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What's Wrong With Me?

Posted by Joe Larson on Saturday, March 30, 2013

Okay, that's rhetorical, please don't start a list. But what I mean is this. I went to a jam last night, one that I attend fairly regularly and it's like any other jam I've ever attended - some pretty good musicians and some pretty bad ones. And like every other jam the proportion of instruments is never predictable; some nights there are 10 banjo players and no basses, other nights 20 guitars and no banjos, etc. The permutations are infinite, but this venue is large enough we can usually break up into 3 or 4 separate jams.

So I get into a jam with some pretty fair pickers and we play a few tunes. Pretty soon another banjoist comes and sits down with us. Now here's where my topic title is pertinent. I HATE the sound of 2 banjos playing together. It just drives me up a wall! I even had an album of banjo duets by someone, I can't remember who, maybe Tony Trischka who paired with other top name pickers, I mean really the cream of the crop, and they're doing fancy harmonies and counterpoint and really tearing it up. I tossed it. It was like fingernails on a blackboard to me. 

To add to that, I hate the sound of the banjo played in anything but a three finger style. Dixieland, Hot Jazz, Minstrel, Mummers (oh God, please!). If it ain't Bluegrass or fiddle tunes played in Scruggs or Keith style I'm outta here.

Now 2 banjo players in a jam isn't necessarily a deal breaker if they each understand that etiquette, or just plain common sense means you're not "on" all the time So I'm sitting in the jam trying to leave room for this guy and hoping he'll do me the same courtesy, but he won't. It doesn't matter whether the singer is singing or some other instrument is taking a break, this guy is rolling rolling rolling. We even had the bass player take a break on Foggy Mountain Special, you know, where all the other instruments stop, and this guy is still rolling.

I'm thinking this can't possibly get any worse when a third banjoist comes and sits down and starts rolling rolling rolling.I decided to make it a short night.



9 comments on “What's Wrong With Me?”

Common Tater Says:
Saturday, March 30, 2013 @9:29:11 AM

Some people are dense and socially-challenged. I would have done what you did.

Texasbanjo Says:
Saturday, March 30, 2013 @1:30:33 PM

We had a banjo picker like that in our club. And he played LOUD all the time. Didn't have sense enough to play soft even when a mandolin picker or dobro was taking a break. Everyone really disliked him and he usually broke up a good jam, but we'd break up slowly and usually end up elsewhere -- and he'd be about the last one left and always wondered why everyone left.

I told him once that it was his picking that caused people to leave but he never did believe me.

Joe Larson Says:
Saturday, March 30, 2013 @3:42:40 PM

Well this guy is a nice guy it seems but he's just clueless. Usually there are enough other players that I could have found another group but not this night. I make it a point to teach my students how to chunk (vamp) at least and let them know that a banjo can really get in the way of the music sometimes. Banjo jokes exist for a reason.

pickn5 Says:
Sunday, March 31, 2013 @7:07:00 AM

If he is a nice guy and just clueless, maybe you and some others can engage him in conversation and explain jam etiquette.

Joe Larson Says:
Sunday, March 31, 2013 @7:11:19 AM

Well as the old saying goes - Here in Ky we're far too polite to talk about someone to their face :0)
But you're right, that's what should be done.

stanleytone Says:
Sunday, March 31, 2013 @7:23:01 AM

i remember i was at a festival one time and hooked up with 4 other banjo players, all of them good.just us, no one else.we went through a buffet of tunes and we were all amazed at how good we all sounded together.everybody seemed to instinctively knew what or what not to play and we fed off each other like you would not believe,. even to this day one of them , in his 70's and unable to play anymore, still recalls that jam as one of the most enjoyable times he can remember with his banjo. it wasnt planned, it just happened. im glad i was a part of it.
the neat thing was that no one tried to horn in on it with any other wans't broke ,so they didnt try to fix it.

Joe Larson Says:
Sunday, March 31, 2013 @7:33:04 AM

I was in a jam like that one time many years ago. It was very late at a little festival, long since defunct, in Smith's Grove, Ky. There were 4 or 5 of us and we played Blackberry Blossom, among other tunes, and we kept trying to find more harmony parts to it. (after three parts it gets complicated) and I enjoyed it quite a lot. Although I must admit, I was under the influence of a couple of mind altering substances

7wolfman Says:
Tuesday, April 2, 2013 @5:32:21 PM

I am a rank beginner and only a closet picker, but I have always worried about raining on the parade. The Southern Bluegrass Association has published a listing on it's website to "show the path" so to speak for folks like me. Maybe someone could direct him to that listing.

Ks_5-picker Says:
Saturday, April 6, 2013 @2:58:21 PM

I was once the picker who didn't have a clue. I wish one of the better pickers had pointed out what I needed to do to fit in better. I guess because I was older(34) when I started playing bluegrass,they all assumed I already knew all I was ever gonna learn. ;-)
I,too,have been in jams with 3 or more banjo players and had a good time. It can be done,but you have to work at it.

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