Uwe and Jens Kruger, who, along with bass player Joel Landsberg, comprise a band called the Kruger Brothers, have been performing professionally as a duo since 1979. It was some years later, however, before they made their way from their European home to play in front of American audiences.
It can be rare to hear of band members who get along very well, especially when some or all of them are related, but Uwe and Jens are the real deal. They have a great personal and professional relationship, with respect that is palpable, and there’s no sibling rivalry to be found. Both men are immensely talented individually, and together they become a virtually unstoppable creative force. Where Jens has been highly celebrated as an instrumentalist and composer, Uwe is the lyrical magic behind the Kruger Brothers’ original songs. He also provides some top-notch guitar playing.
In a recent interview, Uwe shares that by the time he was eight years old, his dad had given him his first guitar. Although he didn’t start writing songs until he was about 20, He says that he started singing American folk songs when he was 10 or 11. Also a huge history buff, Uwe started translating songs. He always appreciated ballads and the stories within the songs.
An avid reader in addition to being a musician, Uwe is a fan of William Shakespeare, and notes that he once directed a performance of the Shakespearean tragedy, Hamlet. As he talks about the play, it’s easy to hear his passion for the story in his voice. His appreciation revolves around the possibility of coming to terms with the truth, the resolution of madness with reason, and the struggle of a young girl being victimized by stubbornness. “Why does his mother act the way she does,” he asks. “Why does his uncle act the way he does?”
Song lyrics are not Uwe’s only writing passion. “I write ghost stories,” he says, adding that he grew up in the mountains and ghost stories are part of the culture that binds societies together. He also combined the genres — once writing a ghost story as a song.
Writing a song and crafting words that tell a story, rhyme, and fit in a melodic structure is not an easy task. It’s notable that Uwe is so capable, considering that English is his third language.
For the most part, Uwe writes the lyrics and Jens writes the music. Several of their works have been commissioned projects, such as the forthcoming Roan Mountain Concerto, and the earlier Appalachian Concerto and Spirit of the Rockies (the latter for Canada’s Banff Center). Composing commissioned music is a different process than writing a song that comes to one’s mind out of the blue. Toncertos are lengthy pieces that weave a musical tale.
Sometimes, Uwe says, the brothers talk about what they want to put into a piece and how they want to set up the story. Preparing to write a song on a commissioned project involves research, reading books, experiencing the place about which they’ve been commissioned to write, and getting a better understanding of the topic. Uwe is inspired by other writers of great lyrics. He cites Kris Kristofferson, saying that you throw away 1,000 songs away before the first good one comes.
“I write a song when we need one,” Uwe adds.
When it comes to his guitar heroes, Uwe’s favorite is his brother, though Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins are close seconds. Eric Clapton and Doc Watson certainly make the list, and Watson was a personal friend. “I miss him a lot,” Uwe says of the iconic artist. It was the music of Doc Watson, in fact, that inspired the brothers to settle in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, when they established themselves in the States.
Uwe has been fortunate enough to play with some of his guitar heroes. “I get to do that every once in a while,” he says. “Those are the joys of my life.”
Now, in addition to writing, recording and touring, Uwe Kruger teaches others. He feels an obligation to pass on some of the things he has learned over the years, things that others have graciously shared with him. The Kruger Brothers are currently working on the Roan Mountain project, which he said will probably be complete in August and premiered in the Autumn of 2016. He is also working on songs for his own blues record, although he notes, “That release is probably pretty far off.”
While recording is important, Uwe said he doesn’t really love studio work. It is the live performance and sharing with the audience that serves his musical soul. “I think music is a form of communication,” he says, “and I need to live a life that I can reflect on before writing the song.” He also says that inspiration requires the challenge of experiencing new places and getting to know people. Clearly, he takes these experiences to heart.
Having played numerous shows in the United States and across Europe, Uwe Kruger has noticed differences among the audiences. He says that in the US, he can paint a very vivid picture with a few strokes. However, when in Europe, he feels audiences tend to focus more on the instrumental.
Uwe takes the lyrical side of music very seriously and can weave complex tales with insightful and intimate words. “We watch with amazement at how little content there is in modern songwriting,” he notes. However, Uwe recognizes that there are many brilliant songwriters at work today. “But somehow, it seems to me that they don’t always get the attention they deserve from the younger generation of listeners,” he says. “We, as the Kruger Brothers, tend to write more for our own age group, about topics that touch our generation, instead of trying to reach out to a younger generation. I try, though.”