The Soundtrack of My Life: Dom Flemons

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Photo by Tim Duffy
Photo by Tim Duffy

A founding member of the Grammy award-winning African-American string band Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dom released his third solo album with Music Maker Relief Foundation in July 2014. Prospect Hill is his first record since leaving the band, and it includes a number of original songs as well as reconstructed forms of traditional, old-time folks music, including Piedmont blues, spirituals and ragtime. A native of Phoenix, Dom moved to Durham in 2005. “I was so moved by the music of North Carolina I had to pursue it further,” Dom says. “I had just finished college and had nothing to lose, so I sold my stuff and drove I-40 from Flagstaff to Durham. I took Route 66 backwards!” He told Associate Editor Amanda MacLaren about a few of his go-to listens, from old-school folk to Bob Dylan and reggae.

The Song That Makes Me Think Back to My Marching Band Days

I’ll have to give two answers. I started out playing drums, [and] I learned guitar during this period as well. I have one song for my drumming half –“Jim and John” by Ed and Lonnie Young, recorded by Alan Lomax – and one for my early guitar half – “Abandoned Love” by Bob Dylan.

The first time I heard fife and drum music from Mississippi, it set off an explosion in my brain. As I played bass drum in the marching band, I marveled at Lonnie’s powerful rhythm and the way it supported the melody of Ed’s … playing. I try to incorporate the fife and drum rhythm into my music whenever I can.

“Abandoned Love” was an outtake from Bob Dylan’s 1975 album, Desire. 1985’s Biograph was the first full retrospective of Dylan’s work and featured many great outtakes, including this one. I fell in love with the poetry and the structure of this song. I got a Dylan songbook out of the library, learned the song and performed it at the Willow House in Phoenix, which was the first place I ever played a paying gig. I knew a girl there and she and I began talking because of this particular song. One thing led to another, and I was sadly left heartbroken, but we said goodbye over the words to this same song.

The Song That Reminds Me of Growing Up in Arizona

There is a strong cowboy culture in the Southwest. The song “Uneasy Rider” [from Charlie Daniels’ Super Hits] starts out this album. My dad would play this CD in the car when we drove up to visit my grandparents in Flagstaff. I can think of the many times that my dad sang “Long Haired Country Boy” over and over again. I always liked “Uneasy Rider” because it is just the craziest talking blues I’ve ever heard. Not politically correct, of course, but when you’re a kid it’s just a silly song about a road trip gone wrong. When I met Charlie Daniels at the Grand Ole Opry a few years ago, my heart swelled with pride as I took a picture on my phone and [sent] it to my dad. Every time I hear that song it reminds of my folks back in Arizona.

My Guilty Pleasure Song

I have always loved Jimmy Cliff’s music, and “Ship Is Sailing” has constantly knocked me out. I’m not a huge reggae fan; I am more of a fan of early ska and rocksteady, which is why this particular track has my attention.

A guiltier pleasure [is] “Happy Pills” by Norah Jones. When the Carolina Chocolate Drops appeared on Later… with Jools Holland as guests of the Chieftains, I got to meet Jones and was just blown away by this song from Little Broken Hearts. This is not usually my type of hipster rock music but I like what Jones and Danger Mouse did on this record. The writing on “Happy Pills” is fantastic as well.

A North Carolina Musician Should Be Tuned In To

Since there is a new generation of people getting into folk and roots music coming along, I’ll mention the wonderful musician [the late] Elizabeth Cotten. A left-handed guitar player [from Carrboro, she] developed an intricate picking style playing the guitar upside-down. Although Cotten’s most well-known song is “Freight Train,” a song that is a standard for beginning folk guitarists, the first song I heard from her was “Oh Babe, It Ain’t No Lie.”

Ed. Note: This article first appeared in our October/November 2014 issue.


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Amanda MacLaren

Amanda MacLaren is the executive editor of Durham Magazine. Born in Mesa, Arizona, she grew up in Charlotte and attended UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in journalism. She’s lived in Durham for eight years. When she’s not at work, you can usually find her with a beer in hand at Fullsteam, Dain’s Place or Bull City Burger or getting takeout from Guasaca.

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