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- Posted on Mar 14th 2010 1:02PM by Emily Zemler
Describe your sound in your own words.
I would say the sound is an exuberance and joy of fiddle and banjo, the joy of American music. It's dance music and it's also sit down and listening music all at the same time.
How did your band form?
Our group got together at an event called the Black Banjo Gathering in North Carolina in April 2005. Now that was a one-time event on the black and African roots of the banjo. The three of us all came individually. We were all interested in old-time string band music of one kind or another before that, but the gathering was really the catalyst that started the smaller movement to create awareness about the black and African roots of the banjo and black participation in country music and string band and bluegrass music that you would associate with white people. That was how we started. We studied with a fellow called Joe Thompson, who's a 91-year-old black fiddler. We've learned a lot of his repertoire and we also incorporated a lot of jug band music, early jazz and early blues. That's the basic gist of it.
What are your musical influences?
The first one I would say is Joe Thompson. After that, we have the New Riverside Ramblers. I'd put them down. Howlin' Wolf. Muddy Waters. The Memphis Jug Band. Henry Thomas. Charlie Patton. It can get pretty broad because we listen to a lot of different stuff. Really, everything we listen to flows into our band. Even though we're playing old-time fiddlin' banjo music, there's a lot broader repertoire that influences us than that.
How did you get your band name?
There's a movie called 'Louie Bluie,' and it's about a black fiddler and mandolin player who played in the mid-'20s by the name Howard Armstrong. The group he played in early on was called the Tennessee Chocolate Drops and since we're from North Carolina, that came up when we decided to name the band. We said, "OK, we'll call ourselves the Carolina Chocolate Drops." That was really about it. That movie was made in the '80s. At the moment, it's not widely available. It's Terry Zwigoff's first movie and he made 'Ghost World' and 'Bad Santa.' It's one of the most amazing portraits of a musician you'll find, let alone also of black string-band musicians.
Are there a lot of other bands like you?
In the fact that we're an all-black string band and that our repertoire reaches into that tradition, that's unique. In terms of string bands in general, there's a growing interest in string-band music and old-time music, but I wouldn't say there's an extremely strong black population within that. I think we're a band that's opening some doors there. The banjo is different than the guitar in a lot of ways. The guitar has been so big for so long that the banjo has been a breath of fresh air for some people. The fiddle is the same way. You only have to be halfway good and you can whip up a tune pretty nice.
You don't have to be good to play this music?
Not particularly. It's folk music, so regular folks can do it. Our group happens to be good at our instruments and we've played for quite a while. So we're doing something unique in the way that we're playing strong old-time music as well as incorporating other styles like jug band and old-time jazz and blues. Those pieces mixing with the string band is very unique, and not a lot of groups are doing that yet.
Have you played SXSW previously?
This is our first time. We've been to the Folk Alliance Conference a few times, so we have an idea of what it's going to be about, but in terms of what the actual pandemonium on Austin's going to be like we just know it's going to be bigger and crazier.
What do you hope to gain from your trip to SXSW?
I'd hope to create more awareness about the music. Mostly just shaking hands, meeting people, letting our presence be known at the festival. It's good-time music and it's dance music so when people come to see us just be ready to have a good time and kick your shoes off. On top of all the history, it's just a good time.
Emily Zemler is a contributor from Seed.com. Learn how you can contribute here.