These days, all it takes to turn you into an old-time rambler is one unfortunate incident in San Francisco.
"I was 17 and living out on the west coast when I graduated high school, and someone stole my van," recalls Pokey LaFarge, crooner, wailer and singer/songwriter/namesake for the roots outfit, Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three. "So I started hitchhiking with my mandolin."
Farther on down the road, the Kentucky native found himself jumping out of moving cars to escape excessively "creepy" rides, busking in streets from city to city, and eventually finding his way into enough recording studios to put together three currently out-of-print solo albums. LaFarge also found himself a few traveling companions when he met the members of the South City Three playing on a street corner in Asheville, N.C.
Like most bizarre traits, LaFarge's anachronistic style and behavior runs in the family. He traces his love for all things rootsy back to his grandfather, a Civil War re-enactor. "He hunted pheasants with black powder and a musket," says LaFarge. "He got me turned onto that old-timey stuff. I was receptive to it. And then I heard the blues."
While LaFarge's solo material reflects his early delta blues influences, his latest release, Riverboat Soul, finds the South City Three delivering bouncy ragtime and jazz arrangements.
"With the blues, it's like 'hide the razor blades, down the whisky and blow your brains out' kind of music," admits LaFarge. "I like the happier and dancier style of the jazz stuff."
Even though LaFarge is shifting between old time roots styles and genres, he isn't about to let any trendy hipsters stake a claim on contemporary roots music.
"All these alt-country bands like the Avett Brothers, no offense, man, but they ain't a roots band just because they have a banjo and strum it like a guitar," LaFarge says. "That's what people consider roots music these days. People say they're paving the way, but they ain't paving nothing."
Watch the music video for the ragtimey "La La Blues," and you'll find Pokey and friends looking and sounding like they stepped out of a time machine, and right onto the stage.
"I like the way old clothes fit. I like the way old clothes look. I've been wearing these clothes since I was 13 or 14. I didn't like the way today's clothes looked on me. I feel nappy in that stuff.
"I don't feel like I'm in costume," he adds. "I'm wearing this stuff all the time."
LaFarge's latest release has caused European critics to become enamored with "the sheer joy" of his American roots sound. So why hasn't that success been matched on their home turf?
In Europe, says LaFarge, "the media isn't pounding down their throat this crappy American music we're getting over here. It's over-saturated with shite over here."
Even if he's fed up with American media, LaFarge isn't ready to give up on American musical traditions.
"America's not the best because we've got the most money, the most power, or whatever bullshit you want to say," says LaFarge. "But we've got the best music, man, that's a fact. The rest of the world really feels that. It's the honesty of the music."