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On the Passing of Banjo Players

Posted by twayneking on Sunday, August 28, 2016

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I read a post today complaining that a certain banjo player (not Earl Scruggs) had passed away and that nobody on BHO had noticed. I don't know if this particular banjo player (the one who died) had a presence on the BHO or not, but I'd never heard of him, nor of his passing. That said, it's always sad to hear that a good banjo player has passed on. But then, I hate to see us lose even a mediocre player or any banjo picker from our ranks for that matter. Anyone who loves the banjo is special so far as I'm concerned.

The poster apparently felt like other BHO members should have posted a notice of the man's demise, given his skill as a professional banjo player. I think, perhaps, my friend misunderstands the folk who "hang out" on this website. The folk who make up the hangout aren't entirely professionals. We're not exactly the Academy of Banjo Arts and Sciences. We don't hand out "Earls" every year at a red carpet ceremony. We're simply a collection of oddballs, cranks, professionals, amateurs, rank amateurs, and musical geniuses that like to talk about their favorite sport, banjo playing.

We also like to maunder on about politics and religion when the moderators aren't paying attention, but that's mainly because we're also, by nature an opinionated lot, who don't give a hoot that we are different from the herd. Actually, we kind of like that about our little group. We embrace that oddness as we embrace the odd instrument we play - the one with the tuning peg stuck ludicrously out there from the side of the neck. I mean what other instrument does that?

In short we are a colorful group of musicians of every level of skill you can imagine. Some of us defy categorization. And, as for properly recognizing the great among us (except for possibly Earl Scruggs and Pete Seeger) we don't have a lot of banjo deities here - just friends who get a kick out of this instrument. While we're always sad to see a great famous professional banjo player lay down his instrument, we also are grieved to see any of our number leave our noble conclave here, however well  or indifferently he or she may have mastered the instrument. Here, we grieve perhaps most for those we know the best. Most really great professional banjo players don't hang out here much. We're more likely to send out an outpouring of grief for the fair-to-middling picker that we know and exchange insults and encouragement with, than we might for a banjo player we don't know personallly, however good he might be. In fact, I've noticed that comments about dead professional banjo players tend to mention having met the musician at some point or having played with him or her or how nice a person and approachable he or she was. We tend to value friendliness as much as we value picking skill here.

That's what I like about banjo players in general and why this site has done as well as it has, I think. We belong to one of the least snobbish musical genres I've ever known, despite the levels of practice and skill needed to master our funny old instrument. There are always a few elitists in every group, who look down on the rest of us, but for the most part, this crowd is open, accepting, and appreciative, even to those who are just picking up the banjo for the first time.

So I wouldn't worry too much about who should have noticed the passing of some banjo picker you might have admired who has died and no one seems to have noticed. Just post the notice yourself. You'll get plenty of condolences if you do, mostly from people who actually met the guy or hung out with him at some point.

Like I said, we hate to lose one of our number under any circumstances, but for the most part we have no banjo royalty. What we have are friends who also play this odd duck of an instrument. The egalitarian banjo is a distinctly American instrument in that respect - an instrument that welcomes your tired, your poor and your huddled masses (and even tolerates your snobs, elitists and self-important prigs as well, albeit we do have a tendency to puncture inflated egos if they start to crowd the room too much). We're bad like that. 

© 2016 - Tom King

2 comments on “On the Passing of Banjo Players”

banjotef Says:
Monday, August 29, 2016 @11:24:53 AM

Good one, Tom!

crappiejohn Says:
Monday, September 19, 2016 @10:28:55 AM

Tom, you sure have a way with words!
I really enjoyed reading your post.
East Texas lost a goodn when you left.
God Bless.

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