TIFTON — Sam Wheelock performed a free concert at the Tift County Public Library on May 23.
The term “mountain music” brings with it images of banjos and twangy vocals from bearded men on a front porch in the twilight.
Sam Wheelock may have the beard, but nothing else about him or his music is typical “Appalachian.”
His songs are rooted in the mountains of East Tennessee, where he was born and learned to play and sing, but he infuses his music with blues, jazz, folk, early rock and country.
“It's a blended heritage with a story that has deep roots and far reaching branches,” according to Wheelock.
Some of the songs performed were “I’ll Twine Mid the Ringlets,” which was performed by the Carter Family and Stick McGhee’s “Drinkin’ Wine Sop-Dee-O.”
The first song he performed, “Sixteen Tons,” written by Merle Travis about life as a coal miner, was a prime example of how Wheelock takes folk songs and updates them.
On the first play through, he performed the song on an acoustic guitar, and sang the chorus like a lament: “You load sixteen tons, what do you get?/Another day older and deeper in debt/Saint Peter don’t you call me ‘cause I can’t go/I owe my soul to the company store.”
On the next play through, he moved to an electric guitar with electronic percussion and performed the song in a more rock-a-billy style that got toes tapping and hands clapping.
Throughout the performance he told jokes and got the audience to participate by singing along or clapping, and interspersed informative history lessons about the songs and music styles with the performance.