Monday, February 23, 2009
Above: Jesco White, "The Dancing Outlaw".
I was first introduced to the crazy world of Jesco White about 7 or 8 years ago in Eureka, when my buddy Mike J showed me a video of the 1991 PBS documentary called The Dancing Outlaw. The film was a mind-boggling look at the life of a man who is a redneck icon, part Jesus, part Elvis, and part Deliverance. You see, Jesco is a practitioner of the dance style known as "mountain dancing", a tap-dancing/clog-dancing hybrid native to rural Appalachia. His father, D. Ray White, was probably the best-known mountain dancer of all time, and reached a modest amount of national fame when he was featured in another PBS documentary called Talking Feet. D. Ray White was murdered in 1985, leaving Jesco to follow in his footsteps, and to inherit the title of "the last of the mountain dancers". Despite a modest amount of media exposure, Jesco still lives in extreme poverty, residing in a beat-up trailer in the mountains of West Virginia. His battles with drug addiction and domestic violence were well chronicled in the film.
Below: A clip from the opening sequence of The Dancing Outlaw.
Jesco is somewhat of an enigma. His ego knows no boundaries, yet his lifestyle reflects none of his successes. He is as poor as he's ever been, but has appeared on "Roseanne", worked with Hank III, and been sampled and name-dropped on dozens of albums, from Mastodon to The Kentucky Headhunters. He even appears briefly in Beck's breakthrough video for the song "Loser".
Below: Jesco's appearance on "Roseanne". For some reason, they made him cover up the swastika tattoos on his hands.
Above: Jesco rockin' out, circa 1998.
A second documentary, chronicling Jesco's trip to Hollywood to appear on "Roseanne", was released in 1994, titled The Dancing Outlaw 2: Jesco Goes To Hollywood. In addition, he appeared on an episode of Turner South's ongoing series, "Yokel" (with fellow Appalachian Hasil Adkins), and in an independent sci-fi/horror film called It Came From Trafalgar. It is rumored that a 2009 documentary film about him, The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, will be purchased and distributed by MTV. Has all the exposure gone to his head? Absolutely!
Jesco has the mindset of a Hollywood superstar, but is still as broke and backwards as ever (a benefit concert called JescoFest was held in 2006 to help him buy firewood and water for the winter). The man is anomaly.
Rock on, Jesco.
Check out the audience reaction to Jesco's appearance in the video below. He's a FUCKIN' STAR!!!
Above: Jesco White, modern day.
Below: Closing words from the man himself.
For a firthand account of a 1998 visit to Jesco's magical estate, click here.