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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Herbert J. Ellis

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John Kavanagh - Posted - 04/19/2007:  11:56:29

IN the 7-string thread Trapdoor prgave a great link to some classic banjo music books. ( Of course I downloaded them right away adn I'll be happily picking away all weekend, learning new tunes. Thanks Marc!

I've often wondered if the banjo writer Herbert J. Ellis is any relation to the jazz guitarist Herb Eliis, who was born in 1921 and played with Oscar Peterson, the Great Guitars trio, and a million great solo gigs. I've always assumed he was father, grandfather, uncle or something. Anybody know for sure?

-JK don't mean a thang,
if it ain't got that twang.

trapdoor2 - Posted - 04/19/2007:  14:00:52

Hmmmm...Brit banjo whiz, Herbert J. Ellis b. 1865, d.1903 (tuberculosis).

Herb Ellis, guitarist, b. 1921 in Farmersville, Texas...still around too, maybe you could ask him? Interesting to note that Herb started out on the banjo...

You might ask David Wade (, he would be the most likely to know someone who might know someone who might know.

"If banjos needed tone rings, S.S. Stewart would have built 'em that way."


John Kavanagh - Posted - 04/19/2007:  14:31:32

Thanks, I just took your advice. I wasn't 100% sure the elder was British-born. The younger Ellis I've seen live a few times. He certainly talks like someone from Texas, and like someone whose daddy, and his daddy's daddy, was probably from Texas too...

-JK don't mean a thang,
if it ain't got that twang.

janolov - Posted - 04/19/2007:  15:24:20

These tutors at are very interesting!
I downloaded them one year ago and I I look through them now and then. I think all these tutors are from around 1900 or earlier and they are British, reflecting the European adaption of the minstrel music. All these tutors are based on the finger picking style (sometimes called guitar style) in contrast to the "uncultivated" stroke style, and may be seen as a forerunner to the "classic banjo" genre. Several of the titles has a feeling of Africa and the colored people, so I think there is connections to the American minstrel music.

I have found two interesting tunes in Turner's 60 jigs. Both Hottentott Breakdown and Nobby's Breakdown. Both have a lot of 5th string and they can be played almost note-by-note in clawhammer. However, I think Turner played them in finger-style with "M/I"-up picks instead of clawhammer strokes or down strokes.

It is also interesting to see the six- and sevenstinged banjos. They seems to be developed in mainly in UK. Also other kind of banjos, seemed to be developed in England around the turn of century: zitherbanjo, piccolobanjo, bass banjo and so on. I think the British tried to develope the banjo and the banjo music during that period, while the banjo intrest in U.S. was declining (?).

When we are looking at the banjo history and "old-time-banjo" I think we shall not forget the British experiance from around 1900.


John Kavanagh - Posted - 04/19/2007:  16:08:21

Here's what David Wade had to say:

It is a lovely thought but ..I doubt it very much.
Although it has to be said that I have never come across anyone claiming to be related to HJE, whereas with most of the other "banjophiles" we do know something.

I'm taking that as a definitive "probably not" for now. I have this vague nagging feeling that I read an article in a guitar mag years ago that said HE's father and uncle had been banjo players, but of course I might be thinking of George Van Eps, whose dad was Fred Van Eps.

-JK don't mean a thang,
if it ain't got that twang.

trapdoor2 - Posted - 04/19/2007:  16:38:54

Yeah, imagine being G. vE and learning your chops from daddy...!!

David W. alludes to something common in the Brit scene which is less common here: ask a Brit banjoist where he/she learned the banjo and you'll get a lesson in geneolgy...probably back to when Sweeney stepped off the gangplank in Bristol in 1843. In the US, you're more likely to get "I learned it out of a book" or "I wore out a pile of records".

Because of that uniquely British propensity, I'd say that any connection between HJE and HE are sheer coincidence...otherwise the response would be "Oh, HJE's brother had 16 kids and little Johnny Ellis was lost to some cowgirl in Buffalo Bill's show as it passed thru East Wappington in ought-3..."

"If banjos needed tone rings, S.S. Stewart would have built 'em that way."


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