Although he came to prominence with Carolina Chocolate Drops—and does, in fact, now live in North Carolina—banjoist, guitarist and cow rib bone-ist (you’ll see…) Dom Flemons originally hails from Phoenix, AZ. Thus his introduction to the Americana string band music he’s helped bring to the limelight didn’t exactly come via word of mouth.
“Documentary films are what really got me started,” Flemons said. “In terms of blues, that’s when I first heard Muddy Waters and Louis Jordan, and oldies: Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry. Or there’s Phil Ochs, Dock Boggs, Brian McGee…” So, with the help of many documentaries and albums, Flemons learned from the masters. “I would learn guitar playing a Bob Dylan song like ‘Hurricane,’” he said.
With that as a foundation, Flemons then began exploring string band music, which would truly come to define his own sound—and which couldn’t quite be learned from a documentary. “For me, that was unique territory because that was something I hadn’t really read about. There wasn’t a lot of concise documentation about black string band music and pre-blues, black folk music that wasn’t spirituals or work songs and things like that.” For this sort of music, Flemons had to get out and go to the source, which is precisely what led him to North Carolina’s Black Banjo Gathering in 2005. It was there that he met the musicians with whom he’d soon form Carolina Chocolate Drops, kicking off his music career in earnest.
Over the next seven years, with five studio albums, appearances at Bonnaroo and the Grand Ole Opry, and a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album, Carolina Chocolate Drops took their genre, and the music world at large, by storm. Late last year, Flemons left the band and announced that he was going solo, releasing his first post-Carolina Chocolate Drops album (and third solo album overall), Prospect Hill, in July. A singular cocktail of Flemons’ diverse influences, the album incorporates everything from jug band to hip hop. Flemons is now touring in support of the album with a stunning collection of artists including Over the Rhine, Rosanne Cash and Old Crow Medicine Show. From quills to spoons to those cow bones, here’s what he’s taking on the road…
Hover your mouse over the items below for the inside stories from Dom Flemons himself
Photos by Kyra Kverno
Interview by Mark Kirby