Artists You Should Know: Roscoe Holcomb

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imgresI’m starting a new blog feature called “great artists you’ve never heard of”.  Although I’m pretty sure that an aficionado like Henry Rollins has heard of the singer in this first feature.

The artist in question is Appalachian mountain singer Roscoe Holcomb. He was born and spent most of his life (1912-1981) in the small town of Daisy, Kentucky.  I first heard him on a Smithsonian Folkways cd called The High Lonesome Sound.  I don’t particularly like “old timey” music, but on hearing him sing, I was transfixed.   Holcomb reminded me of sufi singers like the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Tuvan throat singers like Huun Huur Tu.  Holcomb sounds like them–he has that same edgy voice.  And there are times that he sounds almost bi-tonal, like Tuvan singers.


Holcomb also looks like William S. Burroughs’ country cousin.  He also reminds me Charlie Haden, who grew up in Ozark country,  Springfield, Missouri, playing and singing on the back of his family’s traveling flatbed truck.

The High Lonesome Sound, recorded in the 1960s, has many amazing songs such as “Omie Wise”, “Moonshiner”, and the amazing song, almost bi-tonal, a cappella song called “A Village Churchyard”  One writer said Holcomb’s voice could crack cement.  This song proves it.

Thanks to Smithsonian Folkways and artists like Pete Seeger—who recognized Holcomb’s genius and promoted him— we can enjoy the music of an obscure mountain singer who rarely left the mountains of Daisy, Kentucky.  We music lovers are decidedly better off for it. There was also a dvd documentary that came out in 2010:

Meanwhile,  you can watch him here on Pete Seeger’s TV show:

p.s.  There is a new cd just issued (Jan 2016) of Holcomb at the 1972 San Diego State Folk Festival, on the Tomkins Square Music label.