched a ride to Seeger's home in upstate New York. Fortunately for Eklund, there was plenty of work to be done around Seeger's rustic house and yard, and Seeger and his wife, who have a long history of supporting struggling singer-songwriters, took him in.
After heading back to Illinois for a while, Eklund was out again looking for gigs and playing on street corners. The late founder of Flying Fish Records, Bruce Kaplan, was so impressed by Eklund's street performance during the 1992 Chicago Blues Festival that he offered the young singer-songwriter a deal. Eklund's Flying Fish debut, Jason Eklund, was recorded in Boulder, Colorado and released in 1993. Backing musicians included Nick Forster from the Hot Rize bluegrass band and pianist Scott Kirby. His prime influences were Bob Dylan, Howlin' Wolf, Elvis Presley and a lot of Woody Guthrie. His follow-up, 1995's Lost Causeway, also for Flying Fish Records (now owned by the Rounder Records Group), is a more fleshed-out affair, with lots of Texas-based musicians accompanying him.
Both of Eklund's albums are multi-genre affairs, artful blends of blues, early rock & roll, country, and original songs that sound like traditional folk songs. Eklund, ever the vagabond, continues to tour. He released a collaboration with fellow folk singer Roger Johnson in 1997, A Streamliner's Duet, for the Vermont-based Gadfly Records. ~ Richard Skelly