Dom Flemons is the "American Songster," pulling from traditions of old-time folk music to create new sounds. Having performed music professionally since 2005, he has played live for over one million people just within the past three years. As part of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, which he co-founded with Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson, he has played at a variety of festivals spanning from the Newport Folk Festival to Bonnaroo, in addition to renowned venues such as the Grand Ole Opry.
Raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Dom’s involvement with music began by playing percussion in his high school band. After picking up the guitar and harmonica as a teenager, he began to play in local coffee houses and became a regular performer on the Arizona folk music scene. Dom wrote his own songs and produced 25 albums of singer-songwriters and slam poets in the Phoenix area, including six albums of his own, during this time. He took a brief break from playing music in order to pursue slam poetry (he majored in English at Northern Arizona University) and performed in two national poetry slams in 2002 and 2003. Aside from exploring slam poetry, he spent his early adulthood listening to records and discovering a love of folk music, blues, jazz, jug band music, country music and ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll. Dom became interested in folk musicians such as Phil Ochs, Dave Van Ronk and Mike Seeger, as well as musicians such as Mississippi John Hurt, Howlin’ Wolf, Hank Williams, Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins. After stepping away from the slam poetry scene, he rekindled his interest in music, this time focusing on the old-time blues music of the pre-WWII era.
A multi-instrumentalist, Dom plays banjo, guitar, harmonica, fife, bones, bass drum, snare drum and quills, in addition to singing. He says that he incorporates his background in percussion to his banjo playing. Dom’s banjo repertoire...
MORE ABOUT THIS ARTIST FEATURED ARTIST - JANUARY 2015
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Dom Flemons was my first live phone interview for The Banjo Reserve, uncharted waters and I have to admit I was a bit nervous. Since Dom was on the road he took the time to chat with me from his hotel room early one morning. Dom immediately made me feel comfortable, he has a great sense of humor and calmness, and was very kind to this novice Interviewer. Dom has an incredible depth of knowledgeable about the history of Banjo Music, Banjo Players, and his craft in general. He's published several articles and done many interviews on the subject. While Dom generously spent close to an hour speaking with me, much of his Banjo interests can be found on his website and his Facebook page.
ARTIST INTERVIEW — The Banjo Reserve interviewed Dom Flemons, here's what he had to say.
Q. WHERE WERE YOU BORN AND RAISED, AND WHERE DO YOU CALL HOME NOW?
A. I grew up in Phoenix, AZ, after college I spent several years in New York City before moving to Hillsborough, NC where I currently live. Hillsborough is close to Chapel Hill, NC, my most recent album is named after an area in Chapel Hill called Prospect Hill.
Q. AT WHAT POINT DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN BANJO?
A. My second year in college, a friend let me borrow his 5-string guitar which was missing the 5th string. I learned on rock songs, jazz, and more. He eventually took the banjo back :-)
Q. WHAT BANJO STYLES DO YOU PLAY, AND WHICH DO YOU ENJOY MOST?
A. I can play several styles, clawhammer, three-finger, but I mostly play tenor. I enjoy frailing and finger-picking as well.
Q. HOW DID YOU LEARN BANJO?
A. I was self-taught, listening to records and all types of music. I learned so much more when I moved South, spending time with and learning from the older Southern musicians. The Music Maker Relief Foundation helped me advance as a musician, developing newer styles, regional styles.
Q. DURING THE EARLY STAGES OF LEARNING TO PLAY THE BANJO, WHAT DID YOU FIND MOST CHALLENGING?
A. Learning Old-Time style is very specific, hard to learn. I made up my own style early on, but found that the South had standards and rules.
Q. IS THERE A SPECIFIC BANJO PLAYER(S) THAT HAVE INFLUENCED YOU THE MOST?
A. There are so many...Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, Earl Scruggs, Papa Charlie, Dock Boggs, Taj Mahal., Clarence Ashley, Mason Frazier, Hobart Smith, Jimmy Struther, Sydney Stripling, Joe and Adelle Thompson, to mention just a few.
Q. WHAT SONGS DO YOU ENJOY PLAYING THE MOST ON YOUR BANJO?
A. Gus Cannon was a great influence for me, I enjoy playing a song by him "My Money Never Runs Out". I also enjoy the complex finger picking of "Can you Blame The Colored Man".
Q. WHAT VENUE(S) DO YOU ENJOY PLAYING THE MOST?
A. Studio sessions, and performance venues that allow people to get up and move, or sit down and do nothing but listen.
Q. WHAT GENRE(S) ARE YOU MOST ASSOCIATED WITH?
A. I'm probably mostly associated with the Old-Time genre, but I include a variety of music on my albums and in my shows that cross other genres.
Q. DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE BANJO?
A. A 6-String Banjo that I use in my performances today was given to me by Mike Seeger.
Q. WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE BANDS?
A. Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers, Uncle Dave Mason, and many more.
Q. BASED ON YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCES AS A BANJO PLAYER, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR BEGINNERS?
A. What ever you are trying to learn, learn it right, and modify it later.
If you are interested in an album that grabs your attention, each song completely different from the other, I highly recommend his new album "Prospect Hill". Admittedly, I have not seen a live Dom Flemons performance, but I know that it will be a highly entertaining experience that I will not miss when he is back in Durham, NC.