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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Just can't get Wade Ward

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bobjo - Posted - 02/25/2009:  08:13:55


Was listening to Wade Ward play on the first Southern Clawhammer compilation. And it hit me: the pieces I play of Wade Ward's I just don't play like him at all.

I thought I had them down. I've played some of them for years. Yet when I go to the source, I find all sorts of things in his playing that aren't in mine.

He's kind of like Thelonious Monk. Jimbered and off a bit, but in a really right way. And the way he plays lines sometimes crooked and sometimes straight... sublime.

I'm thinking of June Apple, John Lovers Gone, Sally Ann, Old Joe Clarke. Especially Old Joe Clarke.

He's so simple, deceptively simple and stripped down. Yet for some reason I make more mistakes when trying to play his pieces than anyone else. I'm thinking of Wildwood Mountain... I learned it when I was 15 and still mess up! I can't seem to get his... Flow.

Does anyone have any tips on "getting" Uncle Wade?


Edited by - bobjo on 02/25/2009 08:15:03

Pitts - Posted - 02/25/2009:  08:19:34

Don't try to be just like him. Sure he was the best, but the point of old-time is to take something you like, and make it your own.

Hot Dog!

handsup8 - Posted - 02/25/2009:  09:04:35

One tip is that Miles Krassen's clawhammer book relies on Uncle Wade a lot, and his tab arrangements include a lot of "internal drop-thumbing" which seems one of the keys to his style. Ward often plays the 2nd string in combo with a drop-thumb to the 3rd, or ditto with the 3rd and 4th as part of his rhythmic accompaniment. I think this gives his playing a great rhythmic complexity and hop, definitely analogous to Monk.

Part of it is his tone or timbre as well. I believe that he was playing a resonator on the Clawhammer record (?) and his sound seeems to come from playing closer to the bridge than is now fashionable.

If you haven't seen it, my "John Lover's Gone" tune of the week submission was sparked by my love for Ward's version of the tune on another record: "Uncle Wade," which if you don't have it is a must get. Cheers, Ted


oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 02/25/2009:  14:27:11

Monk is indeed a good analogy. I've never been one for reproducing a banjo player, but were I going to try it, I would start with Wade Ward and then add some Fred Cockerham.

Download your free copy of Rocket Science Banjo - the Advanced Method For Beginning to Intermediate Clawhammer Players, at:

Along with the full text in PDF you will also find the four current RSB videos and the "25 EZ Clawhammer tunes. - which are up to about 40 now.

Banjo Brad is still hosting "How To Mold A Mighty Pinky" and some other material at:
A site full of interesting banjo material

Clawdan - Posted - 02/25/2009:  14:51:24

double and drop thumb. quite a lot. do you do those techniques? i believe there is a tab of june apple i did for banjo newsletter a year or so ago. do you have that? not identical to his playing but "in the style".

Play nice ,
Dan "Ain''t no bum-ditty" Levenson
Get started right with Dan''s Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch - Book and DVD (Mel Bay Publications)

whyteman - Posted - 02/25/2009:  16:54:25

I love Wade's version of Shady Grove; the way he cuts the tune off at the knees, but it still sounds whole. You keep listening to it each time through, and you think, this time he's not going to curtail it, but sure enough he does. Just brilliant.

I wish more claw players looked to Wade for inspiration instead of setting the default button automatically on "roundpeak". I love Wade's duets with Charlie Higgins.


Haul off your overcoat and roll up your sleeve.

BRUNO25 - Posted - 02/25/2009:  18:00:36

Be glad you can't you can't play it like Wade. If you could we'd all be stopping by your house at all hours of the day or night. I know what you mean, though. Like the way he plays June Apple, part A, coming in with quarter notes on the first string; 5th fret, open, 5th, open... Should be pretty darn simple, but not when he does it. You hear musicians talk sometimes about how sometimes it's more important what you leave out. I don't think anyone got that any better than Wade. I often wish I could get him,too. But then again, two years ago I couldn't play anything. It's good to have something to shoot for but I think we should also admire and appreciate our own playing, too. anyhow, just some thoughts. Cheers!

R.D. Lunceford - Posted - 02/26/2009:  01:23:10

Beyond the notes, I think a lot of WW's sound comes from his "attack".
Don't know how to tell anyone to get it. I think I can come close on June Apple
and Half Shaved, but WW aside, I have a hard enough time just sounding like myself.

R.D. Lunceford- "Missourian in Exile"
Model 1865 Bowlin Fretless Banjo
"Drink from the Musselfork once, and you''ll
always come back." -Dr. Bondurant Hughes, 1917

Edited by - R.D. Lunceford on 02/26/2009 01:24:12

Dock Jekel - Posted - 02/26/2009:  12:16:06

Bobjo. Most of the Wade Ward stuff I get- the drop thumbs, speed, the banjo clarity, etc. But in signature fashion, he always seems to pull off some dissonant tone or trick which leaves me spellbound. These effects are really difficult to dissect on slowdowner. I can’t get my banjo to ring like his when I play Cluck old hen, or June apple. Somebody out there, explain it to me too!

Edited by - Dock Jekel on 02/26/2009 15:49:52

MIke Bodner - Posted - 02/26/2009:  12:21:55

The fact that he used a resonator probably helps to make his tone unique.

Dock Jekel - Posted - 02/26/2009:  12:53:02

I don't understand how the resonator changes the tone in a significant way.

Dave Douglass - Posted - 02/26/2009:  12:57:40

I'll weigh in here. Not long ago I went to a Bruce Molsky concert and I cornered him before the show to ask him if he had an inspiration for his technique of frequently sounding his 4th string while playing banjo (not drop thumbing, doing it in place of the brush stroke). He immediately answered "Wade Ward", his first inspiration on OT banjo playing! I went home, relistened to some Wade Ward recordings (he was also my very first OT banjo inspiration) and, lo and behold, there it was, right in there. I guess I'd been missing this little subtly all these years. I suggest trying to throw that into the mix and seeing if that brings you closer to Wade's sound.

Dave Douglass

chip arnold - Posted - 02/26/2009:  13:24:25

I'm not so sure the resonator changes tone that much either. Throws it out in front better though which is what it's designed to do. I don't know what model Wade's banjo was. It could have had any one of several Gibson tone rings in it or it may not have had a ring at all. gailg64 or someone else with knowledge of those guys will maybe chime in with that info. But if it had a ring in it that would have lots to do with the tone and so would a skin head which it probably did have. Folks think resonators are responsible for all sorts of things that they're not guilty of. But most resonator banjos do have other components and setups that add volume, change tone and so on.

Take what is given
Give what is taken

Chip Arnold

bobjo - Posted - 02/27/2009:  07:35:15

Boy, I sure am enjoying this discussion!

About his tone: the 5th string sounds like it has it's own resonator chamber or something. It's the opposite of shrill. It sounds separate, delicate and far off, like it has it's own reverb. How does he do this!

After a visit with Wade Ward, Charles Faurot described his banjo playing as: "...soft and gentle, funny words to describe the banjo."

Found this from "Doctor Horsehair's Clawhammer Banjo Heroes":

Wade played a Gibson RB11 resonator style banjo with a very bright sound which is now in the Smithsonian Institution. The fingerboard, peghead and back of the resonator was covered with "mother-of-toilet seat" pearl-a-loid.

Some more pieces to the puzzle.



whatever you are, be a good one.
-abe lincoln

Boyd1 - Posted - 02/27/2009:  13:56:59

Hey bobjo!

Good discussion. Don't have anything to add, well, I will agree with R.D. about Mr. Ward's attack. Just wanted to say you're gonna get me listening to Wade Ward again- more closely. You had to bring up Monk (talk about a sharp attack)!

Spring is coming!

Anything you can imagine is real. - Pablo Picasso

R.D. Lunceford - Posted - 02/27/2009:  14:50:31

Another phrase I'd use to describe WW's playing is
"elegant simplicity". There's nothing at all superfluous in
his playing.

John Doherty (1895-1980) the legendary Donegal fiddler (Ireland)
seemed to come from the same place as far as his approach to the music.
Allen Feldman authored a magnificent portrayal of the fiddlers in Donegal and Tyrone (The Northern Fiddler-
now tragically out of print). In his notes to the Topic recording; "John Doherty, Master Fiddler
of Donegal: Bundle and Go", he wrote:

"He was capable of the most complex technical intricacies on the fiddle, but held these
in reserve and played with a deceptive simplicity and directness."

Doherty was concerned in preserving intact the fiddling style that had been passed down in his
family for perhaps 200 years. This for him took precedence over any personal fame he may have gained
through his own personal virtuosity. This is really where it is at!!! I think that Wade Ward held
a similar philosophy.

R.D. Lunceford- "Missourian in Exile"
Model 1865 Bowlin Fretless Banjo
"Drink from the Musselfork once, and you''ll
always come back." -Dr. Bondurant Hughes, 1917

whyteman - Posted - 02/27/2009:  16:10:47

In the film "Banjo Spirits" Stephen Wade presents Ward's banjo at the Smithsonian. It looks like an inexpensive model; the inlays had fallen out. Unfortunately, Wade didn't play Wade's banjo on camera. Reed Martin once said that he" tried to play Wade's banjo and couldn't get a note out of it, but Wade made it sound like a symphony". And Reed is used to playing claw on a resonator banjo. Lunsford is spot on with the comment about "simple elegance". Some thing to strive for in old time music.


Haul off your overcoat and roll up your sleeve.

howseth - Posted - 02/27/2009:  23:05:02

Someone filched my Wade Ward album years ago. If you could buy only one - which would you get (How many are there anyhow?)


oldtimer - Posted - 02/28/2009:  09:19:00

Wade Ward was a true genius of old-time music. Thelonious Monk is an good analogy. Back in the early seventies, I used to play a medley of Wade Ward tunes in my performances, and explained the musical inventiveness that set his playing apart from everyone else: Chilly Winds, June Apple, and Old Joe Clark.

A little insight can be gleaned from John Burke's rare book, if you can find one.

stay tooned....
Glenn Godsey

"Time passes unhindered"

farmer bob - Posted - 02/28/2009:  15:13:24

When I was in high school my friend got a piano and I got a banjo. We would go to his house and listen to Monk and he would try to copy his solos on the piano. Then we'ed go to my house and listen to WW. and I would try to copy his solo's on the banjo. The lesson I learned is that of the almost 7 billion people on the earth we are truely unique and we all have a special talent. That is why we will never be able to fit exactly into Wades Ward's shoes. Just copy and adapt his style as best you can and remember everyone else playing WW is no better or worse than you... Bob.

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