Author: Zuniga, Nancy

A Fine Old Booger

Last night, I was in the mood to hear some old time music, so I put on an album entitled “Wild Goose” which was recorded in 1987 by the late award-winning banjo player Rick Abrams. Yes, I said “album” of those round, vinyl anachronisms with the hole in the middle. This particular record is special not only for the great music contained within its grooves, but because of Rick’s inscription on the album cover: “To Nancy and Jesse...To my favorite boogers...Best wishes, Rick Abrams”. The term “booger” has a special significance.

The first time we heard the Piney Creek Weasels, they were playing at a crafts fair at the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn, walking distance from where my son Jesse and I lived at the time. At seven years old, Jesse was already a veteran of several bluegrass festivals, but this was his first up-close-and-personal exposure to old time music. And with all the toe-tapping traditional banjo-and-fiddle numbers performed by the Weasels that afternoon, my second-grader was most impressed by an Irish pub tune, sung acapella, entitled “Old Johnny Booger”, which contained the memorable refrain: “Old Johnny Booger was a fine old Booger, and a fine old Booger was he!” So impressed was Jesse that he requested the song every time we saw the Weasels thereafter, to the point that Rick once commented to me, “You know, that song has followed us around like a bad pup!” Eventually, Jesse memorized the lyrics. In 1992, at a Fourth of July bluegrass festival at Caswell Vineyards in Sebastopol, it was a proud moment for me when Jesse, then age nine, was invited onstage by the Piney Creek Weasels to sing lead on the song. That was the closing number of their set; Apparently, it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, as I recall emcee Jim Carr telling the audience, “Try to have a great time, folks...even after that!”

It was around that time when my son began taking fiddle lessons, and I still feel slightly embarrassed when I recall how, like a shameless stage mom, I dragged him from campsite to campsite at the '93 Fathers Day Festival so he could show off his renditions of “Faded Love” and “Boil Them Cabbage Down”. That same year, Jesse joined the Weasels for a repeat performance of the Booger song at the Desert Oasis Bluegrass Festival in Fallon, Nevada. Two years later, Rick was kind enough to try and urge my son to sing that “bad pup” of a song with the band again at the Dixon Popcorn Festival, but Jesse turned down the offer; By that time, he was of an age where singing “Old Johnny Booger” onstage could be considered extremely uncool. It wouldn’t have been the same anyway; His voice was starting to change. But somewhere along the way, Rick presented us with that record album, which I will always treasure.

Like all children and parents, my son and I don’t see eye to eye on a number of issues, but we do agree when it comes to our love of bluegrass and old time music. Although Jesse didn’t stick with his fiddle lessons for very long, he took up the banjo several years ago, which reassures me that I must have done something right. I don’t doubt that Rick’s kindness and encouragement toward Jesse had something to do with my son’s interest in that particular instrument. Jesse is getting married the day after tomorrow, and I am surprised and flattered that he has asked Henry and me to play some music at his wedding reception. I wonder...Would I be a terrible stage mom if I asked him, for old time’s sake, to join me in singing “Old Johnny Booger”?

Posted:  9/3/2009

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email