Down South Blues

Hannah Sylvester recorded Down South Blues in 1923

Dock Boggs recorded Down South Blues for Brunswick in 1927. Blues and other African-American musical forms had a strong influence on old-time country music and nowhere is this more evident than in the songs of Dock Boggs. Dock discovered a recording of Down South Blues among his brother in law's vast collection of 78s. It was performed by an African-American woman, probably Clara Smith, Rosa Henderson, or Hannah Sylvester - all of whom recorded similar versions about this time.

'Down south' was later taken up by several male blues singers in the 30's - the likes of Scrapper Blackwell and Sleepy John Estes - and then was revived by 50's blues band artists such as Jazz Gillum, Doctor Ross and Washboard Sam. It also found its way into the big band genre via Paul Whiteman, Coleman Hawkins and Fletcher Henderson.

Dock's version is much simplified. But he had no fear of playing blues on the banjo. In an interview with Mike Seeger Dock tells a story of when he was playing with "some boys" including Scot Boatwright. Scot announced that he was going to play a "piece of blues" and told Dock that he could sit this one out. Dock protested: "You think them blues ain't on this banjo neck same as they are on that Guitar? They just as much on this banjo neck as they are on the guitar or the piano or anything else if you know where to go get it." Dock clearly know where to go get the blues on a banjo neck and left us several examples.

The arrangement I present here is a bit different from Dock's. He played up-picking style in a G tuning where I'm frailing in a C tuning. I hope I've kept the flavor and I think Dock would approve.


I'm going to the station,
Going to catch the fastest train that goes;
I'm a-going back South
Where the weather suits my clothes.

I'm going back South
If I wear out 99 pair of shoes;
'Cause I'm broken hearted,
I've got those down South blues.

I was reared in the country
Where the snow it never fell;
I'm a-going back South,
If I don't do so well.

Oh my mama. told me,
And my daddy told me too,
Don't you go off, honey,
Let those men make a fool out of you.