Sunday, August 22, 2010

My String Band Scrapbook

Surfing the web, is like browsing through a library, whether it is one's own collection, or someone else's. At least I have always found it so. I stumble on to something, and the next thing you know, I'm having flashbacks.

Dennis Buck is a harmonica-and-guitar slinging jug band and blues man on Saturday night, and an Orthodox priest on Sunday morning. We knew each other back in our coffeehouse days in Cincinnati. We lost touch when he left for the seminary, and found one another again in the early 80s, when he was made pastor of a little church in Hagerstown, Maryland. We lost touch once again, and managed a reunion of sorts at the Washington Folk Festival earlier this year, with his band Snakehead Run.

He posted this video on his Facebook page recently, and I was reminded of three men who were the last of their kind: Carl Martin, Ted Bogan, and Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong, known collectively as Martin, Bogan and Armstrong, at one time the last of the African-American old-time country blues string bands on God's green earth. I don't know if or when Bogan left us, but Martin died in 1979, and Armstrong met his Maker in 2003. I used to see them when they passed through Cincinnati. They were probably best known for their rendition of Gershwin's "Lady Be Good." I used to wish I could play that swing guitar like ... was it Martin or Bogan?

The tradition of the Negro country string band continues with a new generation, in the form of the Carolina Chocolate Drops from (where else?) Durham, North Carolina. Not quite as "bright-lights-big-city" as their aforementioned predecessors, they have nevertheless gained a steady cult following in the Piedmont region of the Carolinas and beyond. The prospect of encouraging certain ethnic stereotypes -- the shuffling, hambone, minstrel-style of performance art -- does not seem to phase them, perhaps being free of the baggage that once accompanied it.

Cornbread and butter beans and you across the table,
Eating beans and making love as long as I am able,
Hoeing corn and cotton, too, and when the day is over,
Ride a mule, a crazy fool, and love again all over.

I wonder what else I might find today ...

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