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Old Time Fingerpicking
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Banjo Lessons: Dock Boggs Part 1: “Pretty Polly”

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taking this segment on Dock Boggs in
August of 2009 and
as we're doing this Mike Seeger has just
passed away a couple of days ago.
And Mike Seeger made an incalculable
contribution to American roots
music by going down south and recording a
lot of different people.
Recording Bill Monroe and his country
music in the various country
music parks and having those tapes
circulate so
we could all hear what Bill Monroe was
doing in the 50s and be inspired by it.
And of course through his own concertising
and recordings and
playing with the New Lost City Ramblers,
the very first urban roots group playing
old time music and Cajun and various other
kinds of music related to that.
So it's a very sad passing having Mike
Seeger gone now, but I'd like to honor his
memory by doing three tunes over these
next three segments, by Dock Boggs.
And it's spelled D-O-C-K.
Dock Boggs was a coal miner who had a
brief recording career for
Brunswick Records.
He came to New York City from Virginia and
recorded for, 12 sides for
Brunswick Records.
Some of the spookiest, scariest music ever
recorded on the banjo,
as you will soon hear.
And he went for a couple of years playing
touring around and went back into the
mines for
about another 30 years, until he was
rediscovered in 1963 by Mike Seeger.
And of all the people that Mike brought
back from obscurity,
Dock Boggs is perhaps arguably, in my
opinion, the, the most important.
What he played on the banjo was just very
deep and important.
And Dock had a second career in the 60s.
In 1963 he played at various folk
festivals, because the folk
movement was going on and I got to see him
at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963.
And following that, Dock went and recorded
another 50 sides for Folkways Records and
those recordings are still available and
you might want to check those out.
But I'd like to start with Pretty Polly.
It's an old murder ballad which various
people, including Ralph Stanley,
have recorded.
And it's part of the bluegrass repertoire
This is Dock's version of it.
And this is taken from the 1928 recording,
cuz he did record it again in the 60s for
But this is the earliest recording.
So this is Pretty Polly by Dock Boggs.
And I should mention the tuning.
It's an amazing tuning.
[SOUND] The first string is tuned to D.
[SOUND] The second string.
[SOUND] If you're,
let's just say you're in G tuning as we
are in bluegrass just about all the time.
First string is D as it is in G tuning.
Second string, you take your B note and
tune it down a whole step down to A.
[SOUND] And there's your A note.
The third string-
[SOUND] Goes from G, I'm sorry, stays in
[SOUND] And the fourth string stays in D.
[SOUND] And the fifth string goes down a
half step.
[SOUND] To F-sharp.
So it's D.
Now you can certainly use
finger picks if you want to, but Dock did
not use finger picks.
And I like the sound of just the bare
fingers on the strings.
So now, here's Pretty Polly.
This is one of those kinds of songs where
you could just play forever.
It's, it's so emotionally involved.
I'm not quite sure how to put it, but with
a lot of great,
old-time music, people just sat around and
played one tune for a very long time.
And this is a case in point.
There's a two-note lead in.
And a lot of the melody, not all of it,
a lot of it is just kind of found in the
open strings.
Such an amazing tuning.
So there's a two-note lead in.
Bom, ch, those two quarter notes and
then the tune itself starts on the third
fret of the fourth string.
There's not a whole lot to explain.
It's pretty self-evident and there are a
couple of hammer-ons.
And again, a lot of the melody notes are
just found right there in the tuning,
so I think you're really gonna enjoy
Pretty Polly.