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Banjo Lessons: Dock Boggs Part 3: “Sugar Baby”

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Here's a third and
final Dock Boggs tune, at least as, as of
this taping.
And it's one called Sugar Baby, which he
also recorded back in the late 20s,
a, as well as in the 60s for Folkways
It's a tune called Sugar Baby.
And out, my learning of this tune took an
interesting path.
They had something in New York City at a
place called the Bottom Line.
They called it the Downtown Messiah and
every Christmas, they would have
a slightly unusual Messiah that they would
do in this club called the Bottom Line.
And this one year, I got the call to play
banjo with someone called David Johansen,
who was in the New York Dolls.
And is also known as, known as Buster
Poindexter and
he had a band called the Banshees of Blue.
But anyway, he was starting, starting to
get into Harry Smith,
who's a gentleman who put together a whole
bunch of recordings from the 20s and 30s
for Folkways Records back in the 50s and
amongst them were some Dock Boggs tunes.
So David Johansen started getting into
Dock Boggs and figured for,
what he would do for this Downtown Messiah
would be to take one of Dock's tunes.
In this case, Sugar Baby and change the
words and
put some of the words from Handel's
Messiah to this Dock Boggs tune.
And the one he chose was Sugar Baby.
And so I was lucky enough to be the banjo
player on this.
So the lyrics had nothing to do with Sugar
Baby, but had to do with the Nativity.
And in this crazy lonesome tuning.
I'm not so crazy but [NOISE] this coming
from G tuning.
The first string is tuned to D.
[SOUND] Second string goes from B up to C.
And everything else stays the same.
G on the third.
D on the fourth [NOISE] and G on the
Interesting lo,
interestingly, what's happening here is,
if you're in straight G tuning,
That gives you a major third because
the second string is tuned to B.
That's the third note of the scale.
Do, re, mi.
[SOUND] That gives you a major chord,
major triad.
[SOUND] If you go down a half step [NOISE]
on the second string,
now you're in B minor.
I'm sorry, G minor.
And it's a minor key, a minor chord.
Go back up to the major chord.
But in this case,
what Dock is found himself tuning into is
[NOISE] the fourth note of the scale C.
Do, re, mi, fa.
So now there is no third, major or minor
[NOISE] in this tuning.
You have the tonic G.
D, which is the fifth.
G which is the tonic, one.
[SOUND] Second string is up to the fourth
note of the scale [NOISE] and
D is the fifth note.
And if this confuse you, confuses you, you
don't need to know this.
But for those who do know, [NOISE] those
are the intervals.
But the bottom line is there was no third,
so it's a very ambiguous sound.
You don't know if you're in a major or a
minor key.
So here's Sugar Baby.
And this is two versions or these are two
The first is from 1927, actually and the
second one is from
the 60s from Dock's later recording career
for Folkways.
That's the first version.
Slowed down.
So this is really the case where the
tuning defines the melody or
it's all found in the tune, not all, but a
lot of it's found in the tuning.
spare you more of my singing than that,
but those.
That's all just open strings.
he picks up on that third measure on the
third fret of the first string.
Picks up with the middle finger and
then he brushes down [NOISE] with the back
of his middle finger.
[SOUND] Pull-off.
[SOUND] Now in this measure, [NOISE] which
is the fifth measure.
You're gonna do something
that you don't do in Bluegrass hardly ever
with very rare exceptions, where you're
gonna be doubling a right hand finger or
digit, in this case the thumb.
So this is the fifth measure, where you
So it's thumb, pinch on,
on the first two strings with the index
and middle.
Use the thumb as an eighth note and
then get right to the fourth string with
the thumb also.
It happens here again,
as you go to the third fret of the fourth
string in measure six.
And again there.
And then you're out of that hammer.
Interestingly in the second
version from 1964, it's almost the same,
except he's not doing the down brush.
The down stroke for the back of the middle
It sounds like this.
Here it is slowed down.
So it starts out the same.
Instead of brushing up,
he's just hitting the second and fifth
There's a thumb double.
Stunt double, thumb double.
Amber, pull-off.
One more time up to tempo,
just because it's so much fun to play.
An interesting thing about both
Pretty Polly and Sugar Baby is that when
Dock played these, he would sing and
would, in unison with his singing he'd
play the banjo.
So again, I'm just gonna sing the smallest
little part here.
I did a little bit of this, but
I just wanted to do it again to give you a
more of a sense of it.
we've talked about Earl Scruggs playing
the syllables.
This is exactly that to the point where
you're actually singing and
playing the same notes at the same time
and one reinforces the other.
So this is a very much, playing the
syllables is kind of a deal here.
And especially without the roll, so you're
just playing in the three finger style,
but there are a lot of quarter notes here
to really bring out that melody.
So, just wanted to point that out.