Dink Robert’s version of the song is quite different from the others in wonderful ways. Cece Conway has written extensively about Robert’s. In her book African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia, Conway writes that even though the other banjo players she worked with were “improvisational and exciting… And yet, I knew my work lay with Dink and the older sounds of the banjo.” Dink’s playing is fascinating in how he constructs melody and wonders off on tangents mid-song that seem both random and perfectly expected at the same time.

Instead of jumping into the rhythmic groove for the song, Roberts plays a short blues riff-based introduction before beginning the rhythmic part of the song as the others do with his unique variation on the “bird call” motive. His version of the motive takes the G-F aspect of the others and exaggerates. His version rocks back and forth from G to F# (others use F natural) over and over until finally breaking loose and making the characteristic descent to the lower strings. His playing at many points feels like a run on sentence, or like a record that skips and gets stuck on one or two notes before moving forward.

 

Background:

Cecelia Conway’s book African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia provides a wealth of detail about Dink Robert’s life and analysis of his playing. 

Lyrics for “Coo Coo” by Dink Roberts (from Cece Conway’s liner notes in Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia)

“Where[‘d] you get your brand new shoes/

clothes you wear so fine?”

Said, “I got my shoes from a railroad man/

And a dress from a  man in the [mine].”

Hey… ~~[banjo]~~[repeats verse 1, with banjo]

[Spoken] What say: ~~[banjo answers]~~

Say, “Who’s gonna/glove your hand?”/

Says, “Daddy’s gonna glove my hand.”

And, Who’s gonna kiss your red rosy cheeks?”/

And, “Mama’s gonna kiss my red rosy cheeks.”

And, “I sure don’t need no man.”

Said, “My horses [are] hungry / And, they sure won’t eat your hay.”

Said, “They’re knobbin on the corn / Tramplin down your hay.”

And, “They sure won’t eat your hay.”

–Repeat first verse–

Say, Who’s gonna do your lovin’ when I’m gone?”/

[spoken:] “I don’t know who’s gonna do it.”

 

Transcription of Dink Roberts’ banjo performance on Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia Click on the link to preview or purchase the song on the Folkways website. Note: I have done my best to transcribe the performance accurately, but of course I am sure there are errors!

Click here for an audio clip corresponding to measures 4-8 of the transcription.

Click here for the pdf version of the transcription.

 

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