Retired Norton Coal Miner Is Now Pickin' A Banjo Instead Of Just Twiddlin' Thumbs

By Ralph Rasnick
From The Coalfield Progress
Country music and folk songs are coming of age. Once confined mostly to our mountain areas, they are now shaking the sound waves from Maine to California.

Even the so-called rock 'n' roll set is taking old songs and ballads and swinging them to the rafters. Most of the top string music groups worth their salt now contain a five-string banjo, the old monarch of mountain music.

Out of this comes an interesting story from here in Norton. The man in the story is M.L. "Dock" Boggs, of 825 Kentucky Avenue.

Have you ever heard any of the old Dock Boggs' records? About 36 years ago he made a few in New York City. Thumbing his banjo, Dock made such records as "Pretty Polly," "Danville Girl," "Country Blues," "Down South Blues," and others.

Dock said he got a couple of contracts to make records but didn't sign them because his wife objected to the life many musicians had to live. So to "keep down trouble" he went back to the mines.

He went to work in the mines when he was but a small boy, working as a "trapper" at seven cents an hour for 10 hours a day. That was in 1910 and his first job was with the Colonial Coal and Coke Co. with John A. Esser as manager.

Dock recalls that he began playing around with a banjo when he was 14 years old. He ordered his first banjo from Sears Roebuck.

In 1927, he played his banjo and sang for representatives of a New York recording company who was listening to local talent at Hotel Norton. Dock said there were about 150 persons trying out. He was the only banjo player chosen, and there were a couple of guitar players and two or three fiddle players selected.

That's how he came to go to New York and make the records. When he came back, however, he loaned his banjo to a friend in Kentucky and went back to work in the coal mine.

Not much happened for the next 25 years. Dock worked at various places and retired after 41 years in the mines on his UMW pension and social security. He went back to see his friend in Kentucky and brought his banjo home.

There was some banjo picking and singing in the Boggs' home, but as Dock recalls now, he was mostly twiddling his thumbs... until a few weeks ago.

With folk music now riding the popularity crest, it seems someone heard some of Dock's old recordings of "Pretty Polly" and others and began wondering what ever happened to him. A searched was launched and he was found here in Norton.

Visits and phone calls and letters followed. Folkways Records of New York City sent a contract which Dock is considering and a personal appearance tour has been set up, beginning next Tuesday deep in the heart of Yankee land.

Dock and Mrs. Boggs are leaving next Saturday, July 29, on the beginning of a six-day tour. They will go by train to New York City and on to Boston, Mass.

At Boston they will be met by folks who will take them to Amherst for an appearance at the University of Massachusetts on July 23. Two more appearances will follow at Cambridge, Mass., on July 24 and 25.

Then on July 26, 27, and 28, Dock and his five-string banjo will appear at the Newport Folk Festival at Newport, R.I. It will be the first time for Mrs. Boggs to visit the big cities of the East, and she still isn't exactly sold on the idea.

According to letters from the man who is handling the details of the trip, the Boggs' will receive travel expenses, lodging, meals, and some cash for the appearances.

Who knows what lies ahead for Dock Boggs and his five-string banjo? Maybe there is gold at the end of the rainbow.

If anyone can date this article or has any corrections or comments, please email me.

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