Dock Boggs and David Grisman


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.


One Response to “Dock Boggs and David Grisman”

  1. Marc S. Silber Says:

    I am Marc S. Silber and it is terrific to see that poster by The Friends of Old time music re; Dock Boggs and Mississippi John Hurt.
    They both came to my shop, Fretted Instruments, at that time early one morning and I was a bit worried about them getting along, I already knew John Hurt and he was the sweetest person imaginable and I hoped Doc Boggs was a tolerant person, as I was to have them at the shop at 8 am, and only I would be there. Soon enough Doc Boogs asked if he could play a banjo, and he started up. Mississippi John just took off his shoes and started dancing! Sort of flat foot dancing or buck dancing, and I was in Folk Heaven. I have had many fine times during this journey through the years of the Folk Revival and that was my number one favorite experience. I was truly a lucky person and by the way they got along excellently. not a problem!

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