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Banjo revival

Posted by GreasyCreek on Saturday, November 21, 2015

For the last few years I've been sliding down that slippery slope that swallows so many oldtime banjo players--the path of the fiddle. The deal with the devil, and all that. I'm still on that path, too. I have to admit: playing the fiddle has really deepened my appreciation of mountain music.

But just before falling whole hog into the fiddle abyss, a few folks extended saving hands. Mac Traynham finished up a banjo for me and I got to spend some quality banjo time with Emily Spencer and Riley Baugus. Dwight Diller was kind enough to drive me up the Williams River, show me where the Hammons had lived, and talk about his life with the banjo. I feel renewed. It's a personal banjo revival. It's just what I needed.

I have a more modest, but also a wider, view of my role as a banjo player after the early days of my detour through fiddle (and thanks also to a lot of bass playing with some very fine musicians). I've come back to really appreciate what Dave Bing told me in one of the first banjo lessons I ever had: no matter what notes you play or how you choose to handle brushes and drop thumbs, make sure you get that rhythm right. I heard that in that early lesson, but I only really understood it once I played fiddle with various banjo players. I realized then that little of what they did mattered to me (or, I think, to the tune) beyond they way they held down that rhythm--whether it was bump-ditty-bump or bumpa-ditty-bumpa-ditty....whatever, I wanted that rhythmic guidance to be present and solid. If they happened to hit some melody notes along with me or add some nice fills, great. But that was secondary.

On the other hand, I've also come back to the joy I originally found with the banjo as solo instrument and as accompaniment to singing. For me this is the "sit on the porch, play and sing and revel in the simple and profound beauty of mountain music" aspect of the banjo that's separate and apart from the joy of playing in a string band for dancers or just grooving with others.

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