Posted by Brooklynbanjoboy on Friday, January 14, 2022
Well, the book on Jim Scancarelli is now published. The idea took root after Jim helped me understand the meaning and significance of the fiddlers conventions that he "discovered" in the 1960s in and around North Carolina.
It took a while to get that process up to speed - to get Jim to the point of telling and re-telling the stories he had in his ample memory of those days. At first, when questioned about the old-time and bluegrass music he heard at Galax, at Union Grove, and elsewhere, he offered only fragmentary pieces of stories.
However, as the recollections of people, repertoire, stage fanfare, contest excitement awakened, his stories became sharper, fuller, and his enthusiasm for recalling those days doubled.
That continued throughout the process of working on the book - from mid-2018 through to January 2021.
Moreover, the energy necessary to get Jim's stories to the catapult so they'd be propelled forward, made accessible - with force and energy - has now been sustained beyond the completion of the book . . .
That is to say, Jim continues to send recollections in my direction. Often, they cover familiar ground - but they always add more depth and color to the memories. For example, Jim has embellished the delicious story of how he got his first real good "professional quality" five-string banjo in the early 1960s, adding more detail, introducing more players (for example, Ginger and Grandma) to the narrative, telling a fine store in an even finer way.
My mind started wandering down memory lane as it often does to when I had just gotten out of the Navy. Listening to Earl Scruggs on the Beverly Hillbillies during my years in uniform in Newport, Rhode Island, had lit a ferocious fire under me to try and pick the 5-string banjo. On the Flatt and Scruggs TV show, Earl made it look so simple, his fingers moving fairly slowly and the music exiting really fast. I couldn’t resist. I had to get a banjo for myself.
Now along about that time - 1963 - the folk music craze had taken over college campuses and Union Grove, North Carolina, was the place to be Easter weekend. I was definitely hooked after my first visit.
Purchasing a banjo was not easily accomplished since by then, the banjos had flown off the shelves of music stores and pawn shops once that music had taken flight. As a consequence, you had to order an instrument by mail through a store - and that’s exactly what I did at Sears and Roebuck. Remember them? You could even buy a prefab house through their auspices. Well, I ordered a Silvertone five-string that cost $75 and anxiously awaited the delivery.
And time dragged on eternally until one day there it was my own flashy gold and silver colored plastic banjo. PLASTIC? How could it be? Also the neck on it was much longer than the ones I saw at Union Grove or what Earl Scruggs picked. It turned out it was a Pete Seeger long neck model and probably not an authorized instrument. I would sit in front of the TV and try picking along with Earl and Lester and the Foggy Mt. Boys . . . but, to no avail. It was my all-consuming focus, day and night, trying to get the roll. And, needless to say, it was frustrating!
I would sit on my grandma’s front steps and pick and pick until it was supper time and back to the steps picking and plunking till dark. One day Ginger, the Boxer pup that lived at the corner came over and lovingly placed her head under my right arm and seemed to appreciate my clumsy attempts at music as she drooled on the head of my banjo. Ginger was my only fan and would come around daily to listen and drool and eat some of of the treats my grandma would give her.
After many months of getting nowhere I discovered the strings were way too high off the neck. It was like trying to play a dobro.
That’s when I went to Fred Nance’s music shop and ordered a Fender Allegro banjo which sold for $300 or so.
But what arrived as the result of that order - appearing in a cardboard box wrapped in newspapers for padding - was the gold plated Concert Tone top of the line model that retailed for around $1000.
That, of course, was not the banjo I had ordered. But Good ol’ Fred Nance said he didn’t want to go to the trouble of returning it and the hassles associated with reordering the cheaper instrument, so he said take the banjo and pay him $500 (his cost) when I could.
That’s when my picking improved since the Concert Tone was indeed a professional musical instrument.
Ginger would come visit each evening, eat granny’s treats and drool on my expensive new banjo head. In retrospect I’ve always wondered whether Ginger came mainly for doggy treats or to listen to my pickin’ . . .
I will note that Jim added a decidedly unmusical part to this story - with a slight connection to the Fender tale:
One evening at supper time, Ginger came to the door and banged on it with her paw, begging for her usual treat.
My grandma told Ginger that she was sorry but she didn’t have any treats that night.
A few minutes later there was a pawing at the door again. Ginger reappeared, looked up at my grandma with doleful doggy eyes, and whimpered.
Again, my grandma told her we had no treats.
After a while, I took my new Fender banjo and went onto the porch to pick and when I looked down, the steps were all wet . . . and it wasn’t raining.
Ginger had expressed her innermost feelings about our treat-focused negligence.
Though Jim continues to describe himself as "an analog person trapped in a digital world" - an "old geezer trapped in the "old person’s room" - his stories and recollections continue to have the snap, crackle and pop that add depth and make it worth spinning them out again and again, especially since they gain more with the retelling.
Thanks for your interest. Take care,
Saturday, January 15, 2022 @4:09:10 AM
Great stories, Lew. While my stories may be different, they share a similar timeline, similar experiences watching Earl on TV, and similar front porch practice sessions.
Saturday, January 15, 2022 @5:23:17 AM
Did your story have a little hound voting on your front porch picking? I had three who were often a good audience but from time to time voted to be out of banjo range, depending on mood and season.
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