Preface: This is not to mock the "Occupy" movement which I support. I'm simply borrowing the term as a rhetorical flourish.
As member of the 79% percent that have no interest in the Round Peak sound, styling, or most of it's well known practitioners, I feel compelled to speak out. Albeit in print, sans the human mic.
I imagine that I'm typical of many of my banjo generation that one of the first Lps that I purchased back in the '70's was the original Clawhammer banjo album on the County label. Two impressions that I still carry with me are how much I loved the sound of Wade Ward and equally disliked the sound of Kyle Creed. The subsequent Lp releases introduced other banjo elders that I developed an affinity for: Matokie Slaughter, Gaither Carlton, Oscar Wright and Syd Meyers.
My first and only banjo teacher was a professional in a Bluegrass band regarded as the best in the region at the time, The Road Apples(great name, Jon). Even though a Bluegrass player primarily, my teacher was a fine downpicker and admired Old Time players like Tom Paley, Mike Seeger and Art Rosenbaum and encouraged me to investigate their playing styles. I emphasize STYLES.
About this time the Fuzzy Mtn String band records were appearing led by banjo players Blanton Owen and Eric Olson. As students at UNC, Owen and Olson were very much influenced by elders like Kyle Creed and Fred Cockerham with whom they had first hand contact with and whose styles they imitated with precision. The Fuzzies seemed to have a huge impact on what I would call the Generic String Band Revival Sound and the prevalence of the North Carolina "clawhammer" sound on banjo. The impact seemed really great upon Northern, Urban revivalists looking for an "anti-Bluegrass identity''. I loved the Fuzzy's fiddle tune repertoire, but was luke warm at best to the banjo playing.
Next came the purchase of Art Rosenbaum's Old Time Mountain banjo book. Two revelations: I coundn't read TAB very well, and there were profiles of all these great banjo elders who, after investigating their vintage recordings, I found they sounded nothing like like Creed, Owen and Olsen. I loved their sounds and styles.
And yet, it seemed that nearly everywhere I went, the Round Peak style was becoming the dominant form, indeed the definition of "Old Time" banjo. Newer players were seemingly being caught up in this trend, and Surrey County was becoming the center of the universe. I would ask about Boggs, Hobart, Roscoe, Uncle Dave, Wade Ward, Oscar Jenkins, Franklin George and others who's sound had captivated me. Responses ranged from dismissal to grudging acknowledgement of their existence, but few took up their styles.
Then came the Fashion Show, and Madison Avenue could not have done a better job. The 12-inch potted, frailing scooped, Mylar headed anti-bluegrass banjo became the Banjo Du Jour for the fashionable Round Peaker. Still there were glimmers of hope. The most interesting banjo in my collection(now stolen) was an unlabeled 11 inch spun rim banjo with a hubcap resonator and one of those real ugly early plastic 5 Star heads. It's sound was completely at the other end of the sound spectrum of say, an Enoch Tradesman. My partner, Linda Jo (you may know her on this board as Bassora) took it with her one year to Mtn View, Ark. where she was taking a traditional singing class with Alice Gerard. She wanted to show the banjo to Mike Seeger who was teaching Old Time banjo. To her delight, Mike asked if he could use it to teach his classes. "The students need to know that great old time music was frequently made on these types of banjos", he stated.
I can pretty much say with certainty that Oscar Jenkins was the first finger style Old Time player I heard followed closely by Roscoe Holcomb and Tom Paley. The fact that Oscar played what was by then, a forbidden resonator banjo and Roscoe and Paley used picks, was also at odds what I was seeing in the Urban Revival scene. It reeked, or at least hinted at...gasp...bluegrass. My God, next people will be taking "breaks". Even though there were "breaks" on some of those old 78s, it was verbotten in the Brave New Round Peak World.
And my favorite anecdotal story concerns an old old music pal with a masters in Folk Music history. This person is a self-professed purists in the area of appreciation of "authentic" Old Time music; banjo fiddle and vocal. And make no mistake this person has a great voice and is a highly skilled fiddler and picker. And yet for the life of me plays a banjo with a modern plastic head and nylon strings. I've asked this stickler for tradition to produce for me a single Field or Studio recording of a banjo that has such a dreadful sound to no avail. I do not mind that said banjo player likes that sound, which is a personal preference that I respect. I merely disagree that it is very Old Timey in interpretation.
I'm not opposed to Round Peak banjo playing. I have no such right. Indeed I like the playing, a lot in fact, of musicians like Kevin Fore and Riley Baugus. And who doesn't love Fred Cockerham? And I should add that I deeply admire Kyle Creed, the man, (and his fiddling!!).
What vexes me is the that for many, the Round Peak sound has come to define the Old Time sound in part due to the fact that many use it's anti-Bluegrass sound to prop up an unnecessary Old Time identity/inferiority complex. Many of the proliferating "Clawhammer Banjo Camps" are also to blame as they crank out Round Peak Clawclones.This runs counter to another interesting Mike Seeger quote stating that the best of the vintage Old Time Music seemed to actually "predict" Bluegrass(my emphasis).
Finally, a thank you to all of the Old Time musicians on this board and elsewhere that have reinforced my belief over the years that it was Ok to swim upstream against the current of the Urban Old Time Revival, even as we were told, as I was NUMEROUS times, that I play "wrong".
On to Low Gap! Into the streets of Toast. We are the 79%.