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My bio (extended) - the story of a long lost love finally found !

Posted by Erwin on Sunday, May 16, 2010

I think I need to explain a bit more about myself, and how it came to be my ambition to be a banjo-player (and member of this site)

In 1972 the film "Deliverance" was made, and it let me, and probably ten thousands of other enthousiasts, fall deeply in love with the 5 string banjo. I was 16 at that time, and I played a little (but just a little) guitar, meaning I could strike the basic chords. My dad was a pretty good guitar player, but at that age, you don't want to learn anything from your old man, so I didn't pick up the things he did (mainly big band stuff).

After seeing the movie, and saving a lot of my weekly money, I could buy my first banjo ! My father went with me to the music store, and on the way there, he mentioned that the chords of the 5-string banjo were not at all those on the guitar. I'm sure he did this NOT on purpose, but it gave me the jinks ! In the music store, I chickened out and bought myself a 6-string guitar banjo. It was a bad choice... not for the quality of the instrument (a Framus), but because I did not follow my heart, but my brains in stead that said : "Why throw everything away that you have learned so far ? Just stick with the things you know already !".

A few years later, I bought a cheap dreadnought guitar (which I still have) and started to teach myself fingerpicking with a book of Steve Grossman (which I still have... the book, not the man !).I became a little good in this style, but I realized I would never reach Steve Grossman's craftmanship, even if I lived for another hundred years. So, music kind of disappeared from my life, or rather, it was on and off. Then, about 15 years ago, I became interested in... Bossa Nova ! Because of my fingerpicking abilities, I could easily do the typical base-chord alternation of the bossa nova. I just didn't know how to play the chords : they sounded strange ! So I contacted a guitar teacher, and he said that the Bossa Nova chords are really "jazz" chords, meaning 7th chords (1 + 3 + 5 + 7). He brushed up my musical knowledge, and showed me how to figure out those chords. Looking for a way to practice this new learning, I joined a big band ! After 20+ years, I was doing exactly the same what my father did ! Not that this is a bad thing, but if I had picked up his stuff at the age of 16, I would have been there a lot quicker !

Anyway, also here I again bumped into the "wall of capability". I was doing an allright, but not an excellent job. I knew that if I wanted to go further, I had to invest a lot more time and transpiration into guitar playing.... and it seems I never had the energy to do that. So that also was starting to wither away...

Then, in 2006, I saw another decisive movie. You know what it is : "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou ?". I know this film is made in 2000, but I only got to see it in March 2006, allright ? The original fire was again lightning up, and this time, I would pursue my goal ! In August 2006 I finally bought a 5-string banjo : a Gold ToneCC-100R ( Again, a cheap instrument (seems to be the Leitmotiv here), but it does not sound bad at all ! (You can also take away the resonator, so you really have 2 banjos for the price of 1 !). The only thing that is embarassing are the tuners : the are guitar-like style (and not planetory). Guaranteed to bring chuckles of laughter during jam-sessions ! Anyway, I bought my ugly duckling from a Spanish importer via the internet, and it came in a cardboard box 6 week later, in September 2006. Finally, FINALLY, I had my 5-string banjo !

I immediately started to practice, and with my finger-picking style of gone-by days, I found it not at all hard to learn the basic rolls. Also, the tablature was a bit odd in the beginning, but the more you see and practice them, the easier is the next one to practice. 

But I consider myself to start "real" practicing somewhat a year ago, when I bought the book "The Complete Bluegrass Banjo Method" by Fred Sokolow (Hal-Leonard Editions). This book has the great advantage not only to give you some tabs to practice, but it also gives you "homework", e.g. make a back-up of your own to "Red River Valley" in G and C. This process is slow, but it's doing the job !

Also, I want to master the clawhammer style, for 2 reasons : it broadens my palette of styles, and I find the sound of a claw hammered banjo so much more mysterious, nostalgic, richer, full of subtle nuances... Bluegrass for the fiesta, clawhammer for the siesta.

Anyway, here's the thing : the more I practice, the more I *crave* for more ! And that's what I never experienced with a guitar. As with a long lost love, the more time you spend with her, the harder it is to leave her again. I feel the same now practicing the banjo. It took about 40 years to have her on my side, and I ain't NEVER going to leave her again !


2 comments on “My bio (extended) - the story of a long lost love finally found !”

nicecloud Says:
Monday, May 17, 2010 @8:41:30 AM

Thanks for sharing, Erwin, especially the father..
Had we obey our father in the first place ...and learn from his years of experience while being with him.
I disagree about the tuners. If they work, perfect for me. We use them on the guitar.
Maybe you could start a thread about it.
Why planetary tuners ? Anyway, you could buy 4 new tuners and go around that problem. Being in tune is what matters here.

Erwin Says:
Monday, May 17, 2010 @10:47:34 AM

Don't get me wrong : the role of my father in this story should not be overemphasized. Every step in this story is MY decision ! My dad was a great guy, who let us make our decisions independently, even if we were dead wrong !
As far as tuners are concerned : there's the esthetical and cultural aspect of the banjo, that dictates the planetory setting. I don't care too much, as long as those tuners do, as you say, what they are supposed to do. But guitar-like tuners *do* seem a bit odd !

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