A resource and bibliography of Hunter S. Thompson's Work By Marty Flynn
In December 1961 Hunter Thompson wrote this article for Rogue magazine, shortly after writing Burial at Sea for the same magazine. It was turned down by Rogue. It appears in The Proud Highway. The Picture above is of the Greenbriar Boys (mentioned in the article) with Bob Dylan, also in the picture, Ralph Rinzler and John herald.
New York City. The Scene is Greenwich Village, a long dimly lit bar called Folk City, just east of Washington Square Park. The customers are the usual mixture, students in sneakers and button-down shirts, overdressed tourists in for the weekend, “nine to five types” with dark suits and chic dates, and a scattering of sullen looking “beatnics”. A normal Saturday night in the Village, two parts boredom, one part local color, and one part anticipation.
This is the way it was at ten-thirty. The only noise was the hum of conversation and the sparodic clang of the cash register. Most people approach the Village with the feeling that “things are happening here.” If you hit a dead spot, you move on as quickly as you can. Because things are happening–somewhere. Maybe just around the corner.
I’ve been here often enough to know better, but folk city was so dead that even a change of scenery would have been exciting. So I was just about ready to move on when things began happening. What appeared on the tiny bandstand at that moment was one of the strangest sights I’ve ever witnessed in the Village. Three men in farmer’s garb, grinning, tuning their instruments, while a suave MC introduced them as “the Greenbriar Boys” straight from the Grand Ole Opry.”
Gad, I thought. What a hideous joke! It was strange then, but moments later it was down right eerie. These three grinning men, this weird, country looking trio, stood square in the heartland of the “avant garde” and burst into a nasal, twanging rendition of, “We need a whole lot more of Jesus, and a lot less rock-n-roll”
I was dumbfounded, and could hardly believe my ears when the crowd cheered mightily, and the Greenbriar boys responded with an Earl Scruggs arrangement of “Home Sweet Home.” The tourists smiled happily, the “bohemian” element uniformly decked out in sunglasses, long striped shirts and Levis- kept time by thumping on the tables, and a man next to me grabbed my arm and shouted: “What the hell’s going on here? I thought this was an Irish bar!” I muttered a confused reply, but my voice was lost in the uproar of the next song–a howling version of “Good Ole Mountain Dew” that brought a thunderous ovation.
Here in New York they call it “Bluegrass Music” but the link-if any-to the Bluegrass region of Kentucky is vague indeed. Anybody from the South will recognise the same old hoot-n-hollar, country jamboree product that put Roy Acuff in the 90-percent bracket. A little slicker, perhaps; a more sophisticated choice of songs; but in essence, nothing more or less than “good old-fashioned” hillbilly music. The performance was neither a joke nor a spoof. Not a conscious one, anyway-although there may be some irony in the fact that a large segment of the Greenwich Village population is made up of people who have “liberated themselves” from rural towns of the South and Midwest, where hillbilly music is as common as meat and potatoes.
As it turned out, the Greenbriar Boys hadn’t exactly come “straight from the Grand Ole Opry.” As a matter of fact, they came straight from Queens and New jersey, where small bands of country music connoisseurs have apparently been thriving for years. Although there have been several country music concerts in New York , this is the first time a group of hillbilly singers have been booked into a recognised night club.
Later in the evening, the Greenbriar Boys were joined by a fiddler named Irv Weissberg. The addition of a fiddle gave the music a sound that was almost authentic, it would have taken a real aficionado to turn up his nose and speak nostalgically of Hank Williams. With the fiddle taking the lead, the fraudulent farmers set off on “Orange Blossom Special,” then changed the pace with “Sweet Cocaine”– dedicated, said one “to any junkies in the audience.” It was this sort of thing-hip talkwith a molasses accent–that gave the Greenbriar Boys a distinctly un-hillbilly flavour. And when they did a sick little ditty called , “Happy Landings, Amelia Earhart,” there was a distinct odour of Lenny Bruce in the room.
In light of the current renaissance in Folk Music, the appearance of the Greenbriar Boys in Greenwich Village is not really a surprise. The “avant garde” is taste. They had Brubeck and Kentona long time ago, but dropped that when the campus crowd took it up. The squares adopted Flamenco in a hurry, and folk peration, the avant garde is digging hillbilly. The Village is dedicated to “new sounds,” and todays experiment is very often tomorrow’s big name. One of the best examples is Harry Belafonte, who sold hambugers in a little place near Sheridan Square until he got a chance to sing at the village Vanguard.
Belafonte, however was a genuine “new sound.” If you wanted to hear him , there was only one place to go. And if you weren’t there, you simply missed the boat.
With the Greenbriar boys, it’s not exactly the same. I thought about this as I watched them. Here I was, at a “night spot” in one of the world’s most cultured cities, paying close to a dollar for each beer, surrounded by apparently intelligent people who seemed enthralled by each thump and twang of the banjo string–and we were all watching a performance that I could almost certainly see in any roadhouse in rural Kentucky on any given Saturday night. As Pogo once said–back in the days when mossback editors were dropping Walt Kelly like a hot pink potato–”it gives a man paws.”