Dock Boggs and John Hurt

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On Dec. 13, 1963, The Friends of Old Time Music in NYC presented Dock Boggs and John Hurt in concert at NYU.  These notes are by Peter Siegel, from Smithsonian Folkways CD SFW40160

The concert by Dock Boggs and John Hurt was an extraordinary event. Mike Seeger, who had recently rediscovered Dock Boggs in Norton Virginia, hosted the show and accompanied Dock gracefully on guitar. The evening highlighted some striking parallels and contrasts in the careers of Boggs and Hurt.

Each had visited New York once before, Boggs to record for Brunswick in 1927, Hurt to record for Okeh in 1928. Each was back in New York for the first time in over three decades. Hurt was a Black musician influ- enced by White country artists such as Jimmie Rodg- ers. Boggs was a White musician influenced by blues artists.  At the F.O.T.M. concert, Dock mentioned Sara Martin as the source of his “Mistreated Mama Blues.”

Decades earlier, both men had been contacted by W. E. Myer, a Richlands, Virginia, businessman and song- writer who sent song poems to each. Myer eventually signed Dock Boggs to his Lonesome Ace label, for which Boggs set to music and recorded several of Myer’s po- ems. His modal-sounding recording of Myer’s “Old Rub Alcohol Blues” includes the stanzas:

 
“Have never worked for pleasure Peace on earth I cannot find The only thing I surely own Is a worried and troubled mind…
When my worldly trials are over And my last goodbye I’ve said Bury me near my darling’s doorstep where the roses bloom and fade.”

 
At the F.O.T.M. concert, John Hurt performed Myer’s lyrics for “Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me,” which he had set to the melody of the Jimmie Rodgers song “Waiting for a Train”:

 
“I do not work for pleasure Earthly peace I cannot find The only thing I can call my won Is a troubled and worried mind
When my earthly race is over Cast my body out in the sea Save all the undertaker’s bills Let the mermaids flirt with me.”

 

 

Dock Boggs and John Hurt collaborated on one piece for their New York audience: the evening’s final tune, “Banjo Clog,” featured banjo by Boggs and clog dancing by Hurt. The two then parted ways and pursued their new recording and performing careers.

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2 Responses to “Dock Boggs and John Hurt”

  1. mahuddle Says:

    Excellent! Thanks for posting.

  2. humortra Says:

    Great! I’ve been looking for authorship of “Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me”. I will now look for W.E. Myer. Thanks also for reminding me about Dock Boggs.

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