Dock Boggs

March 06, 2012

Dock Boggs

(Singer, Banjo)

Given Name: Moran Lee BoggsDate of Birth: February 7, 1898 Place of Birth: West Norton, Virginia Married: Sara Date of Death: February 7, 1971Dock Boggs became interested in the banjo at the age of twelve, around the same time he began working in the nearby coal mines as a "trapper" or, traffic controller. Boggs swapped a watch for a gun, that he in turn traded for his first banjo. In 1927, Boggs auditioned for Brunswick records of New York when that company visited Bristol, Tennessee. After borrowing a banjo from a local music store and consuming a half-pint of bootleg whiskey to calm his nerves, Boggs auditioned and was signed to record eight sides, including "Country Blues" and "Sugar Baby", at Brunswick's New York studio. The recordings sold well enough that he was offered a continuation on the contract — but declined, citing "a little domestic trouble." Boggs returned to Norton and formed the group "Dock Boggs and His Cumberland Mountain Entertainers" which performed during 1928. But Boggs, who dabbled in the moonshine business, was not a favorite of the local authorities, especially the local deputy sheriff Doc Cox. Boggs and Sara relocated to Mayking, Ky., until Cox's death in a 1933 shooting. During this time, Boggs recorded four sides for Harry Meyer's "The Lonesome Ace (Without A Yodel)" record label (based in Richlands, Virginia and likely pressed by Paramount) in a Chicago studio and auditioned for Okeh Records in Atlanta, where he also considered joining the police force. He was also offered an audition with RCA Victor but could not gather the funds to make the trip to Louisville. After his return to Norton, Boggs gave up music to return to the mines. When doctors deemed him unable to work in the mines, he drove a laundry truck and worked at a coal company store. In the 1930's he gave up his banjo as security on a loan from a friend, and did not reclaim the banjo until the 1960's. For thirty years he had continued to play on borrowed instruments. It was not until 1963, when he made the acquaintance of Mike Seeger who had sought him out, that Boggs again took up his banjo in a serious way. His appearances throughout the sixties at festivals such as Newport, the American Folk Festival in Asheville, the University of Chicago Folk Festival, and others, many of which can be found on the Folkways label, inspired such artists as Tim O'Brien and Bob Dylan. He died on his birthday at the age of seventy-three. Dock Boggs had a unique Old-Time banjo picking style and an unusual way of singing that made his music distinctive. Boggs spent much of his adult life working in the coal mines, picking and singing professionally off-and-on in the late 1920ís and after he retired.

In February, 1927, Brunswick Records conducted local auditions of mountain musicians in the Norton Hotel, and only the Dykes Magic City Trio and Dock Boggs impressed the talent scouts enough to receive an invitation to go to New York for sessions. Boggs recorded eight numbers, consisting of white-Blues and ballads. Two years later, Boggs cut four songs for The Lonesome Ace, a Richlands, Virginia label; however poor distribution and the deepening Depression soon drove the firm into bankruptcy and for a number of years Boggs gave up music altogether.

In 1954, the mine Boggs worked for shut down and he found himself permanently unemployed. He and Sara managed to survive through frugal living until he became eligible for Social Security. In 1963, Mike Seeger managed to locate him in Norton where Dock had recently resumed playing banjo again for his own amusement. Seeger persuaded him to record again and he cut two albums for Folkways and one for Asch. He also appeared at several Folk-revival festivals.

Recordings include:

Down South Blues Pretty Polly Danville Girl Dock Boggs: Legendary Singer & Banjo Player (album) Dock Boggs: His Original Recordings (album)Dock Boggs