His records, however, which had drawn the admiring attention of northern musicologists, were rediscovered in the 1950s and taken up by the second wave of the urban folk movement. In 1963 the revivalist Mike Seeger found Boggs laid off from the mines and living in poverty in Norton, and encouraged the sixty-five-year-old singer to pick up his music again. What a strange bunch his new fans must have seemed after the hard-bitten coal miners and sorghum farmers who, more than thirty years earlier, had given commercial country music its first boom. Clean-cut collegiate refugees from rock-and-roll were drawn to folk festivals in the early sixties, eagerly seeking correctives in Appalachian music to teen-pop slickness and their own privilege. Dock Boggs late in life became an important member of a folk scene that before shriveling would engender the period in rock now called classic. He died in 1971. Now he is having a third career, and the latest Boggs revival raises questions about the politics and the aesthetics of revivalism in American popular music and the mixed blessings of ambitious pop criticism.
Happily, it also gives us Country Blues: Complete Early Recordings (1927-29),on Revenant, a new label presided over by the musician, composer, and veteran iconoclast John Fahey. The disc brings together the seminal recordings of Boggs's first career, for many years available only by special order from Smithsonian Folkways. That label, too, has furthered the Boggs revival, by re-releasing last month many of the late-period Boggs recordings that Mike Seeger produced in the sixties. Seeger, who is one reason that many of us have any firsthand experience of the deepest sources of American music, has written important new notes for the Smithsonian Folkways release.
beautifully summarizes Boggs's early work. Revenant's package includes twelve tracks from 1927 and 1929 and five alternate takes, never before released; it appends revealing bonus tracks by a banjoist and a fiddler from Boggs's region. The package comes with a sixty-four-page book, so informative and artfully designed (yet only double-CD-case in size) that it is comparable to a catalogue for a major exhibition of paintings. The book contains useful session notes , a thoughtful and witty reminiscence by Jon Pankake, and remarks about the bonus tracks by Charles Wolfe.
Its most substantial contribution, however, a long essay by Greil Marcus, complicates appreciation both of the package and of Boggs's music. A pioneering rock critic when that term drew snorts of derision from establishment writers, Marcus has for three decades been an important and provocative voice in discussions of popular music. Last year he published Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes,from which his essay on Boggs is adapted. Invisible Republic called attention not only to Dock Boggs but also to the other early recording artists featured in Harry Smith's 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music,which Smithsonian Folkways recently reissued. The anthology presented early 78s by professional country, blues, Cajun, and gospel musicians rather than field recordings by amateur folk artists, and thus had the effect -- fateful to the future of rock -- of challenging snooty ideas about professionalism and rural music.