Pop Wagner
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Pop Wagner

Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States | Established. Jan 01, 1970 | INDIE | AFM

Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States | INDIE | AFM
Established on Jan, 1970
Solo Folk




"Wheatland Music Organization"

"Pop Wagner is a mesmerizing, authentic cowboy, who possesses the unique ability to transport an audience to the simpler times of days gone by. His captivating cowboy wit, combined with his musical talents are a treat for an audience of any age. Pop is a rich historian of our culture and, as such, is truly an American treasure." - Jo McLachlan

"Phipps Center for the Arts-Hudson, WI"

"The Phipps has presented Pop every other season since 1985, and he always delivers a fresh, entertaining show that plays to capacity audiences." - John H. Potter, Executive Director

"Cedar Calendar"

Pop Wagner has spent three decades playing clubs, concerts and festivals throughout North America, in Europe, in Japan, and then some. Wherever he is, whoever the audience, Pop's music, stories and lariat tricks have proved tried-and-true crowd pleasers. That held true even for Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev who saw Pop during an historic trip to the U.S.

Pop's works have been scored for string quartet and voices in "Pop Wagner's Sonata for String Quartet." And he appeared in the Benjamin Britten opera "Paul Bunyan," the recording of which won the 1988 British Gramophone Award. Surprised? Don't be. This guy still has some tricks up his sleeve. - Stevie Beck

"Bluegrass Unlimited"

Record Review Pop Wagner: "Spark of Life"
by Bill Hinkley

With Pop Wagner's new release, "Spark of Life," we can readily and joyfully detect the artistic and philosophical maturity to which an old friend and long-time picker, fiddler, and singer has grown. He has included many songs I have heard him sing through the years but which until now have remained unavailable on his recordings. Some date back to his days with Mad Jack and the Black Label Boys in the 1970s ("Goodbye, Miss Liza," "I Took My Gal A-Walkin'," "Dance All Night With a Bottle in My Hand"), there are songs I had no idea he even knew (Doc Watson's "Otto Wood the Bandit" and "The Lone Pilgrim", Blind Willie McTell's "Stop That Thing").

His title for this collection is a paraphrase of the opening line of "You've Been a Friend to Me." Instead of singing "My bark of life..." as Mother Maybelle did on the old Victor 78, Pop took a cue from singer and fellow Ohioan Bill Lowe, who sang, "My spark of life..." as the opening phrase of the song. "I like to think of the music itself as my spark of life," Pop explains. It is a spark that ignites the glow perceptible throughout the disc. Pop sings on every number in a plain, unadorned but very soulful voice that tells you a lot about the stories behind the lyrics and why he chooses to sing them. Even the most frivolous of these tunes expresses the concerns, perspectives, and values that are not as different from ours as we might sometimes think, and we become more aware of the relevance of the older words to newer woes as we listen to a singer as honest and unpretentious as Pop.

The playlist is nicely varied, with an excellent balance between Pop's solo work on guitar and his ensemble work on fiddle. His guitar fingerpicking deserves special mention. Nobody I've heard recently comes anywhere close to having Pop's ability to conjure and coax the sounds of the late Mississippi John Hurt from a guitar. Two pieces from John Hurt's repertoire are prominently featured, "Frankie and Albert," a predecessor of the better known "Frankie and Johnny," and "Danville Blues," Pop's blending of the "Danville Girl" theme with Hurt's "Got the Blues, Can't Be Satisfied." Not content merely to faithfully interpret these classics, Pop handles the guitar on "You've Been a Friend to Me" in such a way that the most casual listener will marvel at the depth of John Hurt's influence on Pop's playing and Pop's utter mastery of Hurt's principles of style. Some of us remember  that it was Pop who first filled the Prairie Home Companion guitarist's chair that Pat Donahue currently occupies. On two tracks ("Otto Wood," "Stop That Thing") Pop accompanies his singing with a nine-string guitar, which is strung somewhat like an incomplete twelve-string, three of its strings being paired with smaller strings each tuned an octave higher than its mate.

The ensemble tracks are equally engaging, with Pop playing really solid old-time fiddle. He is joined by seldom-heard old pro Bob Douglas on mandolin, with rhythm guitar chores falling to the more-than-capable hands of Adam Granger and producer-recordist Dakota Dave Hull (Bob and Adam sing on choruses as well).  Here we get the sound, high energy, and flavor of pre-bluegrass Southern mountain string bands in spades, with the influence of Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers, Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers, and Fiddlin' Arthur Smith with Sam & Kirk McGee from Sunny Tennessee being most prominent. The Carter Family songbag is also well represented by "Jealous Hearted Me" and "Goodbye to My Stepstone" in addition to the theme song of the CD, "You've Been a Friend to Me." You can  hear that everybody had a great time recording these tracks, and that each player has huge long-time respect for the others. Also included here are a very non-standard setting of "The Golden Vanity" and an original ballad of forsaken love, "Geraldine," whose title was suggested by a bright neon sign on a local tavern.

The songs recorded on this disc represent the culmination of a career of more than thirty years' dedicated to the preservation and furtherance of old time music in several genres. In sum, I think you will agree with me that with this forty-eight minute offering, Pop has once more outdistanced himself in the pursuit of recorded perfection.

The CD release concert for Pop Wagner's new recording "Spark of Life" will be  held Friday, June 7 at the Cedar Cultural Center. Sharing the bill with Pop will be Dakota Dave Hull, who will also be releasing a CD that night. - Bill Hinkley


"Pop Wagner & Bob Bovee"
"Disco on the Bayou"
"Forty A Month and Found"
"Spark of Life"



Pop’s got quite the reputation as a folk singer, lasso twirler, and downright funny guy. He appeared frequently on A Prairie Home Companion during the show’s formative years and for the last thirty years he has performed throughout forty-four states and a dozen foreign countries. His cowboy anthems crackle with the warmth of a prairie campfire and his old time fiddle tunes set toes a-tappin’ while he serves up spellbinding rope tricks and tall stories all with a good dose of friendly humor.