Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

Banjo Lovers Online

 All Forums
 Playing the Banjo
 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 1/31/2020: Cuba (from the playing of Dock Boggs)

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

Adam Kiesling - Posted - 01/31/2020:  06:04:17

I thought I'd try something a little different this week and post a song rather than a tune.

Dock Boggs was born in West Norton, Virginia, in 1898 to a musical family. As a young child, he became enamored with the music that the local African-Americans would play, and this led him to develop his idiosyncratic three-finger style on the banjo. He recorded 12 songs in the 20s for the Brunswick and Okeh labels, but had to return to the coal mines as his music career wasn't sustainable.

Mike Seeger sought him out in the early 60s and help Dock find some gigs and festival sets and did a few recordings of Dock as well (check out the fantastic two-disc set on the Smithsonian-Folkways label.) Dock passed away on his 73rd birthday in 1971.

"Cuba" was one of the tunes Dock recorded for Mike on July 26, 1966. From the liner notes: "Dock learned this from his brothers, mostly brother Roscoe, who played it with forefinger and thumb not clawhammer style." Here are the lyrics:

Take me over to Cuby, I cross the waters o'er

Take me away to Cuby, you'll never see me any more

If I go to Cuby, I cross the waters wide

If I go to Cuby, I'll marry me another bride

Railroad is finished, the cars on the track

Take me away to Cuby, they'll never bring me back

Engineer blows the whistle, the fireman rings the bell

Brakeman takes up tickets, conductor's drunk as ......

John Miller, who transcribed the lyrics on the Weenie Campbell forum, had this to say about "Cuba:"

"Dock Boggs recorded "Cuba" on July 26, 1966, accompanying himself out of a variant of D tuning, f#DEAD.  Hearing how beautifully he played this song makes me think of the advantages when tuning to an open chord, of tuning the string where the third of the chord will be fingered short of the major third.  That way, you'll have to finger the major third to play it, have the opportunity to hammer into the third, pull off from it, etc.   If the major third is an open string, you can't inflect it.  In this instance, Dock had to raise his third string, E, up to F# to get his major third, so he got lots of hammers that way.  Bukka White operated in a similar manner, playing in cross-note, a minor tuning, to sound in major--he was constantly fretting and hammering into that major third.

Dock pronounces "Cuba" "Cuby" through-out the song.  Is it talking about the Spanish-American War?  That's the only reason I can think of for someone to be taken away to Cuba.  This same melody was used by The Teneva Ramblers on their recording of "If I Die A Railroad Man", which also had a verse very similar to Dock's third verse."

Here is the Tenneva Ramblers' (they were a sometimes-backing band for Jimmie Rodgers) recording of "If I Die a Railroad Man:"

As noted above, Dock played "Cuba" out of f#DEAD tuning. Virgil Anderson's "Wild Goose Chase" is another tune found in that tuning, and Donald Zepp's tuning database lists a few other tunes as well.

I don't have a tab available, but it's a pretty easy melody to pick out (I play it in more of a thumb-lead style as opposed to Dock's three finger picking). Most of the melody is found on the open fourth, third and second strings, with some fretting on the second and third frets on the third string. Here's my version:

I also recorded a version on guitar last year (I'm in standard tuning playing in C):


Edited by - Adam Kiesling on 01/31/2020 06:06:11

R Buck - Posted - 01/31/2020:  06:13:53

NIce research on the song. You are right not to put out a tab, this is one of those songs that will play itself when the banjo is tuned in that tuning. Nice job on the video too.

RG - Posted - 01/31/2020:  07:16:00

Great pick and real nice job on it Adam, enjoyed that! Can't go wrong with a Dock Boggs tune to start the day that's for sure...

rooksbay - Posted - 01/31/2020:  10:23:24

Great rendering of this great tune!

JanetB - Posted - 01/31/2020:  22:56:00

What a tremendous choice, Adam, with interesting descriptions and links.  Dock Boggs was played in a tuning which isn't an open chord and therefore John Miller says has the advantage of hammering on to the third note of the chord, in this case from an open E to the F# note of the D chord by using the 2nd fret of the third string.  That sounds nice and he did that three times.

I listened to Dock's picking and after tabbing it I can play along with you. I look forward to learning more about him -- something I haven't done much of. Mostly I just see his photo and don't listen to his music. This post helps me appreciate his simplicity and the beauty in his banjo which accompanies his vocals so appealingly.




Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories