Of the many roots musicians traveling the world and spreading the early American music tradition, Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three are the next in line to make a significant impact on music enthusiasts everywhere. From St. Louis, Missouri, their creative mix of early jazz, string ragtime, country blues and western swing rings true and fine, making them among the most innovative of all the purists performing American roots music today. It’s wonderfully infectious, and all laid down in front of a big, big swingin’ beat. A lot of performers are content to play old material, reworking the tunes to give them new life or to stamp them with personal style. But this group, led by guitar-plucking troubadour Pokey LaFarge, achieves timelessness with original songs while honoring the legendary artists of yesterday through covered tunes. Accompanied by The South City Three, Pokey uses his booming voice as an instrument with an incredible range; one moment he shouts a line and the next he croons above his parlor guitar. Pokey’s extraordinary blend of raw talent and refined, idiosyncratic charm turns reviewers into poets as they attempt to label his one-of-a-kind sound.
Born in the heartland of America, Pokey has been hitching through the countryside and whisking off to faraway lands ever since he was a teenager. He is a perpetual traveler, constantly in motion while drawing musical inspiration from the heroes and misfits of yesterday, the long lost troubadours of country, the kings of swamp-drenched ragtime and all the legendary bluesmen of the Cotton Kingdom. Sharing that inspiration has been a mission of sorts for Pokey, making sure that people remember there’s more to music than just the sounds that manufactured pop stars are making today. Pokey is out to help listeners and live audiences rediscover an earlier time in America by bringing forth his special mix of music, featuring such acoustic instruments as the parlor guitar, guitjo, double bass, kazoo and harmonica. His sounds are truly original and modern, yet Pokey’s influences are apparent, as tinges of Blind Boy Fuller, Bob Wills and Jimmie Rodgers are easily recognizable.
Pokey has swiftly gained a large legion of fans ever since he self-released his debut album Marmalade back in 2007. Shortly after the album came out, he landed a main-stage slot at top annual roots music bash Pickathon in Portland, Oregon, where he was widely regarded as one of the standout acts of the event. In 2008, Pokey released his follow-up solo album, Beat, Move & Shake, with St. Louis-based label Big Muddy Records.
In 2009, Pokey began working with The South City Three, a trio made up of fellow St. Louis musicians Joey Glynn, Adam Hoskins and Ryan Koenig. With Glynn swinging and walking the upright bass, Hoskins displaying great versatility on his archtop guitar and Koenig getting down on harmonica, washboard and snare drum, Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three found a sweet spot. In 2009, Pokey and his crew hit the road and began to tour at a mind-spinning pace, quickly winning over crowds throughout America and Europe, making waves at such high profile festivals such as the Big Chill Festival (U.K.), the Tonder Festival (Denmark) and, most notably, the 2010 Newport Folk Music Festival (USA), where SPIN magazine called Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three “Best Discovery” and Bob Boilen of NPR called their performance “simply charming.”
In 2010, Pokey joined the South City Three on his third release, Riverboat Soul, with Takoma Park, Maryland-based label Free Dirt Records. The recording quickly took the American roots music scene by storm, reaching the top 5 in the Freeform American Roots Chart (FAR) and the top 10 in the Americana U.K. chart, while receiving critical acclaim by a host of influential music journalists. Terry Nolan of No Depression magazine may have described Pokey and his album best, as he mused that the songster “could be the birth of the next Bill Monroe creating such a fine mix of ragtime, jugband, blues, folk and country, he has found his own genre. For now, he’s solidly in the contemporary Americana genre, only because the music is hard to categorize. And I think Pokey LaFarge prefers it that way. Catch him on record and live before he leaves us all in his dust.”
Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three have no plans of stopping their mission of spreading the joy of early American music to the masses, exemplary in the accomplishments of their most successful year to date. 2011 has brought a new vinyl single release with Third Man Records (produced by Jack White), as well the critically acclaimed, full length album Middle of Everywhere, released in July. The group has continued to received praise from NPR Music, having the honor of recording for the popular NPR video series Tiny Desk Concert, all while playing nearly 200 live shows across the country, including a second appearance at the renowned Newport Folk Festival and a first time performance at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee.
To cap off their successful year, Pokey Lafarge and the South City Three rang in 2012 while appearing alongside such musical forces as Cyndi Lauper, James Morrison and Aloe Blaac on the annual BBC Two New Year’s Eve special Hootenanny, hosted by legendary U.K. musician and television personality Jools Holland. With another European tour in the works this Spring, and plans for a North American tour of music festivals this Summer and Fall, 2012 is sure to be another huge year for the group. Look for Pokey and his crew to continue their rise as premier tradition-bearers, musicians, songwriters and entertainers.