City worker serves up music with metal spoons 'SILVERSPOONS'

December 28, 1992|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

Robert "Silverspoons" Dorsey pulls a pair of thick metal spoons from a back pocket and gently fingers the heavily taped handles.

"Watch this," he says as he places the spoons back-to-back between the knuckles of his right hand. He crouches, then begins drumming the spoons on his knees, thighs and belly. The sound he makes is similar to the rhythmic cadences of a tap dancer.

It's Christmas Eve at the city's Central Automotive Garage on Dickman Street in South Baltimore, and Mr. Dorsey's co-workers are, in his own words, being entertained by a "low-brow kind of guy," one who knows how to play a pair of spoons "like they're supposed to be played."

A tape of Michael Jackson's hard-driving "Billie Jean" accompanies Mr. Dorsey as he plays riffs with the spoons while dancing across the garage floor, flitting between dump trucks and tractors and police cars. The spoons become a silver-colored blur as he keeps time with the music.

"It's show time! That's what I'm talking about!" exults Mr. Dorsey, 54, a native of Baltimore who has worked as a tool clerk at the garage for three years. "It's a garage thing. That's what it is. Every holiday and some other times I jam here."

In truth, playing the spoons is not solely a garage thing for Mr. Dorsey. He's jammed on Baltimore street corners, at backyard parties and in other venues for nearly 40 years. He appeared on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour on television.

Once, he played at the Inner Harbor and in three hours made more than $40, by accident really, before being chased away by police.

"I didn't have a license. I was just down there playing around, not really thinking about making any money, but people kept putting money in my hat," he says. "So I kept on playing as long as I could."

Now he mainly plays at house parties and whenever he gets a chance, keeping spoons in his car just in case the opportunity arises.

He fell in love with spoons the first time he heard them.

"The first time I heard them I was in a bar on Pennsylvania Avenue, and this guy was playing the spoons. This guy was good. I mean this guy was terrible," he recalls.

"I said I had to do that. I could do that. And I've been doing it since."

As a teen-ager, Mr. Dorsey played the spoons on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and McMechen Street in West Baltimore. His two accompanists played the tub and the washboard.

"We were just out there playing and having a good time," he says.

Mr. Dorsey says it was easy for him to learn to play the spoons because he has natural rhythm.

"It's just that you've got to have the beat," he says. "If I go to clubs now and friends are jamming, I join them. I jump right in because I can keep the beat with them."

Ernie Foster, a co-worker, says it's too bad there's no place for professional spoon players in the music world.

"He needs to be discovered. What he does is part of our heritage that a lot of us have never been exposed to," he says.

He says that all the garage workers are amazed by Mr. Dorsey's talent.

Ben Franklin, acting chief of fleet maintenance for the Department of Public Works, is one who watches in amazement. "I just never thought that that kind of music could come out of those things," Mr. Franklin says. "The guys here really get into it."

Mr. Dorsey says he gets as much enjoyment from watching his audiences as they get from watching him. Some dance. Some tap their feet. Some try to play the spoons, but fail.

"A lot of people see this and can't believe that these are the same spoons you pick gravy up with. They're just as good for that, too," Mr. Dorsey says.

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