by Jody Stecher (from notes to “Shady Grove – Old Time Music from North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia” –Vestapol DVD)
In 1966, Marc Silber was the proprietor of a shop and lively musical hub in New York’s Greenwich Village known as Fretted Instruments. It was like a rustic bar that served guitars and banjos instead of drinks. He had gotten word that Dock Boggs (along with Mike Seeger and Mississippi John Hurt) was going to visit his shop on a particular day. Silber and an imaginative young employee named David Grisman prepared for the event by tuning every banjo in the shop to the non-standard (and for that time and place – utterly mind boggling) tuning believed to be preferred by the legendary Boggs.
They were going to pretend they believed this was the normal way banjos were tuned. The visiting dignitaries arrived in due course and Dock Boggs did inspect the banjo stock as expected.
“He seemed puzzled”, said Silber when he told me this story recently, “and he retuned all the banjos! Do you know what he did for a living? He was a banker!”
Now I was puzzled. Wasn’t he a retired coal miner?
“I asked him what he did for a living at home in Virginia,” Marc continued, “and he told me, ‘Why, I’m a banker’”.
I thought about this for a few days.-Dock Boggs a BANKER?-Dock Boggs of the UMW who lived in a little community called Needmore?.– (the name says it all) – and I thought about the tuning and wondered if the New York pranksters had got it wrong somehow.
I phoned Mike Seeger who knows a zillion banjo tunings and who had been a close friend of Boggs. He laughed and said “You know I used to kid Dock Boggs about how he dressed when he travelled and performed up north. He always wore a serious looking suit and tie. I used to tell him he looked like a banker!”
So I reckon that Boggs knew pretty quickly that he was being kidded and quietly, deftly, played his own little joke that took 30 years to play out.