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Homage to Adcock

Posted by spurtalisterous on Monday, March 11, 2013

I met Eddie Adcock in October 2005, right before Halloween, at IBMA in Nashville.  I had just quit my job, wondering what I was going to do with my life, and my friend and bass player Dick asked me to ride up to IBMA with him.  Little did I know what a hotshot he was...Dick knew half the people there, seemingly!  He even got a call-out from Kenny Smith for getting him the guitar he was playing.  Lots of cool stories from that trip.

Anyway, I saw who I thought was Adcock outside the hotel, packing up to go.  I stopped and asked him if he were indeed Eddie Adcock.  In one of my more lucid startstruck moments, I told him how much I loved his playing for years and years, with the classic Country Gentlemen, and mentioned some specific things I thought really distinguished his playing from that of all the other players I was listening to at the time.  Rather than shoo me off so he could get where he obviously was headed, he stopped and talked to me about his square roll and some other things.  I kept remembering songs of his I thought were incredible:  500 Miles, Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor, Aunt Dinah's Quilting Party, even the theme song from a movie he did on banjo ("Exodus").  This guy was fearless.  Sometimes he played with a Reno-type feel, but decidedly NOT Reno.  I can't think of anyone else playing banjo that has the rhythmic feel of those early Gentlemen sides with Adcock.  I've even heard a lot of guys listened to him and thought, "That guy can't play."  He was that un-Scruggs-like!

It's rare when I pick up a banjo and don't play SOMETHING that was given to me by Adcock.  I use the opening rolls in "500 Miles" as an etude to work on non-standard rolls.  There's no other way I even want to hear "Aunt Dinah's Quilting Party;" boy does that song move!  I looked for months to try to find one of those REALLY DEEP Epiphone archtop banjos he played in the 60s.  But again (do I say this every post), it's not the banjo, but the fingers!  Another gift Adcock has is he can convey his sense of humor purely instrumentally.  Have you ever heard something not accompanied by text or vocals or laughter or anything that simply made you laugh, like in a Spike Jones kind of way?  He's got that.  Also, when I'm in a tight spot and I need to make a tight roll that doesn't include the 5th string, I do this forward-backward thing I've heard him (and, to distribute credit) and Stanley do.

Modern banjo players have a Janus-faced situation WRT innovation.  On the one hand, we have the most terrific, modern-sounding banjo players on the planet still alive today (Adcock, Osborne, Barnes).  On the other hand, it is really sometimes difficult to find a piece of ground these guys haven't already tilled.  But the field is still wide-open.  Bela Fleck has not succeeded in making the banjo a mass-appeal instrument, not in the way Earl Scruggs did.  This essentially American instrument still has a contribution to make, and I am unconvinced it has been fully exploited.  My friend Jay told me the other night he was experimenting with a four-finger technique.  I like this guy's spirit!  That Mike Seeger record of a few years ago, with all the old-time stuff on it, showed just how many pluck/strum combinations there have been in use historically, and it is clear those have not been fully utilized (one of those instruments had two drone strings instead of the usual 5th only).  Sonny Osborne played this odd Bb tuning on one of their 60s records that has a lot of potential still (he also spent a few years working on a six-string banjo).  We can spend years just picking up threads these guys started and never really pursued!  So much low-hanging fruit is waiting for those of us willing to reach up just a little.  



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