Tox Tunes #22: Old Rub Alcohol Blues (Dock Boggs)

June 13, 2010, 5:46 pm

If wine and women don’t kill me,
There’s one more plan to find;
Soak up the old rub alcohol,
Ease all troubles off my mind.

“Dock Boggs  . . . sounds as if his bones are coming through his skin every time he opens his mouth” Greil Marcus – The Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes

Dock Boggs (1898 – 1971) went to work in the mines of Virginia and Kentucky when he was 12 years old, and despite attempts to escape from that life into a musical career in the 1920s remained in the mines until mechanization threw him out of work in the 1950s.  He was rediscovered by Harry Smith and Mike Seeger during the folk music revival in the 1950s and 1960s. He enjoyed a second career on the folk circuit until his death in 1971.

“Old Rub Alcohol Blues” was recorded in 1929 for the Chicago label Lonesome Ace.  Shortly thereafter, the company went out of business and the Great Depression destroyed much of the market for recorded music.

The lyrics may be difficult to understand on this clip.  They are reproduced here.

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