The Black Banjo Gathering in April 2005 turned out to be the motivator that shifted Dom Flemons' life from Arizona busker to Piedmont string-band musician. Compelled to move to the Piedmont, Flemons began to collaborate with Rhiannon Giddens, who formed the old time/African roots band Sankofa Strings with him and Gregory Wilson, and he followed her to Joe Thompson's house where Justin Robinson was playing. Without even planning, Dom's music revival dream became real: "It gave me a different perspective, going from being someone who was learning from recordings to sitting next to the artists and hearing them talk and seeing how mannerisms are translated into the music."
A multi-instrumentalist, Dom plays banjo, guitar, harmonica, fife, bones, bass drum, snare drum, and quills. As a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an African-American string band, Dom was able to explore his interest in bringing traditional music to new audiences. The band won a GRAMMY for its 2011 album Genuine Negro.
On stage, Flemons rolls from one instrument to another with a fearless attitude toward tradition and repertoire. As he now reflects, "The unique experience
I had getting into the old-time music really informed the way I have been able to process a lot of it. A lot of people ask me, how do you do this old-time
music and have it stay contemporary to you as a person? What people forget is that on stage I might be playing music that's 100 years-old, but that
doesn't mean my ears are only listening to music that's 100 years-old. I got into this via old rock and roll, sixties rock and folk and went back from
there. A couple of things got me into thinking about how to smash all of it together, particularly Mike Seeger's way of taking different kinds of traditional
music and putting them together to make new music. And being into the songsters like Lead Belly and Henry Thomas, I heard them and knew they weren't
doing straight blues like Robert Johnson and Skip James. I always wondered how it all fit, so when I met Joe and found out about the black string-band
stuff, that was where the connections started happening - these songsters fit into this broader string band and folk music tradition and then you have
things like blues and jazz, and even gospel music, wrapped up in it."
Titles include: James Alley Blues, Charmin' Betsy, Fishin' Blues, Your Baby Ain't Sweet Like Mine, My Little Lady, If I Lose, Let Me Lose
(Mama Don't Mind), Keep On Truckin', Oh Babe, Ain't No Lie, Yonder Comes The Blues, Steel Pony Blues and I'm Not Jealous
Running time: 76 minutes
Review: I'm a huge fan (and happy to say) a friend of Dom Flemons (who people still refer to as a "former member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, though that group disbanded about four years ago). See him every time I can and play his two solo CDs (and his joint concert with Britisher Martin Simpson). You've seen him play recently on the PBS documentary "American Epic".
The odds are that you haven't seen Flemons perform live, though he's always traveling away from his Carrboro, NC home. (He was born and went through college in Arizona.) Thanks to guitar legend and instructional video producer Stefan Grossman, who owns the Vestapol label with (literally) hundreds of performance and instructional videos, you can get as close to that experience (even closer in some cases) thanks to this terrific 76-minute DVD (one of two Flemons vids; the other being more about how to play the blues guitar ).
Though Flemons is only 34-years old, he's been playing and collecting folk songs, blues and early vaudeville songs since college. He was a rock and roll fan too and he loved to read. (I'll tell you how I know this in a minute.) He has become a walking encyclopedia of the history of all these styles and those legends (both well-known and overlooked) who performed them. Among those are Lead Belly, Henry Thomas, Victoria Spivey and two of his favorites (both named Charlie), Papa Charlie Jackson and Charley Patton. Flemons can play the guitar, the banjo (in many sizes and varieties), the snare drum, the harmonica and the quills (those reed pipes most associated with Peruvian music). Oops, I forgot the bones!
So back to this DVD. Grossman brought Flemons to a video studio in New York City, where he asked Flemons questions (which he edited out) and let Flemons respond about his upbringing, the formation of the Chocolate Drops, his favorite instruments and the pioneer recording artists he most admires. Between the answers Flemons performs 13 full length songs using virtually every instrument I mention above, except the snare drum. The camera work is top notch with Flemons looking like he's sitting across from you in a room with just you and him. Because there will be musicians who admire, and want to learn to play like Flemons, the camera closes in at times on his fingers, but you can always see his hands. And there are chapter stops so you can go right to performances on repeat viewings
I'm surprised that no one else has posted a review here yet. It's possible that the title that Amazon lists is not very explanatory. I do hope other Flemons' fans will discover it. Flemons CDs are great but this DVD adds a new dimension to watching him perform.
I hope you found this review both informative and helpful. – Steve Ramm