I met Louis and Addie Mae Dotson in the late sixties while doing field recordings near Lorman. The Dotsons lived on a hill at the end of a dirt road a mile to the east of Highway 61. A vegetable garden and peach trees provided much of their food. They bought staples like coffee, sugar, salt, and pepper at the Brassfield country store a mile south of their home. The store was also a place to socialize with neighbors as they sat on benches in the front, watching passing traffic and exchanging news.
Louis Dotson introduced me to the one-strand guitar that he learned to play as a child. He showed me how he unwound the wire from a broom handle and attached it to the front wall of his home. He plucked the wire with a metal object while he slid a small bottle up and down to change its pitch.
Dotson’s one-strand guitar is related to African one-strand instruments and is an important reminder of how African musical roots survive in the American South. Because it was easily accessible and cost nothing, many blues artists—including B. B. King—played the one-strand guitar as a child. The instrument influenced the bottleneck guitar style popularized by blues performers Elmore James and “Mississippi” Fred McDowell. Today, the bottleneck style is used by musicians like Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, and Keith Richards. The one-strand instrument was sometimes called the diddley bow.
Louis Dotson also showed me how he “blew the bottle.” Using either a small Dr. Tichenor’s Antiseptic bottle or a larger Coca-Cola bottle, he changed his pitch by adding water to the bottle. Sometimes called “whooping the bottle,” the tradition inspired jug bands that were popular in Memphis and other parts of the South in the early twentieth century. When Dotson blew the