Monday, August 3, 2009

The Scary Dock Boggs & Some Chicago Blues

Dock Boggs- Country Blues: Complete Early Recordings (1927-1929)

"Dock Boggs was just one of the primeval hillbillies to record during the '20s, forgotten for decades until the folk revival of the '60s revived his career at the twilight of his life. Still, his dozen recordings from 1927 to 1929 are monuments of folk music, comprised of fatalistic hills ballads and blues like "Danville Girl," "Pretty Polly," and "Country Blues." Born near Norton, VA, in 1898, Boggs was the youngest of ten children. (He gained his nickname at an early age, since he was named after the doctor who delivered him.) Boggs began working in the mines at the age of 12. In what remained of his spare time, he began playing banjo, picking the instrument in the style of blues guitar instead of the widespread clawhammer technique.

Boggs began picking up songs from family members and the radio. He married in 1918 and began subcontracting on a mine until his wife's illness forced him to move back to her home. He worked in the dangerous moonshining business and made a little money playing social dances.

His big break finally came in 1927, when executives from the Brunswick label arrived in Norton to audition talent. He passed (beating out none other than A.P. Carter), and recorded eight sides in New York City for the label. Though they didn't quite flop, the records sold mostly around Boggs' hometown. He signed a booking agent, and recorded four more sides for W.E. Myer's local Lonesome Ace label. The coming of the Great Depression in late 1929 put a hold on Boggs' recording career, as countless labels dried up. He continued to perform around the region until the early '30s, however, when his wife forced him to give up his music and go back into the mines. Boggs worked until 1954, when mechanical innovations forced him out of a job.

Almost a decade later, in 1963, folklorist Mike Seeger located Boggs in Norton and convinced him to resume his career. Just weeks after their meeting, Boggs played the American Folk Festival in Asheville, NC. He began recording again, and released his first LP, Legendary Singer & Banjo Player, later that year on Smithsonian/Folkways. Two more LPs followed during the '60s, although, like his original recordings, they too were out of print not long after his death in 1971.

The revival of interest in early folk music occasioned by a digital reissue of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music finally brought Boggs' music back to the shelves. In 1997, John Fahey's Revenant label released Complete Early Recordings (1927-1929), and one year later His Folkways Years (1963-1968) appeared."

Album Review:
"Released on John Fahey's Revenant label, this Dock Boggs collection includes all 12 of his 1927-29 recordings, plus five alternate takes and four cuts by Bill and Hayes Shepherd, friends and fellow players of Boggs. Included with the set is a 64-page book with essays by Greil Marcus, among others, and this is undoubtedly the best Dock Boggs collection ever assembled."

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Charlie Musselwhite's South Side- Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite's Southside Band

Album Review:
"Vanguard may have spelled his name wrong (he prefers Charlie or Charles), but the word was out as soon as this solo debut was released: Here was a harpist every bit as authentic, as emotional, in some ways as adventuresome, as Paul Butterfield. Similarly leading a Chicago band with a veteran Black rhythm section (Fred Below on drums, Bob Anderson on bass) and rock-influenced soloists (keyboardist Barry Goldberg, guitarist Harvey Mandel), Musselwhite played with a depth that belied his age -- only 22 when this was cut! His gruff vocals were considerably more affected than they would become later (clearer, more relaxed), but his renditions of "Help Me," "Early in the Morning," and his own "Strange Land" stand the test of time. He let his harmonica speak even more authoritatively on instrumentals like "39th and Indiana" (essentially "It Hurts Me Too" sans lyrics) and "Cha Cha the Blues," and his version of jazz arranger Duke Pearson's gospel-tinged "Cristo Redentor" has become his signature song -- associated with Musselwhite probably more so than with trumpeter Donald Byrd, who originally recorded the song for Blue Note. Goldberg is in fine form (particularly on organ), but Mandel's snakey, stuttering style really stands out -- notably on "Help Me," his quirky original "4 P.M.," and "Chicken Shack," where he truly makes you think your record is skipping."

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metal clarinet said...

You are ahead of me. I have not had time at work to check out the new stuff.

I was reading about Johny Winter and learned that he was on the Rolling Stones top 100 guitarist list. I poked through the list and found two local guys who are very respected: Roy Buchannan and Danny Gatton. (Bass player in the club band also plays in Danny Gatton's old band, but never actually met him.) Not too much country blues on the list. And what do you make of Frank Zappa being one of the 100 best/most important guitarists of all time? (Brilliant composer yes, Guitar player? who knew.)

And that got me thinking that Sister Rosetta Tharp was not on the list. I don't think the old recordings are especially nice to her voice. But if you listen to the way she uses her electric guitar, you hear the seeds of a lot that followed.

So i thought i'd ask what you thought of her.

Hard Luck Child said...

I think that Tharpe was excellent. She probably belongs in the 90s. Half of the list should honestly be Country Blues guitarists- Blind Lemon, Blind Blake, Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, a bunch of other blind guys, Willie Walker (have you heard him?), Lonnie Johnson, Gary Davis. I sincerely hope that Django Reinhardt was ahead of Slash and that Pete Townshend wasn't on the list, though I suspect he was. By the way, I'm going to listen to the disc you sent me tomorrow. Thank you so, so much! I really appreciate the gesture and look forward to listening to the music!

I don't know Zappa too well, but he's definitely better known as a composer than a guitar player.

Other guys who should be on that list are Hacksaw Harney and Skip James. Though I'm not particularly into him, Wes Montgomery should be in there.

I bet they put Hendrix as number 1, right?

Zischkale said...

Thank you so much for posting the Dock Boggs original recordings! I have heard it is the definitive release, and I could not find an affordable copy. I'd love to give it a listen.

Thanks again,


Rod Warner said...

Thanks for the Doc Boggs! Lost my copy a while back...