Dock Boggs was just one of the primeval hillbillies to record during the '20s, forgotten for decades until the folk revival of the '60s revived his career at the twilight of his life. Still, his dozen recordings from 1927 to 1929 are monuments of folk music, comprised of fatalistic hills ballads and blues like "Danville Girl," "Pretty Polly," and "Country Blues." Born near Norton, VA, in 1898, Boggs was the youngest of ten children. (He gained his nickname at an early age, since he was named after the doctor who delivered him.) Boggs began working in the mines at the age of 12. In what remained of his spare time, he began playing banjo, picking the instrument in the style of blues guitar instead of the widespread clawhammer technique.
Boggs began picking up songs from family members and the radio. He married in 1918 and began subcontracting on a mine until his wife's illness forced him to move back to her home. He worked in the dangerous moonshining business and made a little money playing social dances.
His big break finally came in 1927, when executives from the Brunswick label arrived in Norton to audition talent. He passed (beating out none other than A.P. Carter), and recorded eight sides in New York City for the label. Though they didn't quite flop, the records sold mostly around Boggs' hometown. He signed a booking agent, and recorded four more sides for W.E. Myer's local Lonesome Ace label. The coming of the Great Depression in late 1929 put a hold on Boggs' recording career, as countless labels dried up. He continued to perform around the region until the early '30s, however, when his wife forced him to give up his music and go back into the mines. Boggs worked until 1954, when mechanical innovations forced him out of a job.
Almost a decade later, in 1963, folklorist Mike Seeger located Boggs in Norton and convinced him to resume his career. Just weeks after their meeting, Boggs played the American Folk Festival in Asheville, NC. He began recording again, and released his first LP, Legendary Singer & Banjo Player, later that year on Smithsonian/Folkways. Two more LPs followed during the '60s, although, like his original recordings, they too were out of print not long after his death in 1971.
The revival of interest in early folk music occasioned by a digital reissue of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music finally brought Boggs' music back to the shelves. In 1997, John Fahey's Revenant label released Complete Early Recordings (1927-1929), and one year later His Folkways Years (1963-1968) appeared. ~ John Bush