SONG OF THE DAY Dock Boggs – Oh Death

PrimaryMoran Lee “Dock” Boggs is considered a pioneering folk musician, even though he spent a lot of his life working as a coal minor! He was signed to Brunswick Records for a short period of time in the late 1920’s, but it would take another 30 years for him to be rediscovered (this time by Folkways Records) and only then did he really get chance to dedicate his time to music!

Classified as an old-time singer, Dock Boggs was also a songwriter and banjo player. What makes this musician really stand out is the style of music in which he played and how he adapted it. What he did by combining Appalachian folk music and African-American blues was utterly unique and for this he is considered a crucial influence in folk music.

While Boggs was familiar with the clawhammer style, or “frailing”, he typically played in a style known as up-picking, which involves picking upwards on the first two strings and playing one of the other three strings with the thumb. He played several songs in a lower D-modal tuning and developed a technique which was considered “a style possessed by no other recorded player!”

A series of unfortunate events left Boggs very low on income in the 1930’s, giving him no choice but to leave music and return to the mines. Boggs disappeared from the music scene for many years and was rediscovered during the folk music revival of the 1960s. Finally, at this point he got to spend much of his later life playing at folk music festivals and recording for Folkways Records. It’s a crying shame he never made it the first time, but at least he got another chance to play and record his music – that’s the happy ending I was looking for! 

Oh Death appeared on one of the first records he recorded for Folkways which was a self-titled effort issued in 1964. I love his organic gruff voice and the way it trails off in husky wisps and I love the sound of his banjo playing. This music takes you on a haunting wander into beautiful, unearthly realms……..Enjoy!

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