Louis Dotson Plays The One-String

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Pictured is farmer and musician Louis Dotson of Lorman, Mississippi, photographed by Bill Ferris in 1973, constructing a “one-string guitar” on the wall of his front porch. The traditional instrument, sometimes referred to as a “diddley-bow”, is made by stretching a single guitar string between two nails and played as a slide guitar with a bottle neck or other object used to adjust the pitch. Dotson is quoted extensively in Ferris’ new book, Give My Poor Hear Ease:

“My daddy used to play music. He used to play all the time. That’s how I learned to play the guitar. After he died, the other boys, they took the guitar. I couldn’t get another one. So I decided to put me up a wire. I just call it ‘part of a guitar.’ It’s a one-string guitar, but it sounds like it’s got six strings on it. …Nobody else around here can play it but me. People, they come and listen to me. They say they don’t see how I can do it.”

Listen to a clip of Louis Dotson play “Bottle Up and Go” on the front porch of his farm (complete with crowing rooster), from SFC field tape #FT-10105:

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Clip and photo from the William R. Ferris Collection.