Sears & Roebuck Banjo

Shared by: Reed Martin

In 1967, I had just dropped out of Indiana University for the second time. I taught beginning ice skating at the local ice rink and was also a rink guard. The winter passed, the rink closed, and by spring I was unemployed.

My older sister had moved to Whitesburg, Kentucky, to work as a writer and photographer for the Whitesburg Mountain Eagle Newspaper, and she heard that some government folks back in Washington, D.C. were interested in setting up a record company in Whitesburg to record the local folks. The government would pay the salaries of the company employees, and the money from record sales would go to the musicians themselves. It sounded like a great thing to me.

I was asked to come to Whitesburg and spend the summer walking up creek beds and nosing around locating unrecorded musicians. I was to be paid $25 a week. So I hopped into my 1957 VW bug and off I went. My sister was living in a log cabin atop Pine Mountain, so I stayed the summer with her. On one of my visits to Dock Boggs, over in Pound, Virginia, I took over the 1964 Folkways / Disc LP which has a 1927 photo of Dock on the cover.

I recognized the banjo in the photo as a Sears & Roebuck banjo, yet no trace of that banjo had been found in more recent years. Dock told me that he bought a Gibson soon after the recording sessions of the 1920s, and he had sold that old Sears banjo. I could feel the excitement of finding that old Sears banjo, so I pressed him for more details. "I sold it to a man who worked in the mines with me....he lived in Whitesburg, Kentucky."

I wrote down the man's name and bright and early the next morning I was all over Whitesburg knocking on doors, chasing down the man and the Sears banjo. By 10 a.m., I was standing on his porch and he said, "Yes, I bought that banjo from Mr. Boggs many years ago. We kept it up on the mountain in a shack next to the cabin where we made moonshine. In the early 1950s, both our buildings caught fire and everything was burnt up." " Even the Sears banjo?" I asked......"Even the Sears banjo."

And so that is what happened to that banjo. I thought I should put the story in print since there are probably Dock Boggs fans who will see the old photo and say to themselves, "I wonder whatever happened to Dock's banjo - the one he played in the 1920s?"

Reed Martin     January 21, 2003

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