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Claw-hammer after all these years

Posted by LarryD1 on Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Well I've been 3 finger banjo picking for about 35 years and plan to continue as long as I'm able, however, recently, I have gotten very much into claw-hammer. I just bought my first open back with a scooped neck. It's Bart Reiter Regent. I purchased it  from a member up in Kentucky who advertised it on the Hangout classified ads.

I was interested in clawhammer once before after a trip to the Ozark Folk Center in Arkansas. That was back in the  early 80's. I got to hear some good claw-hammer on that trip and even got to meet Louis(Grandpa ) Jones, and attend a jam session with some of his family members. 

I bought a couple of books after that trip. Mel Bay's Frailing by Eric Muller and Barbara Koehler, it cost $5.95 at the time, so you can see I've had it a while. I also bought Mel Bay's Claw- Hammer Banjo Solos by Alec Slater, it was $4.95.  I just couldn't get much out of either book at the time, but now , after twenty five years of technology, and resources like the Hangout and it's members, I'm making good use of these books, especailly the Eric Muller book.

My interest in clawhammer was renewed this March when I attended  The Suwannee Banjo Camp in Florida. I went for 3 finger Bluegrass and had a great expereince getting to learn from and pick with Bill Keith, Bill Evans, Janet Davis, and others. 

One thing that did surprise me, however,  was the fact that there were a lot more open back banjos at the camp  than bluegrass banjos. Those folks had come to learn from instructors like Ken Perlman, Bob Carlin, Chuck Levy. Mark Johnson, and others. I also learned that this was originally an Old -Time Banjo Camp and that this was only the third year( I think) that Bluegrass was being offered. I didn't attend any of the claw-hammer/Old-Time sessions, but I was exposed. The faculty concerts were fabulous by the instructors of both styles.

I'm still working hard to improve my 3 finger picking, but now I'm also working equally hard at clawhammer.  Not only do I like the sound of the clawhammer banjo, I like the fact that it is good accompaniment for singing. I also play guitar and sing. Over the past 35 years, if I was going to be performing alone, I always took the guitar and used my banjo when playing with others. Now, I'm looking forward to doing more with just me and the banjo.

One of my Bluegrass friends said that it sounded like I was moving over to the dark side. The truth is, I love both styles . My plan to switch back and forth and continue to improve in both styles.

Thanks for all the help from you folks at the Hangout.


5 comments on “Claw-hammer after all these years”

campbelldb Says:
Wednesday, July 22, 2009 @3:21:08 PM


It's great you cotinue to explore and learn; best wishes!



blanham Says:
Thursday, May 31, 2012 @4:14:39 AM

I can really relate to your progression with the banjo. Same with me: 30-plus years of 3-finger picking, unsuccessful attempt to learn clawhammer from a book pre-internet, finally learning it with today's resources, and learning a lot more at Suwannee Banjo Camp. Maybe we will run into each other at another banjo camp some day.

LarryD1 Says:
Thursday, May 31, 2012 @5:35:32 AM

It does seem like our experience with claw-hammer is very similar. I still play a lot of three finger and pick with a local bluegrass band. I work a few claw-hammer tunes into our performances, but the bluegrass guys aren't real comfortable with playing old time music. In the last year, a group has formed in Charleston, SC called the Low-country Friends of Old Time Music. Check out their blog at They get together once a month to jam. I've attended a couple of their sessions and its a great opportunity to learn new claw-hammer tunes. It's good to hear from you and would enjoy meeting and picking with you .

jbjo Says:
Friday, June 1, 2012 @12:08:12 PM

I haven't been playing near as long as you but have found that trying both is quite enjoyable, there's SO much to learn on both sides....

LarryD1 Says:
Friday, June 1, 2012 @12:58:58 PM

I couldn't agree with you more . I still want to play like Earl and love hard driving bluegrass banjo, but at the same time I enjoy the old time music and the different tunings. I especially enjoy double C tuning and the modal tunings.

It's pretty neat to play one instrument and have that kind of variety.

Good to hear from you.

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