Dom Flemons
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Dom Flemons

Hillsborough, North Carolina, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2006 | INDIE

Hillsborough, North Carolina, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2006
Band Folk Blues




"Album Premiere: Dom Flemons' 'Prospect Hill'"

Dom Flemons, a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, goes solo with his new album Prospect Hill.

Prospect Hill, premiering at USA TODAY, will be released July 22 via Music Maker Relief Foundation. It's Flemons' third solo album, but his first since leaving the Grammy-winning string band last fall.

"I wanted to show people the other parts of my repertoire that I never really got to showcase in the Chocolate Drops," Flemons says. "Working with them, I've picked up quite a few different tunes in my own personal research. On this record, I tried to bring up tunes that showed my own talents as a musician. I also dusted off some tunes I've written over the past several years."

Where the Chocolate Drops focused on one style of music, Flemons takes a broader approach on Prospect Hill, an album that encompasses folk tunes, ragtime, early jazz and rock and roll and fife-and-drum music

"For my own record, I've let myself be a lot looser about my style," Flemons says. In his original tune Till the Seas Run Dry, for instance, "I tried to show off New Orleans jazz in the era before the Hot Five. I Can't Do That Anymore — I used to play a lot of old rock 'n' roll, '40s R&B. Those were things I couldn't ever do in a string band. It just didn't fit the style."

Flemons found a kindred spirit in blues musician Guy Davis. "He's really the heartbeat of the album," Flemons says. "We're both students of music, and we're both in this realm of songsters, where we're folk singers and blues singers and jazz singers and country singers, all at the same time."

Flemons' songs may draw heavily from old styles, but Prospect Hill is never locked in the past. "I've worked a lot of years, trying to balance that," he says. "I tried to make sure when I presented songs, I made them as good as the old songs I might try to interpret."

Prospect Hill is a well-traveled album, with songs set in locales ranging from Arizona to Georgia, from San Francisco to Nashville. "These are all places that meant something to me," says Flemons, who lives near Chapel Hill, N.C.
Flemons spent nearly a decade with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group that reintroduced the music of old-time African-American string bands to the culture.

"It was always supposed to be a place we could train musicians of like minds," he says. "We covered so much ground that we couldn't find common ground anymore after a certain point. We had covered all the common ground we set out to cover over the course of 10 years."

Flemons calls his new music "a continuation of the work I've done for years. It's just a natural bridge into the next part of my career." - USA Today

"Dom Flemons Holds On To Those Old-Time Roots"

From his vintage hat to his enormous 1920s banjo, Dom Flemons looks like he's time-traveled from a different era.

Flemons was in Carolina Chocolate Drops, a Grammy-winning group that's extended the tradition of African-American string bands of the 1920s and '30s. His new solo album, Prospect Hill, is his first since leaving the group. Flemons sings and plays guitar, banjo, bones, harmonica, fife and jug. The album reflects his interest in old-time music, blues, early jazz and R&B, and also includes a couple of original songs. Flemons grew up in Arizona, and now lives in North Carolina.

By coincidence, Flemons recorded the album the day legendary folksinger Pete Seeger died. Seeger had a major influence on Flemons and was one of the reasons he was drawn to play the banjo. Despite the sad circumstances, they enjoyed playing in remembrance of him. "That's the thing about the blues, and string-band music is the same way — it grabs to a root and it brings you out of whatever spot [you're in]," he tells host Terry Gross. "Then you can project out that energy through the songs — and it was joyful."

Flemons recently joined Fresh Air in the studio to play songs from Prospect Hill and discuss what he loves about old-time music.

Interview Highlights

On the music that inspired him to play in an old-time acoustic style

"It started out with my interest in oldies, like doo-wop, '60s rock, '60s pop music, '50s rock 'n' roll... I just started pushing toward these styles that weren't particularly contemporary at the time. I also listened to other stuff like Green Day when they first came out, or Sublime and groups like that.

"But acoustic music at that time, there wasn't a whole bunch of it, unless a rock singer decided to do an acoustic-y ballad number or something like that, or adult-contemporary acoustic music. So when I heard Bob Dylan's first record, the self-titled Bob Dylan one, that really blew my mind. It made me think about guitar and harmonica, so I started doing that. I started learning everything that I could hear on the radio."

On his musical background

"I was doing a lot of busking. I played for a while in a group called The Wild Whiskey Boys, and so I played harmonica in that group, but it was always guitar, banjo and harmonica. And that was all I played until I came to North Carolina, and then I started playing the bones and the quills and the bass drum, snare drum, all the drums — I played that in school, so that was my actual formal training. I was in marching band with bass drum, and then I played auxiliary percussion from tympani all the way down to suspended cymbal to triangles and all that stuff. So [I got] a good sense of not just the main rhythm, but what the auxiliary rhythm that you put on top of the main rhythm was." - NPR Fresh Air with Terry Gross

"Album Review: "Prospect Hill" by Dom Flemons"

Posted on September 4, 2014 | by Mark Segal Kemp

In the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dom Flemons served as dynamic on-stage storyteller and chief ethnomusicologist for the old-time black string band he cofounded in 2005. When Flemons announced he’d be leaving the group last year, his decision somehow made sense.

After all, the Chocolate Drops have evolved into a live juggernaut, their performances bigger and flashier than ever—in all the best ways. By contrast, Flemons’ talents are best-suited to intimate settings, where he can sit with his banjo, guitar and percussion, jam a little, tell stories, and talk about the rich history of African-American folk traditions.

That’s exactly what Flemons does on Prospect Hill, his debut solo album of mostly original tunes—with arrangements of some well-chosen traditionals—all harking back to an earlier era of American music. In his unpretentious liner notes, Flemons gives a little background on each song in this set of gritty jazz, blues, rags, jug-band, country, and folk. The album’s acoustic-guitar centerpiece is an unassuming instrumental, “Georgia Drumbeat,” charged by Flemons’ spare picking on his Fraulini Angelina six-string—a custom-made instrument inspired by an old grand concert-sized Stella—with some badass wailing harmonica played by another great storyteller, Guy Davis, the blues-making son of the late Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.
Davis and Flemons’ chemistry is positively infectious throughout. On their version of Memphis country-bluesmen Dan Sane and Frank Stokes’ “It’s a Good Thing”—an almost proto-rap song—Flemons spits out lines like “You may be brownskin, you may be black, but what I say about these women, I don’t take it back,” while Davis ad libs the jive talk. Another track showing the importance of “rap” in African-American music is the improvised “Grotto Beat,” which sounds like Run-DMC performing fife-and-drum music, but doesn’t come off as cheesy as that might suggest.

For the Tom Dorsey/Tampa Red chestnut “But They Got It Fixed Right On,” Davis plays a Gibson GB-1 six-string banjo along with Flemons singing and playing a jug, and Native American singer Pura Fé providing backup vocals. The set’s loveliest moment is Flemons’ wistful “Too Long (I’ve Been Gone)”—about the loneliness of life on the road—which he gently fingerpicks alongside the terrific guitarist Keith Ganz playing a 1972 Martin N-10 nylon-string.

In his liner notes, Flemons nods to the late Pete Seeger, suggesting the great American singer’s death was a spiritual signal that 2014 would be “the year of the folksinger.” If that’s true, it got a little help from Dom Flemons. - Acoustic Guitar


Still working on that hot first release.