Carolina Chocolate Drops
Members: Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson
Who we talked to: Flemons
Where are you calling from? You're catching us in transit from Columbia, Mo., heading to Minneapolis.
Have you seen any acts you really liked while on tour? We just did our first gig in a couple of weeks (Aug. 25). There has been some great stuff along the way as we've been touring the past summer. We got to see Trombone Shorty. We got to see a great band called the March Fourth Marching Band. We got to meet Solomon Burke when we were recently out in Norway.
Are you familiar with bluegrass musician Del McCoury? Yes. (I've) definitely sat and chatted with Del a couple different times.
You'll be visiting his old stomping grounds when you're in York. I didn't know that. That's a funny thing. The bluegrass in the Northeast is an interesting part of American popular culture. It's like this really interesting little pocket that is still very vibrant.
Do you try to educate audiences about string band music and its roots? Absolutely. Those are definitely pieces of the show. We'll say where we've gotten our tunes from. There might be bigger anecdotes here and there . . . so that people can have a nice little footnote, and when they hear the tune, that will enhance the tune in some way. We're just trying to spread the word and create awareness.
What else can people expect from your live show? They can definitely expect a good time. Hopefully, the folks . . . might want to get up and dance, because we do a lot of good dance music. Expect some good songs and some good playing.
You got to play with Joe Thompson. What was that like? (He) is the 91-year-old black fiddler who we learned a lot of material from. He's been playing since he was a very young boy. We got to meet him at The Black Banjo Gathering in 2005. Some of the tunes that he plays are very unique . . . to his part of the state of North Carolina. (We) played at his house in a very casual setting and just learned some of the music that way. That is not something that you always get a chance to do.
And then you got to work with Joe Henry, who produced your new album, "Genuine Negro Jig." I was aware of some of the albums he's done on his own as well as some of the ones he's produced with Solomon Burke and Bettye LaVette. We didn't really have all that much time . . . before starting on tour and Rhiannon was really pregnant at that time. (Taylor) guaranteed that we would be able to have the album finished in nine days. It's not rocket science to get this acoustic music down. It's a matter of finding the right people who know what's it's supposed to sound like.
You have a pretty extensive record collection. When did you start your collection? I started collecting LPs when I was about 16. That was before I had a record player. I just really liked the size of the cover. The first record I ever bought was a re-issue of "40 oz. to Freedom" by Sublime. I didn't quite understand how a turntable worked. All my parents would say was . . . "Get an amp." In the CD player generation an amp isn't . . . something you have any context for. I had a guitar amp and a bass amp, so I hooked those up to the record player. Everywhere I went I'd look for records and try to find something new. At first, I looked for a lot of '60s rock and folk music, and now, I have a lot of field recordings and a lot of old-time stuff. I'd probably have about 5,000 (LPs).
What are you guys planning for after your tour? Oh, man. We've got a break. Next fall, we have a vaudeville show we're starting to work on that's going to go on in Chicago. Something that's happened early on in the group is that a lot of the goals that we set originally got fulfilled. We're probably going to have to sit down again and try to find some very concrete goals . . . so we can know where we're going.
How did you guys come up with the name? The thing that got us to take that name (is) a movie that just cam out on DVD. The movie is called "Louie Bluie." It's about a black string band fiddler and mandolin player named Howard Armstrong. He was in a group called the Tennessee Chocolate Drops with his brothers very early on. We happened to get a (copy of the movie) from a friend . . . and that was how we started calling ourselves the Carolina Chocolate Drops, just based off of Rhiannon and Justin both being from North Carolina.
- ERIN McCRACKEN, FLIPSIDE STAFF
If you go
Carolina Chocolate Drops perform a CapLive concert Wednesday. York act Waitin On A Train will open the show. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $20. For details and tickets, visit www.caplivemusic.com.
On the Web
For details about Carolina Chocolate Drops, visit www.carolinachocolatedrops.com.
To listen to the interview, visit www.flipsidepa.com.
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