Sunday, December 20, 2015

HEARTACHES BY THE NUMBER

In his book Invisible Republic, Greil Marcus refers to the singers and musicians that inhabit Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music as “the old, weird America.” As Bill Friskics-Warren counters in Heartaches by the Number, “Old, yes. Primitive, maybe. But much of the hillbilly music from that period was far from weird. . . . Still, applied to singer-banjo player Dock Boggs’s 1920s recordings, Marcus’s construct is spot-on. Boggs’s music was weird, his grinding voice the whir of a drill boring through bone, his finger-picked banjo owing more to the brooding blows of a Delta blues guitarist than to the good-time clawhammer banjoists of the day. . . .”

“As stiff a draught of hillbilly existentialism as any ever recorded, ‘Country Blues’ features only Boggs’s banjo and vocals. . . . The action [in the song] shifts abruptly between scenes of drinking, betrayal, and woe . . . until Boggs ends up in jail. . . .” To this writer, “Country Blues” has sometimes seemed like the very dark flipside to The Browns’ “The Three Bells”: “Finally, with his banjo racing ahead of him just as it has throughout his inexorable descent, he arrives at the site of his own grave. ‘Go dig a hole in the meadow, good people / Go dig a hole in the ground / Come around all you good people / And see this poor rounder go down. . . .’”


28.  Country Blues • “Dock” Boggs • 1927


Find it: Country Blues: Complete Early Recordings

Dock Boggs image: BBC

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