Roy Burke got serious about his photography in 1983, took a class, and learned that art and its equipment with the same devotion and obsession he brought to music, fluid mechanics, wildflowers, watersheds and rural roads. Shooting film at his peak, Doctor Flowers would return from his annual Spring trip along the Eastern Blue Ridge with hundreds and hundreds of slides to go through. But everyone has to start somewhere, and the rose picture above, taken in Dekalb County in 1983, was digitally archived by him years later as Dekalb Co GA Rose first picture. He considered it his first ‘real’ photo. There were thousands more to come. The double exposure self portrait below was shot from the same roll of slide film.
One key to a successful backroads run with Doc was the right food and refreshments. Mixed nuts, chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, dried apricots(for gas), M&Ms, Diet Mountain Dew, a cold beer, road sandwiches made with turkey or roast beef deli meat and cheese on a kaiser roll, light mayo. His truck could not leave the driveway without the dry box of snacks, and the cooler filled with sandwiches and drinks. Particularly prized were Hostess Sno Balls, preferably stale and chewy. A proper amount of snack foods of marginal nutritional value are required to properly fortify you for a hard day’s voyage across rural two lanes and unpaved county roads. I took the above photo of Roy enjoying a tailgate lunch in a typical country churchyard, this one outside of Newberry, South Carolina off of State Route 34 on October 8, 2010, during a trip we took to visit both the Carolina Sand Hills National Wildlife Refuge and Rockingham Speedway.
Doctor Flowers Road Rules: Avoid cliche, indulge whimsy. Always take the county two lane road over any alternative. Any alternative excepting the Blue Ridge Parkway. Always take the Blue Ridge Parkway. This road loomed large in Doc’s perspective throughout his years as a writer and photographer. Click here for the real stuff. He started a separate logbook specifically dealing with his travels on it. These shots of a storm passing over the mountains, taken from the Courthouse Valley Overlook on the ‘Parkway outside of Canton, North Carolina would be taken nearly a year to the day before his passing. We talked many times about this late stage of life over the years. Roy avidly followed the space program and NASA. During the space shuttle era he adapted their phrase ‘the final glidepath’ as a metaphor for the last of the years we are all given in this life. “But what about climate change,” I would rant. “F*ck it, someone else will have the solve that one. I’m on the final glidepath.” As are we all, sooner or later.
Roy Burke/Dr. HP Flowers began recording custom cassette tapes for his own archiving and entertainment purposes over 40 years ago. He started with bluegrass tape transcriptions in 1975, then expanded his curation, utilizing a personal collection of some 5000 vinyl records, then hundreds of cds and other archival sources. Between 1975 and the Summer of 2002 when he dubbed his 403rd and final cassette (Detroit Redneck Kid Rock), Doc used cassette tapes to log everything from natural sound he had recorded on his backwoods adventures to blues records he played in his upstairs room as a frustrated teen in Brandy Station VA. One of his later great creative mixes was Kennel Sessions (#362, Feb 1997), a collection of music showing the importance of the dog in American popular culture, in Southern Culture particularly. More about Kennel Sessions another time. Here are his notes about the song he chose to lead off his curated collection of dog songs:
Side 1 Lightnin’ Hopkins. Lonesome Dog Blues (1967)
While playing his guitar to mimic a dog howling he laments, “I got a dog in my back yard, howls every day my baby’s gone.” Lightnin’ is dumbfounded that the yard dog can know that his woman’s gone and then, astonishingly, can also understand how low he’s feeling because of it. I must be sad if my dog can feel it too, he marvels. Felt it, “deep down in his heart.” Man lonesome, dog lonesome; what could measure lonesome better. These blues don’t say.
This version of Lonesome Dog Blues came from an original Jewel album, JCD-5000 Blue Lightnin’. I bought it mail order from Randy’s Record Shop, Gallatin, Tennessee, in the late ’60’s. A 3-album package deal advertised every few minutes on WLAC Radio, from the Life and Casualty Tower in Nashville–home of Gene Noble, Herman Grizzard, Hoss Man Bill Allen, and the highly respected John R (Richburg). These DJs, and the R&B they played, were frequent late night companions for me in the late ’50s to the early ’70s. That is, whenever my little Westinghouse AM radio could handle the faint signal from so far away, encased in green plastic. Imagine! Three brand new Lightnin’ Hopkins albums from Jewel Records: Blue Lightnin’, Talkin’ Some Sense, and The Great Electric Show and Dance showing Lightnin’ on the cover in dark shades and orange jump suite, proudly sporting the stump of a cheroot in his left hand and a size 10 shit-eatin grin. Did I fall for it?(These albums have recently been released on CD using the same cover art as the original vinyl.)
Roy Burke a.k.a. Doctor HP Flowers, was a friend, polymath, a poet, musicologist, photographer, and scientist. He was a teacher to everyone he met. His insatiable desire to study everything from wildflowers to country roads to Lightnin’ Hopkins and fluid dynamics was reflected in nearly 50 years of professional and ‘amateur’ work. In the last years of his life from 2010-2015, Doc published first Doctor HP Flowers and then Stone Mountain Meanderings on WordPress as a way to express himself and amuse his friends. I encourage you to visit those sites to feel the full 100 proof buzz. Doctor Flowers Redux is an attempt to post additional Roy Burke photos, musicology, and writings by him and about him in an effort to keep alive his inspiring mind for those who knew him and some who might find his work for the first time.