In 2011, the Carolina Chocolate Drops—a traditional string band out of North Carolina – won a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album for their first full-length effort, titled Genuine Negro Jig. The group will play a live set on WTJU-FM at 1pm on Tuesday, January 31 in advance of their full-length show at the Jefferson Theater, set for 7pm. Founding member Dom Flemmons talked to C-VILLE about the band’s growth.
Dom Flemmons (left) and the rest of the Carolina Chocolate Drops will be at The Jefferson Theater Tuesday, January 31. (Photo courtesy Crackerfarm)
The band appeared with Dave Matthews at one point. He’s one of our native sons. Any good stories from the tour you can share?
We did a single date with the Dave Matthews Caravan. We did get to meet him briefly and he was very enthusiastic about our music and said ‘let’s do some stuff together’, so we’re trying to figure out some dates with him this year. Both of our act are based within roots music of one form or another. Taking that form and trying to push it a bit farther.
You got radio play with the cover of “Hit ‘em up Style”. Were you ever worried about being kind of a one-hit-wonder string band?
Being a one-hit wonder is a tricky spot to be in. It’s not terrible. If you’ve got your one hit, at least people know about you. We’re hoping we’ll continue to produce great music that people are interested in and maybe have another hit on the radio at some point. You just try to make the best music you can.
You’re playing music in a style that’s been around for a long time. How do you keep it fresh?
It’s all a personal journey that you go on when you’re playing this stuff. For us, it’s not a matter of freshness. A song could be 500 years old and still be fresh. The audience feeds off of what they feel from the performer. They can see the joy you have performing it.
You’ve been able to travel the world because of your music. Which places have blown your mind?
Europe in general has blown my mind. One of my favorite places that we’ve been a couple of times is the south of France, particularly Montpellier. You have French and Spanish and Moroccan culture interweaved in that part of the world. The architecture, food and culture is just absolutely beautiful.
You play bones and jugs and other seldom-seen instruments. How did you learn the skills you needed to play them?
It was a gradual process. With the jug in particular, I just got curious from seeing it on TV on the Andy Griffith Show. I started looking at the Memphis Jug Band and others and that gave me the confidence to approach it like a real instrument that you could make real music with, like Bach and Charles Mingus. I brought it to the band and we started duing tunes like Georgie Buck and Ol’ Corn Likker and those one-chord riffs that could fit within the string-band vocabulary.
In 2006, a lady gave me a set of bones and told me I should learn because it was part of the tradition. I embraced that. A fella by the name of Mike Baytop in DC showed me how to conceptualize the bones in any type of music, because it’s all just rhythm.
Practitioners of folk music are not rock stars. They’re teachers at universities, or musicians in their own communities and you can find them, especially with the internet. You can reach out, email them and let them know you’re interested in learning. They’re more than happy to share.
The new album Leaving Eden hits February 28. Will we get a preview of some of the tunes at the Jefferson?
We’ll definitely have some stuff from the new album. I’m not sure exactly what yet, because we change the set around at each show based on what we’re feeling from the audience. We’ve got a slightly different kind of jazz tune in there with “No Man’s Mama”, we’ve got a South African piece in there, I’ll be singing a great old-time number “I Truly Understand”, a minstrel medley that has double bones on it, and lots of other stuff we’ve learned. We’ve definitely got all the elements that we started to touch upon in Genuine Negro Jig and we’ve taken them a little bit farther.