Pokey LaFarge is an American musician and songwriter focusing on the American roots genre. In 2009 LaFarge founded the group Pokey LaFarge & the South City Three when a group of three musicians joined him: Joey Glynn (bass), Adam Hoskins (guitar) and Ryan Koenig (harmonica, washboard, and snare). The group is based in St. Louis, Missouri. I photographed them on AUgust 8, 2012 in Morrison Colorado at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
LaFarge was born in Bloomington, Illinois. He later moved to St. Louis, Missouri. The nickname “Pokey” was coined by his mother, who would scold him to hurry when he was a child.
LaFarge took an interest in history and literature during his childhood, and was greatly influenced by his grandfathers. One was a member of the St. Louis Banjo Club, who gave Pokey his first guitar and tenor banjo. The other, an amateur historian, taught LaFarge about the American Civil War and World War II.
LaFarge always wanted to be a writer, and had a keen interest in American literature. He enjoyed the writings of John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, and Jack Kerouac. As a teenager, LaFarge combined his appreciation for history and writing with his new discovery of blues music.
During his early teens while living in Normal, Illinois, LaFarge first heard blues in a local pizza parlor run by a man named Juice who played artists like Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. He soon discovered an appreciation for older blues artists, like Skip James, Robert Wilkins, and Sleepy John Estes. After hearing Bill Monroe at age 16, Pokey traded the guitar his grandfather had given him for a mandolin.
After graduating from high school in 2001, LaFarge hitchhiked to the West Coast at age 17, where he earned a living playing music on the sidewalks, streets and pedestrian malls. He continued hitchhiking through the United States, and met Ryan Koenig and Joey Glynn of the St. Louis band The Rum Drum Ramblers while he was playing on a street in Asheville, North Carolina. Adam Hoskins joined Glynn and Koenig to form the South City Three. The band joined LaFarge in 2009.
Pokey self-released his first record Marmalade in 2006; the same year he toured as mandolin player with The Hackensaw Boys. His second solo album, “Beat, Move & Shake,” was released in 2008 by Big Muddy Records. In 2009, Pokey LaFarge & the South City Three began touring across the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.
Pokey recorded “Riverboat Soul”, which was the first record with his band “The South City Three” in July 2009 at the Nashville Studio (pH Balanced Recordings) of Producer/Engineer Phil Harris. The album was recorded over a 3 day period using many vintage instruments and microphones, including a pair of Neumann U87′s used by everyone from Earl Scruggs to Doc Watson. The album was mixed and mastered to tape by Phil Harris and was released in Spring 2010 by Free Dirt Records. “Riverboat Soul” won the Independent Music Award for Best Americana Album of 2010, in addition to several regional and international awards for album of the year.
In 2011, the group released Chittlin’ Cookin’ Time in Cheatham County with Third Man Records, produced by Jack White, and their second album Middle of Everywhere with Free Dirt Records.
Pokey LaFarge & the South City Three have appeared at the Big Chill Festival (U.K.), the Tønder Festival (Denmark), and the Newport Folk Festival (USA).
The group opened for The Raconteurs at Ryman Auditorium on September 15, 2011.
The group joined the Old Crow Medicine Show tour supporting their new album Carry Me Back (with The Lumineers) August 19, 2012 at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The group was featured by NPR on the Tiny Desk Concert series in 2011.
LaFarge wrote a song for the soundtrack of Brick By Chance and Fortune, a documentary directed by friend of the band Bill Streeter, released in 2011.
On New Year’s Eve 2012 the group appeared on the UK BBC2 Jools Holland’s Hootenanny television show.
The group played on “I Guess I Should Go to Sleep” a song from the album Blunderbuss by Jack White that was released on April 24, 2012.
 Musical Style
The group is thought to be “artfully dodgy ambassadors for old-time music, presenting and representing the glories of hot swing, early jazz and ragtime blues” who have “made riverboat chic cool again.” Stephen Thompson of NPR says of LaFarge’s . .
“. . music evokes the old-timey spirit of a thousand crackling 78 RPM records . . and even when you encounter him face to face, he seems to gaze at you out of a dusty archival photo . . Maybe the effect wouldn’t be so jarring if LaFarge’s music felt inauthentic in some unsettling way . . But his albums never feel like cheap exercises in nostalgia, in part because LaFarge directs his old-fashioned sensibilities in the service of sharp, infectious new material. It feels strange to listen to his work on a CD . . but his songs aren’t stiffly posed wax-museum sculptures . . Their energy makes them feel new and alive.
At the release of Middle of Everywhere he said:
” . . LaFarge and his band The South City Three tear through the sounds of the past with manically skittish energy: Even the longest and slowest songs here, like “Coffee Pot Blues” and the four-and-a-half-minute ballad “River Rock Bottom,” have a way of angrying up the blood. The rest sizzles and crackles along with speedier verve and style — as archaic as a megaphone crooner, but timeless like great bluegrass. It’s anachronistic to call Pokey LaFarge rock ‘n’ roll, but he belongs on that stage, too.
His acoustic music uses the guitar, guitjo, bass, kazoo, tenor banjo, washboard, snare drum, cornet, trombone, piano, lap steel guitar, fiddle, upright bass, and harmonica.
His repertoire consists of a mix of Americana, early jazz, ragtime for string instruments, country blues, Western swing, Vaudeville, and Appalachian folk.
“American music is the tops: People respond to it all over the world because it’s expressive and powerful,” LaFarge told the Ismthus Daily Page in 2011.
Musicians that have influenced him include Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmie Rodgers, Bill Monroe, Milton Brown and the Musical Brownies, Emmett Miller, and Willie Dixon.
2006: Marmalade (self-released)
2008: Beat, Move, and Shake (Big Muddy Records)
2009: Face a Frowning World: An E.C. Ball Memorial Album (Track: “Poor Old Country Lad”)
2009: The White Belt (with Joe Manning) (Karate Body Records)
2010: Riverboat Soul (Free Dirt Records)
2011: Chittlin’ Cookin’ Time in Cheatham County (Third Man Records)
2011: Middle of Everywhere (Free Dirt Records)