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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Top Banjo Players


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ole blackie - Posted - 07/05/2012:  08:34:03



ok...I know this thread has been brought up many times before, but I'm curious to find out what the BHO peeps of today think. A lot of talk has surfaced lately on who are/were the best "5-'string" banjo players of all time. I realize this depends largely on one's taste of style, be it Scruggs, Melodic, etc. But, I'd like to know what you think. Here are my picks:




  1. Bela Fleck (let's face it, he has no equal)


  2. Tony Trishka


  3. John Hickman


  4. Earl Scruggs


  5. Alan Munde


  6. Ron Block (made my list for his awesome backup technique)



Wil



 



 



Edited by - Lynne on 07/05/2012 09:25:18

Lester Crowe - Posted - 07/05/2012:  08:45:41



1. Earl



2. J.D.



3. Reno



4. Sonny



5. Bela (narrowly over about 50 others)



 



Lester


ole blackie - Posted - 07/05/2012:  08:51:09



I really want us to vote with less emotion and more about the players skill. We all love Earl, and he was one awesome player, but he couldn't perform what Bela can. Let's be realistic here. However, this is a vote of personal taste also.....



 



Wil


minstrelmike - Posted - 07/05/2012:  09:00:54



Even tho this subject is not political, talking about Earl verges on the religious in BHO and therefore, I predict extreme contentiousness.


ole blackie - Posted - 07/05/2012:  09:07:31



So Mike, by me saying that Earl could not do what Bela does, I'm insulting Earl? Come on.


Banjo Hero - Posted - 07/05/2012:  09:26:26



Check out Jens Kruger.  He has mad chops, can play wicked fast, and yet doesn't necessarily do so.


ole blackie - Posted - 07/05/2012:  09:31:05



I'm assuming by that statement that you are saying Earl could have done what Bela does, but just doesn't want to?



 



Wil


mcate - Posted - 07/05/2012:  09:31:11



Jens Kruger...he brings a different and really refreshing style to banjo playing,



certainly very musical. Bela and Tony are great but Jens is my favorite.


joemac - Posted - 07/05/2012:  09:59:36


Jens Kruger, all styles.............

greenepickins - Posted - 07/05/2012:  10:09:47


Jens Kruger hands down! Evey time I hear the song up 18 north I get goosebumps. He is also a GREAT clawhammer player.

jhduncan20 - Posted - 07/05/2012:  10:16:08



I think if you are talking technical banjo players (musicians in general) you have to mention Noam Pikelny.


Gymbal31 - Posted - 07/05/2012:  10:18:39



ugh.



 



sigh.


bd - Posted - 07/05/2012:  10:27:52



Okey doke, I'll bite.



I won't number them but I'll pick my top six which mostly be in the "etc" category.



Hobart Smith



Wade Ward



David Akeman



Dock Boggs



Earl Scruggs



Clarence Ashley



They've all shuffled off this mortal coil. I just went by players I don't get tired of listening to. I make no pretensions of knowing who is best at anything much less banjo.


HSmith - Posted - 07/05/2012:  10:34:12



Scott Vestal plays some wonderful stuff.


oldplayer - Posted - 07/05/2012:  10:45:07


I don't think anyone is assuming Earl could have done the things that
Bela does, only that he set a standard long before anyone else that we
have mentioned or will mention going forward. Without a background in
Scruggs style, I think it would have been a lot more difficult for anyone
who plays in a technical style if they had not had that background that
Earl established. Ask any of those players who their biggest influence
was in the beginning of their learning process, and I am confident they
will list him first, or someone who would credit Earl as that influence.
We all have our heroes, and they will remain that way no matter what,
but it's hard to discount Earl's early efforts. It's some of the best ever, at
least in my mind.

NINJO - Posted - 07/05/2012:  10:45:18


Billy Constable
Andy Thorn
Ryan Cavanaugh

progressiveplayer - Posted - 07/05/2012:  10:46:33



Bela Fleck



Noam Pikelny



Ryan Cavanaugh



Greg Liszt



Jayme Stone



Wes Corbett



Edited by - progressiveplayer on 07/05/2012 10:51:52

Mike Moss - Posted - 07/05/2012:  10:55:57



I don't think this can ever be solved. How do you define the "best" banjo player -- the one you like best, the one who has sold most albums, or the one who could play more notes per minute? Which genres are included? My top 5-string banjo players, taking all factors into account, would be:



 



1. Joe Morley - for sheer musical genius. 250+ original compositions and an amazing performer -- despite their poor sound quality, his cylinder recordings display an unparalleled technique, tone and execution. I put him first on my list because he was a true musician in every sense -- a tremendously productive creative genius and a first-class performer.



2. Fred Van Eps - he didn't define ragtime banjo, but he was its greatest exponent, and he had a unique flair. He surpassed all his contemporaries and kept on playing until the ripe age of 80, at 14 notes per second (!!!) in some passages.



3. Earl Scruggs - he didn't invent three-finger picking, but he added his unique flair to it in a way which created a style played by banjoists the world throughout. His musicality and his sense of rhythm and syncopation revived the 5-stringer at a time where it had been out of mainstream popular music for almost half a century, and his legacy is  still going strong.



4. Ollie Oakley - both one of the most popular and controversial banjoists of all time, his brash, exciting tone, unique rhythmic flair, along with his numerous mistakes and "variations" captured the essence of the original ragtime era. The imperfections and vitality of his recordings make him feel alive even today.



5. William J. Ball - when an ageing Tarrant Bailey Snr heard him play, late in life, he was amazed that the great playing he was listening to wasn't that of Joe Morley in his old home half a century ago. Though Bill never was a professional musician and was a worker all his life, his unique talent and admiration towards his idol Joe Morley led him to become one of the greatest banjoists of the 20th century. His recordings have set a standard of excellence which few may hope to match.



6. Parke Hunter - the man who turned "William Tell Overture" or "Poet and Peasant" into banjo standards, and was also a great performer of ragtime and an original composer; his role was decisive in popularizing the banjo on both sides of the Atlantic with both brilliant live performances and recordings.



Edited by - Mike Moss on 07/05/2012 10:57:56

ole blackie - Posted - 07/05/2012:  10:56:35



quote: Agreed. However, to say Earl was the best would be like saying Orville Wright was the best pilot, or A. Doubleday was the best baseball player. All three put their collective fields on the map, but it took the talents of others to enhance it.


Originally posted by oldplayer




I don't think anyone is assuming Earl could have done the things that

Bela does, only that he set a standard long before anyone else that we

have mentioned or will mention going forward. Without a background in

Scruggs style, I think it would have been a lot more difficult for anyone

who plays in a technical style if they had not had that background that

Earl established. Ask any of those players who their biggest influence

was in the beginning of their learning process, and I am confident they

will list him first, or someone who would credit Earl as that influence.

We all have our heroes, and they will remain that way no matter what,

but it's hard to discount Earl's early efforts. It's some of the best ever, at

least in my mind.






 


bd - Posted - 07/05/2012:  11:33:22



quote:


Originally posted by Mike Moss




I don't think this can ever be solved. How do you define the "best" banjo player -- the one you like best, the one who has sold most albums, or the one who could play more notes per minute? Which genres are included? My top 5-string banjo players, taking all factors into account, would be:



 



1. Joe Morley - for sheer musical genius. 250+ original compositions and an amazing performer -- despite their poor sound quality, his cylinder recordings display an unparalleled technique, tone and execution. I put him first on my list because he was a true musician in every sense -- a tremendously productive creative genius and a first-class performer.



2. Fred Van Eps - he didn't define ragtime banjo, but he was its greatest exponent, and he had a unique flair. He surpassed all his contemporaries and kept on playing until the ripe age of 80, at 14 notes per second (!!!) in some passages.



3. Earl Scruggs - he didn't invent three-finger picking, but he added his unique flair to it in a way which created a style played by banjoists the world throughout. His musicality and his sense of rhythm and syncopation revived the 5-stringer at a time where it had been out of mainstream popular music for almost half a century, and his legacy is  still going strong.



4. Ollie Oakley - both one of the most popular and controversial banjoists of all time, his brash, exciting tone, unique rhythmic flair, along with his numerous mistakes and "variations" captured the essence of the original ragtime era. The imperfections and vitality of his recordings make him feel alive even today.



5. William J. Ball - when an ageing Tarrant Bailey Snr heard him play, late in life, he was amazed that the great playing he was listening to wasn't that of Joe Morley in his old home half a century ago. Though Bill never was a professional musician and was a worker all his life, his unique talent and admiration towards his idol Joe Morley led him to become one of the greatest banjoists of the 20th century. His recordings have set a standard of excellence which few may hope to match.



6. Parke Hunter - the man who turned "William Tell Overture" or "Poet and Peasant" into banjo standards, and was also a great performer of ragtime and an original composer; his role was decisive in popularizing the banjo on both sides of the Atlantic with both brilliant live performances and recordings.








Wait,Mike! Are you saying the five string banjo existed BEFORE the 1940s!smiley


bd - Posted - 07/05/2012:  11:40:00



quote:


Originally posted by ole blackie




quote: Agreed. However, to say Earl was the best would be like saying Orville Wright was the best pilot, or A. Doubleday was the best baseball player. All three put their collective fields on the map, but it took the talents of others to enhance it.


Originally posted by oldplayer





I don't think anyone is assuming Earl could have done the things that

Bela does, only that he set a standard long before anyone else that we

have mentioned or will mention going forward. Without a background in

Scruggs style, I think it would have been a lot more difficult for anyone

who plays in a technical style if they had not had that background that

Earl established. Ask any of those players who their biggest influence

was in the beginning of their learning process, and I am confident they

will list him first, or someone who would credit Earl as that influence.

We all have our heroes, and they will remain that way no matter what,

but it's hard to discount Earl's early efforts. It's some of the best ever, at

least in my mind.






 






I think Joel Sweeney would be closer to the Orville Wright of the five string Banjo. Earl Scruggs was more like a combo of Chuck Yeager & Yuri Gagarin...of 5 string Banjo.


Rick Polston - Posted - 07/05/2012:  11:41:45



quote:


Originally posted by ole blackie




I'm assuming by that statement that you are saying Earl could have done what Bela does, but just doesn't want to?



 



Wil






 



Are you saying Earl could not? Earl did what Earl did and NO ONE equaled that! So it's all a matter of personal preference and mine is Earl - always at the top of the list for my ear.


Kurt Kemp - Posted - 07/05/2012:  11:43:15



1. Earl



2. Jim Mills



3. Gene Elkins



4. Jens Kruger



5. Ron Stewart



 



And about a hundred others. big


OSCAR82AA - Posted - 07/05/2012:  11:43:51



Alot of great names have been mentioned and very correct in that.



 But it always worries me when the names of some other greats are not there.



   Raymond Fairchild ( King of The Smoky MT. Banjo players )



  And Blake Williams ( 10+ years with Bill Monroe )



   I think these names belong on any list of the greatest players.



Edited by - OSCAR82AA on 07/05/2012 11:44:24

Mike Moss - Posted - 07/05/2012:  11:49:13



quote:


Originally posted by bd


Wait,Mike! Are you saying the five string banjo existed BEFORE the 1940s!smiley






 



I know, rite? Back in the dark ages when everyone was dying from the bubonic plague and Joel Sweeney walked around with a six-shooter to defend his banjo from dinosaurs... good times big


jwoods - Posted - 07/05/2012:  12:05:21



1. Earl Scruggs



2. Bobby Thompson



3. Alan Munde



4. Tony Trischka



5. Carl Jackson



 


Gymbal31 - Posted - 07/05/2012:  12:26:30



quote:


Originally posted by oldplayer




I don't think anyone is assuming Earl could have done the things that

Bela does,






 



Are you kidding?   Why not?  Why couldn't Earl have played like Bela had he wanted to? 


ctopp - Posted - 07/05/2012:  12:51:50



Terry Baucom and J D Crowe are on the short list in my opinion.



C Topp


BigRed_Gibson_Fan - Posted - 07/05/2012:  14:02:21



My list would be

Earl

J.D. Crowe

Ron Stewart

Jens Kruger

Ron Block

and another name I havent heard mentioned in a while Jimmy Arnold he pulled some great tone.



and of course Big Kenny Ingram. There are so many greats its hard to put them in a list of favorites.



Edited by - BigRed_Gibson_Fan on 07/05/2012 14:04:52

JAFO - Posted - 07/05/2012:  14:05:28



This is a loaded question and bound for someplace in the south, but I'll bite, and I am only including ACTIVE players, Intentionally leaving Earl out, he has earned his place in History, there is no doubt about that and he will always remain in a class by himself.



1) Bill Keith (personal prejudice plays in here I disclaim)



2) Tony Trischka (He learned a lot from Bill)



3) Bela Fleck (Tony was his second teacher, the first was BHO's own Tubaphone. He has more stuff going on in his head than most of us can fit. WOW.)



4) Noam Pickelny (He's coming up and he already has the chops)



5) Jens Kruger (He picks neat material and kills it)



6) J,D, (Rock solid, been there forever and still has it. True he's retiring, but he ain't dead yet.)



 



My 2 cents are as good as the next guys. Opinions are like _______s, everybody has at least one.



Tom



Edited by - JAFO on 07/05/2012 14:06:21

loukiii - Posted - 07/05/2012:  14:21:43


Chuck Norris

JMalmsteen - Posted - 07/05/2012:  14:55:21


1. Earl Scruggs
2. JD Crowe
3. Ralph Stanley

Kenneth Logsdon - Posted - 07/05/2012:  16:04:42


Earl set the bar with hundreds of songs, each unique, complete with bkup and original.... Funny that you will never hear any of the true masters(our words) dis Earl or fail to acknowledge him as the all time top... Their all striving to try to be like Earl... The more knowledgeable a picker is, the more they can appreciate. After listening for almost fifty years, I still find "new" each time I hear him.. Stuff that I had no comprehension of before..
Earl is/was in a class by hisself..
AMEN..

larry p - Posted - 07/05/2012:  17:49:47



I don't have an opinion regarding who the 'top banjo players' are: How could anyone say that 'so and so' is 'better' than Bobby Thompson, or 'so and so' is 'better' than Ron Block? It's a topic that's over my head: In my opinion nobody is better at being Kenny Ingram that Kenny is..Nobody is better at being Joshua Brand than Josh is..Nobody is better at being John Hartford than he was..



 



What I DO have to offer is this: Earl Scruggs understood what worked for him in the various band configurations he was in, and stuck with it. He said, 'I really like what those guys are doing with the banjo, and admire them for developing their own stuff-but not enough to change what I'm doing with the banjo. I stumbled up on something that works for me and haven't found a reason yet to change it.' (That's paraphrasing-I’ve have the exact quote somewhere in my notes). I have a recording somewhere of Earl playing the most amazing 'melodic' version of 'Blackberry Blossom' on a radio show from around '57-'59. One day we were watching some 'Hee Haw' shows that I'd video taped, and he said, "Bobby Thompson just knocks me out with the way he play that theme." I had to step outside for some reason, and on my way back in I could hear him pickin' that tune-I mean REALLY pickin' that tune! Walked back into the living room and said, 'dang Earl-I've never heard you play like that before-that's awesome!! How were you doing that?" He said, "Well, you know it sounds like he's running all over the neck to get that-but it's really all right in here" and showed me how it was mostly in the middle positions on the fret board.



 



Some musicians and singers had a way of drawing stuff out of Earl that he normally didn't play: Bela Fleck was one such musician. I've wished a thousand times that I could have recorded some of the stuff those two did in Earl's living room. Bela had a way of pulling stuff out of an 86 year old Earl that was unlike anything I'd ever heard him do-ask Bela about it: I bet he'll tell you the same thing.



 



The point of all this isn't to insinuate that Earl Scruggs deserves to be heralded as the 'top banjo player': as Kenneth Logsdon and others have pointed out-his music and accomplishments speak for themselves. What I am saying is that one would be grossly underestimating the man to say that he wasn't capable of playing anything he wanted to on the banjo. It was a conscious decision on his part to be himself and play what came natural, which was to phrase his 'breaks' to mirror the singer's phrasing, and do whatever he could to support and compliment the song and the other musicians.  I was present on a few occasions when someone would say something like, 'Earl can't pick as good as he used to', or 'Earl can't play such and such a tune' in 'Uncle Josh's' presence, and he'd say, "Scruggs is like a rattle snake: If you don't think he can 'cut it' just step on him a little bit and see what happens..He’ll lay that big right hand on that banjo and cram it up your 'bleepidy bleep’. Scruggs can still pick- don’t let nobody fool you-and he can play anything anybody else can."


scaggs7 - Posted - 07/05/2012:  18:22:59


It's not better than--it's the style of picking you like

stringbreaker - Posted - 07/05/2012:  18:45:16


scruggs was limited.

Rick Polston - Posted - 07/05/2012:  18:53:29



quote:


Originally posted by stringbreaker




scruggs was limited.






 



If that were true - all banjo players would be fortunate to be as limited  big


Banjophobic - Posted - 07/05/2012:  18:55:52



 Why do folks always assume that "Earl couldn't play  something?  Except for the information from valuable sources like Larry, we can only guess at what Earl could do beyond his recorded works. Many times players of his caliber decide to go down certain paths for artistic and or business reasons. It's always wise not to 'assume' what a player can or can't  do musically. You know what they say about using the word  'assume ...it makes an a$% out of you and me. big



As far as the 'best' goes, theres always a 'best' and its the guy playing like himself. No one else can be that person, so he/she will always be the best at that. Any other discussions about 'best' is a subjective laden waste of time.



 



 



Oh, its wise to ignore trolls..........wink



Edited by - Banjophobic on 07/05/2012 18:58:17

stringman711 - Posted - 07/05/2012:  19:20:08


Well said John. I couldn't agree more.

steve davis - Posted - 07/05/2012:  19:23:41


I went to a performance in a small club in Cambridge called Johnathan Swift's one evening to find Bela Fleck,Tony Trischka and Bill Keith playing on stage at the same time.
Three of my biggest all-time heroes playing their Fiddle Tunes for Banjo album(including Muffin Man)

SaltyDawg - Posted - 07/05/2012:  20:11:11


I'll give a shout out to some of the younger crowd:
Chris pandolfi
Noam pikelny
Matt menefee
Greg Liszt

Fathand - Posted - 07/05/2012:  20:37:33



Technical Skill is not the only thing important in a banjo player. As a musician the object is is also to make better music and entertain the audience even if it is only yourself. Yes there are players that can pick faster than Earl could or play something "fancier" but this does not always make better music.  I once bought an album of a top area banjo player and even though he was all over the neck and lightning fast, I did not enjoy it.


Sometimes  things can be played with too much skill and only other banjo players with equal skill will understand what you are doing, at this level you can lose the audience.


Earl had incredible Tone Taste and Timing as well as a  wonderful "musical imagination" that I always find to be very enetertaining and also made other players sound better. I never met the man but everything I read about him also states he was a wonderful person and a true gentleman, this also accounts for something in any profession.


quote:


Originally posted by ole blackie




I really want us to vote with less emotion and more about the players skill. We all love Earl, and he was one awesome player, but he couldn't perform what Bela can. Let's be realistic here. However, this is a vote of personal taste also.....



 



Wil






 


stringbreaker - Posted - 07/05/2012:  21:41:49



earl could play classical and flamenco to. sure. no end to it.



 



Edited by - stringbreaker on 07/05/2012 21:43:44

larry p - Posted - 07/05/2012:  21:46:44



'Scruggs' was indeed limited-he had a sense of decorum, decency, and good manners that dictated his conduct: there are some banjo players who will never get to be as good as THEY can be, to say nothing of approaching the level that Earl Scruggs, Sonny Osborne, Dana Cupp, Dave Talbot, Eric Ellis, J,D, Crowe, Ryan Cavenaugh, or Charlie Cushman play at-but being respectful and gracious is something we all can do-whether our name makes a list like this or not..



I know, it's 'larryp' waving the 'Earl Flag' again-but I feel I'd be remiss if I didn't point out something here: For those who think that Earl Scruggs couldn't play fast-try keeping up with some of that stuff he and the 'Foggys' were doing at 5:45am on WSM..Try keeping up with 'White House Blues' on the 'Carnegie Hall' show (AFTER the car wreck that some say slowed him down)..Heck, for that matter try keeping up with his last recording of 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown' (I think he was about 84 years old when that was recorded)..I've never heard anyone play at the tempos he did-especially when he was in his 'prime'-and keep it musical, all together, and 'in between the lines' like he did consistently. Sure, a lot of people can play 'fast', but sometimes it's not 'musical' to my ear. To hear Earl play 'Flint Hill Special' with Benny Martin and Curly and Lester and Bob Moore is like being on the best roller coaster ride.. I could be completely wrong about it, but my perception of Earl's 'Scruggs Style' is that speed, unnecessary notes, and licks were used sparingly and to optimal effect..


rbergesch - Posted - 07/05/2012:  23:28:01



Surprised I haven't seen Sammy Shelor mentioned.  Rock steady, precise playing, and he can get as loud and fast as I've heard.  I have no idea who the "best" is (or was,) but IMHO Sammy is pretty near the top for modern bluegrass....



But there are so many fine players...


Fid - Posted - 07/06/2012:  00:27:31



I cringe when I see or hear, "Top 10 Banjo Players", "50 Best Guitar Players", "50 Hottest Drummers".  For me, it's who I like best, whose music hits my ear the right way - and I won't force my opinions on others, nor will I rail against anybody for their tastes.  As for players and playing, I don't take into consideration how difficult a certain player's licks are, it's only about what sounds good to me.  Personally I don't like those 32nd notes that Bela Fleck plays - it's just too much, and doesn't sound good to me.  I can hear it now, some will say, "Oh, did you hear Fid saying that Bela Fleck sucks" - I'll say now in advance - B.S., that's not what I said - not by any stretch of the imagination.  In my never to be humble opinion, all of the players who are up at that level are great, and I pretty much like them all, I just like some a little better than others.  I also have to admit that I get tired of hipsters putting down Roy Clark, Buck Trent, and a few others - I don't see anything wrong with their playing.  There is one player who gets mentioned here often, who I think is too much - his undisciplined delivery makes my neck hurt.



So, I won't participate in any Top 100 players lists - never have, never will, but you guys have at it big .


southerndrifter - Posted - 07/06/2012:  04:00:10



quote:


Originally posted by larry p




 



I know, it's 'larryp' waving the 'Earl Flag' again-but I feel I'd be remiss if I didn't point out something here: For those who think that Earl Scruggs couldn't play fast-try keeping up with some of that stuff he and the 'Foggys' were doing at 5:45am on WSM..Try keeping up with 'White House Blues' on the 'Carnegie Hall' show (AFTER the car wreck that some say slowed him down)..Heck, for that matter try keeping up with his last recording of 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown' (I think he was about 84 years old when that was recorded)..I've never heard anyone play at the tempos he did-especially when he was in his 'prime'-and keep it musical, all together, and 'in between the lines' like he did consistently. Sure, a lot of people can play 'fast', but sometimes it's not 'musical' to my ear. To hear Earl play 'Flint Hill Special' with Benny Martin and Curly and Lester and Bob Moore is like being on the best roller coaster ride.. I could be completely wrong about it, but my perception of Earl's 'Scruggs Style' is that speed, unnecessary notes, and licks were used sparingly and to optimal effect..






 Larry, there ain't no grass growing under Earl's Columbia Records recording of "Randy Lynn Rag" either!! And I've heard a live cut or two that was even faster! I've also heard Uncle Josh speak of how fast Earl would sometimes play "Shuckin' the Corn"!! Earl could play fast as heck, when he wanted to!  wink


steve davis - Posted - 07/06/2012:  04:17:03


Top banjo players?
That all depends on who's making up the list.

ole blackie - Posted - 07/06/2012:  06:33:13



Whoa dude. You may not like Earl's style, but to say "he sucks" is way out of line. You obviously haven't done your homework, or your'e just a moron.



 



Wil


Banjo Hero - Posted - 07/06/2012:  06:49:04



Wil, go look at the other post this person made since making this account this morning.



It's just a troll; ignore it.


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