I put the show together because it's important to me, and Jesco is my friend. I think he deserves a chance for people to see him and see his talent for what it is.
If you go
› What: Snake Blood Medicine featuring Jesco White, “The Dancing Outlaw.”
› When: 9 p.m. Saturday, July 9.
› Where: Revelry Room 41 E. 14th St.
› Admission: $20.
› Phone: 423-521-2929.
› Venue website: revelry room.co.
› Artist website: facebook.com/SnakeBloodRemedy.
Whether you call it clogging, flatfoot, jigging or mountain tap, few people are as renowned as Jesco White for their skills in traditional Appalachian dancing.
Better known as "The Dancing Outlaw," White is the son of D. Ray White, a famed Appalachian buck dancer — yet another common name for the style — from whom he inherited his moves and his shoes. A native West Virginian, Jesco White became a cult celebrity in the pre-internet era through "The Dancing Outlaw," a documentary made in 1991 by the Public Broadcasting Service and passed from hand to hand via VHS tapes.
The documentary — and a 2011 follow-up, "Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia" — showcased many less than savory aspects of White's life but also created wider awareness of his "talking feet."
In the past, White has taken his show on the road to perform in concerts that gave equal billing to his dancing, singing, storytelling and "carrying on." On Saturday, July 9, he returns to Chattanooga for his first gig in five years with a performance alongside Florida-based country/old-time band Snake Blood Remedy, but this time, says lead singer J.D. Cook, fans will see him doing the one thing he does best.
"I'm singing, and we have the band going, and Jesco gets up there and just dances his [butt] off," he says. "That's what he's doing. He's just dancing."
Cook grew up outside Tifton, Ga., a town of about 16,000 located about 70 miles north of the Florida panhandle. He split his time in his teenage years between learning songs by Hank Williams and Johnny Cash and playing in metal and punk bands.
During a three-year tour in Iraq as an Army sniper, Cook took up the acoustic guitar and began writing songs on his down time. He returned to the states in 2007, moving to Jacksonville, Fla., a year later. In 2012, he formed Snake Blood Remedy, in which he performed original songs showcasing a hint of punk energy but heavily inspired by classic country singers and traditional old-time music.
Cook says he knew of White for years before he saw a Facebook event announcement last year inviting anyone willing to pay a $50 donation to attend the dancer's birthday party. Cook and two of his bandmates reserved their spots at the event, which was hosted at White's home in Leoma, Tenn., an unincorporated community in Lawrence County. They drove from Florida with their instruments in tow.
"We got up and played some tunes for it, and he really enjoyed it," Cook says. "From then on, we started tossing back and forth the idea of putting a show together where we play some more traditional music and have Jesco up there dancing kind of like what his daddy did."
After the party, Cook and White arranged to perform a trio of shows in Florida. Based on the response to those dates, during which White's dancing skills were placed front and center, Cook reprised their partnership for two more gigs in Chattanooga and Charlotte, N.C.
In the past, Cook says, people have gone to see White perform for the same reason the morbidly curious attend NASCAR races with fingers secretly crossed for a pile-up. This time, that won't be the case, he promises.
"Some people like the idea of him going crazy and being a wild man, but they don't understand what they're asking for when they ask for that," Cook says. "I put [this] show together because it's important to me, and Jesco is my friend. I think he deserves a chance for people to see him and see his talent for what it is."
Contact Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.