Thursday, August 31, 2006

Banjo Blues: Dock Boggs

This week I've tried to look at some of the more obscure blues musicians and the influence of the African American on Old Time, Country, and Bluegrass. When I started this week out I had only a vague idea of where I was going with this. I'm still not sure I've covered all that I had wanted to, and I seem to have run out of week. C'est la vie.

Dock Boggs seems like the perfect way to tie up a few loose ends. Moran Lee "Dock" Boggs was born near Norton VA in 1898. He learned to play the banjo as a child, learning from local musicians and by duplicating what he heard on the radio. Perhaps his most important influences were the local African-American musicians that he would worked with in the coal mine. He married in 1918 and began working as a subcontractor on a mine. His wife's poor health was the reason he returned home to earn a living moonshining and playing his banjo. In 1927 representatives for Brunswick were searching the area for new recording artists when they heard about Boggs. They took him to New York for a recording session where he recorded eight sides for the label. The records sold fairly well, mostly in his home area, but Boggs never really made it big. By 1933 the combination of the Depression and his wife's ill health forced him to hock his banjo and take a steady job back in the coal mines.

In 1963 folklorist and ethnomusicologist, Mike Seeger managed to track Boggs down at his home in Norton and convinced him to try his hand at recording again. With Seeger's encouragement Boggs recorded three albums for the Folkways label (now Smithsonian Folkways Recordings). He enjoyed a second career as a musician, playing at festivals and folk music society concerts. Dock Boggs died February 7, 1971, after finally earning his living from his music.

Dock's choice of music reflected the people he worked with and played music with all of his life. He took a liking to the blues that his black coworkers in the mines were playing. His banjo playing was quite unique also, as he played a three-finger style but struck the strings picking upwards like a finger-picked guitar rather than the knock-down style more typical of the banjo.

Dock Boggs - Country Blues.mp3

Dock Boggs - Danville Girl.mp3

As an addition to yesterday's post I have reposted Frank Hutchison's "K.C. Blues" that I originally posted last November. The Old Blue Bus has doubled the number of riders since then and I thought the four new folks would enjoy this incredible example of a white mountain boy playing the blues. Recorded on July 9, 1929.

Frank Hutchison - K.C. Blues.mp3

Y'all have a good weekend!


Blogger Greg said...

Dang, Ed! Here I'm not visitn' that much (vacation, crazy at the office with reduced workforce) n'all and then I finally drop by and find some Dick Boggs.... Great stuff. I've heard some of his stuff but more is always welcome.

Drop by my place when you have a minute -- I've got a couple of pix from our trip to Chincoteague.

September 01, 2006 10:32 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Two weeks at Chincoteague! You lucky dog!

September 04, 2006 9:41 PM  
Blogger muse: nashville said...

Hey! I love DB. I did a class today on early American folk music and he's one that I always insist on including.

Cool that you covered Hem too, recently. I enjoy them quite a bit.

September 07, 2006 10:51 PM  

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