The Old-Time Herald Volume 6, Number 5


Dock's Old Mastertone

by Don Mussell and Jack Wright

Did you ever hear the one that G.C. Kincer tells about his dad, Garnard, who kept Dock Bogg's banjo for many years? It was about 1931 or so. The way G.C. told it, Dock came over to Neon, Kentucky, and put his banjo in "hock" for $40 to old man Kincer in the days when Dock was first married. It seemed that Dock's wife didn't like the music or the folks it attracted. So Dock asked Garnard to keep it for him for a few weeks till he could "calm her down about it." The banjo was a beauty. I believe it was a 1928 arch-top Gibson Mastertone.

Dock retired from the coal mines in the early '60s and a few months before he was "discovered" by Mike Seeger, he made a call to the Kincer house, and talked to the old man. Garnard had kept and played the banjo the whole 30-plus years. He put the old Mastertone to good use. The instrument was now an integral part of the family entertainment. He frailed it when he sang to his children as they were growing up.

Dock asked if he might buy it back, and Garnard related that it would be fine, as this was how they had settled it would be, back when the deal was made. Dock was prepared to offer quite a bit of money to get the banjo back when he made the trip to Neon that afternoon.

Dock showed up on Garnard's porch. They sat and did some re-acquainting, as it had been as long as the original trade since they had seen one another. They traded some tunes, and caught up on some stories. When it was time to be going, Garnard told Dock that he needed to pay him back for the time he had kept the banjo . . . $40.

His son, G.C., said that Garnard insisted that a deal was a deal, and not a penny less, nor a penny more was the way they had shook on the transaction. Dock was thankful, to say the least, and overjoyed to get his banjo back. It seems a good lesson in old-time honesty.

G.C. and the other children cried when the old banjo left their home. It was one of the family. They knew there would be no more music. (By the way, when G.C. grew up, he bought a radio station.)

When Dock passed on, he willed that his good friend Mike Seeger should have his banjo but Sarah wanted cash. About a year after his passing, Mike bought the old Mastertone from Sarah. It can still be heard on occasion at a concert and on several of Mike's recordings.

The banjo was spotted recently in the only known existing film footage of Dock Boggs playing and singing. (see Molly Tenenbaum's review of Shady Grove: Old Time Music from North Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia Vestapol 13071, Old-Time Herald, vol. 6, no. 3.) Alan Lomax's crew filmed Dock while at Newport for the 1966 Newport Folk Festival. Mike Seeger recalls that the Lomax crew did not want him around. They filmed Dock at a studio away from the festival site. As a musicologist, Alan was "collecting" from Dock. In the film he sings three songs in a black and white, two camera set up. Dock sounds a little nervous but the old banjo rings.

Don Mussell is an old-time fiddler and is the Johnny Appleseed of community radio stations having founded many across the country including WMMT in Whitesburg, Kentucky. He is the chief consulting engineer of Broadcast Engineering Services of Bonny Doon and an avid "barefoot" hiker. He and his wife, radio producer, Rachel Anne Goodman live in the mountains near Santa Cruz, Ca. with their two children.

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