Friday, September 2, 2011

“I Truly Understand”

Welcome to another Banjo Friday!

Today’s post is a bit of a follow-up to last week’s, which featured the (more-or-less) original Carolina Chocolate Drops line-up covering the great old-time tune, “Georgie Buck.”  As fans of the Chocolate Drops know, fiddler/vocalist/jug blower/beatboxer/occasional banjoist Justin Robinson left the band earlier this year, & in his stead multi-instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins & beatboxer/percussionist Adam Matta stepped in. 

I’ve been curious about the new line-up.  From what I’d read about Jenkins, his inclusion made sense; he’s a strong singer & a talented performer on everything from guitar & banjo to mandolin & bones!  I was less sure about Matta, & in all honesty, I’d felt pretty lukewarm about the EP the Chocolate Drops recorded with Sxip Shirey’s Luminescenti Orchestra—& wondered if the band was taking a significant step away from old-time string band music.

Recently I’ve come across a number of YouTube videos featuring the new line-up & I’m really happy to hear that the new Carolina Chocolate Drops are still doing their same great mix of string band/jug band/ragtime/medicine show & more.  Once you hear Matta as a percussionist & beatboxer in the mix, his inclusion makes perfect sense.  Jenkins, meanwhile, is a real force, as you will hear in the video below, which features his singing & clawhammer banjo playing.

“I Truly Understand” was originally recorded in 1928 for Victor Records by one George (Shortbuckle) Roark, backed by his family.  In fact, Roark also played clawhammer style banjo on the record. 

Dom Flemons is playing an interesting instrument in the Carolina Chocolate Drops version, & I wanted to write just a little about that.  This “panpipe” is known as “the quills.”  These were used by African-American slaves in North America at least since the early 19th century.  The best-known example of the quills in recorded music is probably Henry Thomas’ great song “Fishing Blues,” which is the final track on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.  Thomas recorded a total of nine songs featuring the quills; another favorite of mine is his “Bull Doze Blues.”  Thomas was born in 1874, & thus is one of the oldest blues songsters who recorded in the 1920s; many have speculated that his playing style pre-dates the full-blown development of the blues as we know it.

Hope you enjoy this great tune!


  1. Cool! I'd always wondered what "quills" were when I saw them in articles on the time. I wonder if the harmonica took their place in the music?

  2. Hi Roy: Thanks! Yes, the quills are fascinating. Certainly the harmonica & to some extent the kazoo were instruments that could be put in a rack to add melody, & both were used much more in blues than the quills.

  3. Great clip, John. Really enjoyed it.

  4. Hi Martin: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed this.


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