Mixed Signals
An Untamed Sense of Control

An Untamed Sense of Control

That’s Bob Dylan’s paradoxical yet perfect description of Roscoe Holcomb’s sound. You keep thinking his phrasing can’t possibly work, that the song is about to fall apart completely (the vocal, anyway—the guitar or banjo is always steady as a rock) but somehow he pulls it together and it works.

Here’s “Darlin’ Corey,” which is sort of an Appalachian standard, and the strangeness might be more apparent if you’re familiar with the song. I love this stuff.

Here he is on tv with Pete Seeger:

I’m afraid Seeger is an unrepentant Communist, but his love for real American music and the people who make it is genuine and that’s got to count for something. Maybe he’s an idiot, politically speaking, but I really don’t think there’s malice in him. I certainly have a sense of gratitude to him, remembering how I lay in bed on a Sunday night ca. 1963 listening to a folk music show coming to my little Alabama crossroads from WLS in Chicago, hundreds of miles away, hearing Seeger singing Tom Paxton’s “Ramblin’ Boy” and feeling an intense need to hear more of this strange stuff called “folk music.”

Holcomb would have been in his 50s when the appearance with Seeger was taped. By our standards he looks a lot older, doesn’t he? He had a pretty hard life. You can read more about him here.

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