Pokey LaFarge (born June 26, 1983 in Bloomington, Illinois) is an American musician and songwriter focusing on the American roots genre. As of 2016, he tours with a 6-piece band consisting of Joey Glynn (bass), Adam Hoskins (guitar), Ryan Koenig (harmonica, washboard, and snare drum), Luc Klein (trumpet), Alec Spiegelman (clarinet, saxophone) and Matthew Meyer (drums).
LaFarge was born Andrew Heissler in Bloomington, Illinois. It has been noted that 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 discovery of blues music.
In his early teens, while he was 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.
He adopted the name Pokey LaFarge later because it sounded like what he was looking for musically during the time he was moving around the country. After graduating from University 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.
During his solo years, LaFarge released two albums. Marmalade, a self released effort that came out in 2006. That same year he toured and played mandolin with The Hackensaw Boys. His second solo album, Beat, Move & Shake, was released in 2008 by Big Muddy Records.
In 2009, Pokey released Riverboat Soul, becoming the first record with The South City Three. Recorded 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 luminaries such as Earl Scruggs and 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 releasing their first album as a band, Pokey and The South City Three toured heavily in The United States and Europe, with highlight appearances at festivals such as the Big Chill Festival (U.K.), the Tønder Festival (Denmark), and the Newport Folk Festival (USA).
In 2011, the group released Middle Of Everywhere, which went on to win the Independent Music Award for Best Americana Album, LaFarge's second consecutive win. Additionally, the band also released Chittlin' Cookin' Time in Cheatham County with Third Man Records, produced by Jack White. Around the same time, White asked the band to collaborate on the song "I Guess I Should Go To Sleep" for White's 2012 release Blunderbuss. In conjunction with the release of Blunderbuss, LaFarge and The South City Three toured with Jack White throughout most of the summer and fall of 2012, opening for White's shows in The United States and Canada.
In the spring of 2013, Pokey LaFarge—now the official name of the band due to the addition of musicians T.J. Muller (Cornet,Trombone) and Chloe Feoranzo (Clarinet, Saxophone)—signed with Third Man Records and released a self-titled album Pokey LaFarge in June 2013 (produced by Pokey and Old Crow Medicine Show front man Ketch Secor). Throughout the summer, the band toured heavily promoting the new album, with notable highlight appearances at Bowery Ballroom (NY), The Birchmere (DC), and several major music festivals in Europe. In January 2014 the band played several shows in Bangalore, India. Pokey LaFarge went on to tour Australia and New Zealand in March 2014, including performances at notable festivals WOMAD, WOMADelaide, and Port Fairy Folk Festival.
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.
Pokey and the members of the South City Three played on "I Guess I Should Go To Sleep", a track from Jack White's album Blunderbuss released on April 24, 2012.
On September 23, 2012, LaFarge contributed to the soundtrack of HBO's Boardwalk Empire with his rendition of the famous pop standard "Lovesick Blues". The song was featured in the last scene and end credits of the episode "Spaghetti & Coffee"
LaFarge collaborated with JD McPherson on a rendition of country legend Bob Will's "Good Old Oklahoma", released on June 28, 2013. All of the proceeds from the track go to the Oklahoma City Community Fund's Tornado Relief endowment.
Pokey & The South City Three recorded Jack White's track "Red's Theater of The Absurd" which appeared in The Lone Ranger 's original score. The film was released on July 3, 2013 and the band made a brief appearance in the movie.
LaFarge and his group made an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman on July 16, 2013. They performed "Central Time" from his eponymous album.
LaFarge and the group made an appearance on the APM "live" radio broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion, with Garrison Keillor on October 5, 2013. They performed four selections, including "Central Time", "What The Rain Will Bring", "Garbage Man Blues" and "Close the Door".
Pokey LaFarge performed on The Late Late Show (RTE 1 Ireland) on September 13, 2013.
Pokey made a special solo appearance on the widely popular Dutch television program De Wereld Draait Door (DWDD) on February 15, 2014
The band made an appearance on Good Morning New Zealand on March 18, 2014
LaFarge appeared for a second time on A Prairie Home Companion on June 14, 2014 in St. Louis, MO. They performed "Riverboat Shuffle", "Bow Legged Woman", and "Central Time".
He and the band appeared and performed at the Cambridge Folk Festival UK on August 1, 2014
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.
Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show said
"Pokey's got a St. Louis thing going. His muse is the Mississippi; maybe that's what makes his songs run so deep and muddy, though it was on the Ohio that I first met him. With a Bardstown tune he stopped me dead in my tracks—just a kid back then, cutting his teeth on primitive blues, rust jazz, drunk swing – Lord! – what saintly patron brought Clifford Hayes back from the dead and sent him back to Carpet Alley to reclaim his crown? Well, all I can say for certain is nobody sings much like Jimmie Rodgers anymore and nobody crows, rakes, rips, yips, shouts, buzzes or croons quite like Pokey LaFarge either."
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 Madison's Isthmus newspaper in 2011.
Musicians that have influenced him include Howlin' Wolf, Jimmie Rodgers, Bill Monroe, Milton Brown and the Musical Brownies, Modern Mountaineers, Sleepy John Estes, Henry Townsend, Frank Fairfield, Fats Waller, Emmett Miller, and Willie Dixon.
Pokey LaFarge - lead vocals, guitar, guitjo
Adam Hoskins - guitar
Joey Glynn - upright bass
Ryan Koenig - harmonica, washboard, snare drum
Luc Klein - trumpet
Alec Spiegelman - clarinet, baritone & tenor saxophone
Matthew Meyer - drums