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West Virginia’s most eclectic string band

By Staff | Oct 28, 2008

1937 Flood bills itself as “West Virginia’s most eclectic string band.” It’s made up of some of the state’s most revered and important music personalities. One such bulwark, as well as one of the founding members, is rhythm guitarist and lead singer Charlie Bowen. Charlie was born in Charleston, moved to Ashland and then back east into Huntington. For more info, check out www.1937flood.com.

Graffiti: What are your latest projects?

Charlie Bowen: The big project for the Flood right now is finishing up our fifth CD, which will be called “Wade in the Water.” We’ve completed the basic recording, working with Bo Sweeney, who’s engineered it in his new studio in Huntington. Now we need to add and replace a few tracks here and there. Hope to have it out by the end of the year.

Graffiti: Do you come from a musical family?

Bowen: No, not really, though my late Aunt Katherine was a piano player and singer and I grew up hearing her sing and play on Tyler Mountain in Kanawha County when I was little. In fact, one of my earliest musical memories — long before I played anything — was watching as she played and sang “Tennessee Waltz,” my grandfather’s favorite song and watching the tears rolling down the old man’s cheeks. And I thought to myself, “Wow, if music can have that kind of effect on him — my grandpa was a giant, it seemed to me — I want to play music too!”

Graffiti: There seems to be a renewed interest in the real roots music of this country — not just older music — with bands. What do you attribute that to?

Bowen: I think there are a number of influences. iTunes and the whole mp3 phenomenon has allowed people to explore the “long tail” of lesser-known music. Lots of new Web sites, like pandora.com — as well as big, established ones like Amazon.com — specialize in pointing out things like, “If you liked that, you’ll probably like THIS too,” and directing listeners to lesser-known artists. There has been a revival in interests in artists as diverse as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Blind Alfred Reed, Chuck Berry and others just this way. People love to be the first in their group to “discover” someone and the Net helps feed that desire.

Also, I think today’s movies and TV shows are contributing to the rediscovery. I don’t know how many people have told me about finding “roots music” because of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” for instance.

Graffiti: You have a band member who owns a musical instrument store. That must make it terrific for you to play on quality stuff?

Bowen: Oh yes! Joe’s “Fret ‘n Fiddle” is known literally around the world — what a wonderful resource for us in the band.

Graffiti: Who are your musical influences?

Bowen: Lots. For starters, I’ve always loved jazz and I have MANY favorites, from the classics like Miles Davis and John Coltrane to new guys. I also love the early period, when jazz was just getting started and jugband music was in the streets of river towns like ours. Back in the ’60s, I listened a lot to the Kweskin Jug Band and the Even Dozen Jugband, and then later started exploring the people influenced them — Tampa Red and Georgia Tom, the Memphis Jug Band, Gus Cannon’s Jugband. I was folkie in the ’60s — listened to every word Bob Dylan ever recorded, loved Gordon Lightfoot and Ian and Sylvia, Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs. Later on, I really liked Ry Cooder, John Prine, and Steve Goodman. Later still, John Gorka and Bill Morrissey.

Graffiti: What are the biggest gigs you’ve played?

Bowen: The band has performed a number of times on the Delta Queen steamboat as she’s traveled up and down on the Ohio River. We’ve played at Snowshoe Resort, the State Fair in Lewisburg, Marlinton’s Road Kill Festival, Cranberry Glades and at Charleston’s FestivALL several times. We’ve played on radio shows in Charleston, Lexington, Morehead and Whitesburg, Ky. We also play every year at the breakfast session of the Coon-Sanders Nighthawks Reunion, an annual gathering of lovers of jazz of the 1920s and ’30s. One of our all-time favorite gigs was back in 2002, when we played at Harris Riverfront Park in Huntington as the special guests of the Huntington Symphony Orchestra, before several thousand people. It was a memorable night, since we actually got the orchestra members playing along with us on kazoos!

Contact Tamar at tfleishman@graffitiwv.com