Interview by Mike Kropp
Every once in a while, if you’re lucky, an unexpected and wonderful experience unfolds. My first exposure to Tim Weed’s superlative banjo playing, and our subsequent friendship, was one such happening. By chance, my wife and I found ourselves in Tucson, Arizona. We were on our way out of town and saw the sign for The Folk Shop. Of course I had to stop in and see if there were any interesting new or vintage banjos to check out. I immediately bonded with the proprietor, Paul Blumentritt, regarding all things banjo. After playing several banjos, Paul asked if I had ever heard the playing of Tim Wiedenkeller (Tim Weed). I hadn’t. He pressed Tim’s recent CD, “Milagros” into my hands and told me that I was about to be blown away. I graciously accepted and we took off out of town. We popped the CD into the player and I almost drove off the road—the music coming out of the speakers was amazing.
So began my introduction to Tim’s playing. His execution was flawless, with great tone and dynamics. We were listening to Tim’s original compositions—a melodious mixture of bluegrass, Spanish, classical and jazz. Wow! This guy had to be the world’s greatest player I’d never heard of. I thought I’d heard most of the great players—well, add Tim to the list!
The album is all solo banjo, which is quite a challenging undertaking. The first time I heard it I thought, let’s hear that again. I probably listened to it five or six times while driving through the southwest. It’s very engaging; some of it is so beautiful you just want to keep hearing it again. It covers a lot of ground. So I ended up telling everybody to go out and buy it.
Fast forward a few years. I finally met Tim and heard him play solo, live, at the winter NAMM show while he was demoing and performing at the Recording King Booth. I was blown away, again, and discovered he is an awesome bluegrass player as well. We talked, and remained in touch with the idea that we would arrange for a BNL interview.
Finally, just before Christmas 2011, Tim, Bill Evans and I rendezvoused at a studio in Petaluma, CA. Rob Turner, EMG President, had been developing a new banjo pick-up, and Tim, Bill and I had been assisting Rob separately. Our meeting was the culmination of this process. We played many tunes that day with the prototype pick-ups installed. I got to know Tim better, and we really bonded as players and friends. I got to hear Tim play an even wider range of music that day—a delight for me. —Mike Kropp
Tim comes from a musical family. His mother was a singer/pianist, and his Dad occasionally played clarinet. His sisters took piano lessons and his older brother played guitar. Music was ingrained in Tim early on. Tim became a soloist in the church boy’s choir when he was 7. He studied trumpet from grades 3-11 and played in the school bands.
In 1975, at age 16, Tim’s first memory of connecting with the banjo was hearing some 8-track tapes of the Eagles and Poco. In his room, Tim joyously played air banjo on his tennis racquet when the banjo came over the speakers. He heard Duelin’ Banjos around the same time. He was hooked.
His sister’s boyfriend Ralph Liddle gave him “Old and In The Way,” and then the Dirt Band’s “Circle” album. At age 17, Tim’s Mom bought him his first banjo, for $60. Tim heard Bobby Thompson’s playing on Hee Haw and recorded the shows to learn the banjo parts. He started learning with his best friend Jeff Harvey and began jamming with other players—even learning tunes by the Who, Yes, and Led Zeppelin.So, Tim’s musical career was off to a prodigious start. At one of his first bluegrass jams, he met Greg Rich (luthier extraordinaire) and took his one and only formal banjo lesson.
In 1978 Tim played in the short-lived band, the Sunnyside Boys. He then helped form the band Last Chance, who performed at the Golden West Bluegrass Festivals in Norco, California, and numerous festivals throughout the West. During its few years of existence, Last Chance helped produce some of today’s most influential acoustic musicians, including Stuart Duncan, Gene Libbea, Ken Orrick and Alison Brown.
Tim lists his early banjo influences as follows: Bernie Leadon (Eagles), Rusty Young (Poco), Bobby Thompson, Jerry Garcia, Eric Weissberg, Marshall Brickman, Greg Rich, Abe Brown, Larry McNeely, Bill Keith, Earl Scruggs, Craig Smith and Pat Cloud.
Tim was further exposed to a wide range of music by his mom and friends. He attended performances by the LA Philharmonic, Merle Haggard, Joe Pass, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Larry Carlton, Kenny Loggins, Bill Monroe, the Country Gentlemen, and Ralph Stanley.
Tim’s Banjo Observations:
Advice on Recording: I believe the key is “frontloading”—being prepared. It only takes one terrorizing experience to make you go home and really practice! Early in my life as a musician, I was taught that you don’t record until you’re ready; and, that recordings last forever, so they better be good.
• Studios are almost always air-conditioned, which can be a shock to your instrument, so dress warmly and make sure you’ve got your electronic tuner nearby to stay perfectly in tune.
• I often bring my own personal favorite headphones. My favorite mics for recording the banjo are Royer 122 ribbon mics—often in conjunction with a large diaphragm tube condensor.
• I personally never use compression on the banjo and have strong aversion to that sound.
• I’m a die-hard vintage analog fan and prefer tubes and tape.
Teaching, Learning and Practice
Let’s say that there is a “universal bank.” The amount of hours you deposit as deliberate listening, study, practice, and performing will earn you immeasurable returns. It’s pretty simple: the more time you put in, the more you’ll get out; plus, the importance of persistence. As a predominantly self-taught musician, I want to stress the importance of mindful observation:
1. Repetitive deep listening and learning—slowing the piece down to discover the correct notes and nuances. Learning by ear vs. tab—this is music folks…sound. I highly recommend The Amazing Slow Downer.
2. Watch, and closely study, the actions and results of accomplished players, and implement what you learn.
3. Learning from YouTube is an extraordinary opportunity but with a caveat. Unless the presenter is an experienced and reputable teacher, the skill required to determine the validity of an offering exceeds the content of the offering. There is an overabundance of free, bad teaching out there—be careful!
4. I always encourage aspiring players to seek out others to regularly play with!!!
5. I’m a firm believer in neural programming—refining a mechanical action and repeating it until that action becomes internalized. I find that the very best music is produced when the internalized song is playing the hands rather than the hands playing the song. Ultimately, technique disappears, enabling undistracted pure expression, and you play and react according to what you feel.
6. I can’t overemphasize the importance of timing. I’m a strong advocate of practicing to an accurate metronome whenever possible. At first, get comfortable playing with the click on the on-beat, and then, place it on the off-beat. Observe how different these feel. Learn to identify and play ahead, behind, and in the middle of the beat. Learn to identify and play ahead, behind, and in the middle of the beat. Learn to use the metronome as a jamming partner. It’s all about feel, and finding that “pocket.” With correct timing, you can play almost anything and have the drive and feel carry it. I’ve had to work really hard at it.
7. I always implore aspiring players to play quieter as they play faster to promote meticulous technique in their practice.
8. Lessons can be invaluable, and with the advent of Skype video, your options have increased immensely.
• If you’re taking lessons, videotape them!—at the very least, the highlights. Audio recording is also effective.
9. “Playing” your instrument. Don’t underestimate the importance of “noodling.” Figure out melodies in your head and just explore sounds.
10. Use tablature for reference only! Get off of the page asap!
11. The Role of Rolls: simply to increase coordination and speed. I advise playing as many different rolls as possible—mixing them up to develop independence between the T, I, and M. The right hand must follow the left hand.
12. Through diligent practice, you will build an ever increasing vocabulary to play the strong notes on the strong beats. Remember Duke Ellington’s words: “If it sounds good, it is good”
Mike Kropp: I’m sitting here with Tim at IBMA. Your music has a Spanish, classical, almost Baroque sound. At times, I get sort of a lute feel; the music has a regal quality. Did you wake up one day and your banjo was out of tune and you started playing and this stuff came out, or was this in your head all along? How did you start playing this style, which is kind of something all your own?
Tim Weed: Purely by accident. I was working full-time as a composer, producer, and studio musician, on guitar and as a singer but I really hadn’t practiced the banjo in about fifteen years. At the time, I was composing orchestral film cues, when I was hired to play banjo with the symphony orchestra in Hawaii, where I lived. In the process of practicing my parts, I began to regain some fluency. Suddenly, these beautiful expressive lyrical phrases began to emerge. These were sounds that I’d never heard from a banjo, and I just ran with it. The techniques followed the melodies.
BNL: What kinds of music were you producing?
TW: All kinds. I was in LA and it was a real melting pot—anything from country to R&B to funk to jazz to pop and rock.
BNL: Electric or acoustic guitar?
TW: More electric than acoustic. As I mentioned, one of the things I ended up doing, which was a natural progression for me, was composing for film and TV. Not by training but by nature; my grandfather was a composer and conductor.
BNL: So your influences early were classical?
TW: There was actually a wide range of music that I was exposed to. I grew up playing the trumpet in the school band but rarely liked the music—we mostly played the pop tunes of the day. Things might be different if I’d heard Dizzy, Miles, or Clifford Brown…
BNL: So how did the classical, Spanish flavor end up in your music?
TW: I think it was the influence of my grandparents, who were professional musicians. Also, my mother used to take me to classical concerts and she said that I would become transfixed on the music.
BNL: Yesterday you played something that almost sounded Slavic, Eastern European. I find with your music is a synthesis of several kinds of world music. And yet, as a banjo player, I hear banjoistic things. I feel it’s not just that you play melodies, or someone gave you a score to play written for piano and now you’re playing it on banjo. This is really banjo music! I use the word banjoistic. I’m sure you could take a tune from your Morro Glenn and play it on another instrument, because they’re all good melodies. When someone recreates something that has been played before as a traditional music form, on banjo, sometimes it works and sometimes it sounds funny. But you’re a banjo player, so this is what comes out.
TW: That is what came out after being away from the banjo for so long!
BNL: So you didn’t write Morro Glenn on banjo?
TW: All of these tunes happened to be written on the banjo, but I was actually hearing orchestration. The first song I wrote was a concerto. I heard the banjo more as a solo piano part. So, while those tunes were informed by and filtered through the banjo and accompanying techniques, I was simultaneously thinking of its cinematic quality! What really attracted me to this new music on the banjo was the use of the melodic or Keith style to produce a fluid linear sound that more closely resembled the piano. The new music emanating from my banjo surprised me as much as anybody.
BNL: So my comment about it being banjoistic would really have to be amended to say, the stuff sounds great on the banjo. And it seems that you’ve created a technique-oriented....
TW: Melody-based techniques, actually.
BNL: As I watched you play yesterday I saw certain repeatable right hand—I wouldn’t call them patterns, but let’s say moves—with some moving chords and some voice leading. that is really banjo-y.
TW: One reviewer jokingly congratulated me on “making an entire banjo record without playing a single roll!”
BNL: You talk about emotion and being evocative.
TW: Yes, the banjo is capable of a much broader range of expression than is commonly perceived. The seeds of “Milagros” undoubtedly came from the space I was in at the time, writing orchestral cues.
BNL: What’s an orchestral cue?
TW: A piece of music written to accompany a specific scene or action in a film and played by an orchestra. I did a lot of that in my documentary film work. The first banjo tune I wrote was a twenty-five minute long concerto and I had the idea to orchestrate it. As I sat down, this crazy realization came over me that I didn’t even know what key it was in! I was writing purely from a creative standpoint of assembling musical passages that sounded good without having any theoretical constructs or foundation. That never would have happened on guitar! These were specific series of notes and rhythmic phrases that were happening as a direct consequence of having the banjo in my hands. It turned out that the concerto was in Eb major.
BNL: Is this music that you wake up in the morning, hear something in your head and then play? Or is it premeditated?
TW: I don’t have a particular method for writing. I believe on some level that whatever instrument I’m holding acts as an “antennae” to pick up and translate inspiration into sound. I subscribe to this quote by James Taylor. When asked to explain his songwriting process, he said, “I wait for them to show up.” In its purest form, music is the sound of emotional expression in that particular moment.
BNL: Which leads me to another question, regarding the sounds of different banjos. When I first met you, you were demonstrating banjos for Recording King. I think because of the way you set up your banjo, you can get a lot of sustain—which really helps in your music, because it’s not like machine gun notes coming out, although you do play a lot of fast arpeggiated passages. Talk a bit about your preference for what type of banjo sound, and then about this new banjo that Larry Cohea made for you.
TW: I believe the sound you’re referring to has a lot to do with touch and less with set-up. I think the sound I aspire to was cultivated in me through decades of being around well known vintage instruments. I was very fortunate to have grown up near two renowned vintage instrument traders and collectors, Randy (R.C.) Snoddy, and Mac Yasuda. Consequently I got to spend a lot of time playing thousands of magical instruments that would just come to life in your hands; my favorites all had full-bodied, rich, warm sustain.
BNL: So therefore you played a bunch of old instruments, including flathead Gibsons. And they can do that. But there are other banjos that can do that too.
TW: I owned a flathead Granada and now an old 3. But all of those old instruments, guitars and mandolins too…I just gained this intellectual property—this awareness of what’s possible, tonally. On one hand it ruined me, because of the scarcity! What moves me energetically and vibrationally is warm rich tones rather than bright or brassy tones.
BNL: So let’s talk about your banjo. It looks like a one-piece flange, Gibson.
TW: This one is a ’30 Style-1.
BNL: Oh, so that’s the rim, no tone ring. Does it have the brass tube?
TW: Yeah it does.
BNL: It looks like an original flathead. This one has a curly maple skinned resonator. Is the neck maple or mahogany?
TW: Very old piece of African mahogany. Incredibly light.
BNL: Slightly radiused. It’s got a wider nut, just wider all the way around. The fifth string is channeled underneath the fingerboard, and magically erupts at the fifth fret. Very sweet sounding banjo. It’s not a clubby neck but it’s wide with lots of navigation on it. Pretty wide string spacing. Really gorgeous sounding instrument. Renaissance head?
TW: No, it’s a prototype artificial calfskin head that I’m developing.
BNL: There are heads that claim to do that, but they don’t. They come close.
TW: Not close enough for me. I’ve used calfskin for twenty years, I’m addicted.
BNL: Yeah, and that’s another thing—you have calfskin on your Style 3 flathead. It sounds great. It’s a magical instrument. So this one seems to be built to order.
TW: We’re getting there—this is the 7th prototype and they continue to improve.
BNL: I notice you use a tall bridge?
TW: It’s a 13/16" bridge.
BNL: …and you told me yesterday about string spacing. Bluegrass players have leaned more towards Crow spacing, which is a wider string spacing. I’ve played this banjo and it’s very easy on the right hand. How did you come to that wider spacing?
TW: Larry Brown, who was a legendary set-up and repairman in LA, suggested it. I played him one of my early original classical pieces and he loved it. He was a genius possessing extraordinary insights and he handed me several bridges and said, “Do yourself a favor and try these bridges. I predict you’ll like the bridge with the widest spacing and tallest profile.” Then I went to Mexico and stayed for a week in a house on the beach. I took my Nechville banjo, which has an easily adjustable neck, so I could adjust the neck angle to compensate for the taller bridges—it also had a fairly wide neck, similar to this banjo. I just focused and studied these different bridges, and discovered that my playing had improved in both clarity, accuracy, and speed with the wider spacing and taller bridge. Highly counterintuitive.
BNL: And why is that?
TW: Because it means that your fingers have to move greater distances. I’ve always subscribed to the idea that economy of effort = efficiency, but this realization contradicts that theory.
BNL: It’s a very small distance but as a banjo player it can feel big. I adhere to that same thing, less is more. I’ve never moved my fingers more than I’ve needed to, but I played this banjo and it was really easy to play. It wasn’t like I had to adjust to it. It wasn’t like I had to go, ‘these strings are so wide, I’d better get like an extension for my thumb or something.’ Do you have the specs of what that spacing is?
TW: Yes. It’s 31/32.
BNL: It’s a pretty interesting concept. In terms of tall bridges and wide fingerboards there is definitely a trend towards that. And I find that more with players who play styles other than just bluegrass.
TW: Larry’s suggestion yielded results for me—period. It’s very important to be open-minded and very conscious of what really works for you as an individual.
BNL: There seems to be a trend towards radiused fingerboards.
TW: It’s comfortable to me, especially after years of playing electric guitar. Martin guitars are radiused—even pre-war Gibson top-tensions had radiused finger boards. Earl was very open-minded, I wonder how he felt about them?
BNL: And on the other side of the coin, the pre-war Gibson style banjos definitely had slimmer necks. I have some banjos that are like that. I seem to prefer the wider necks.
TW: This neck also is 24 frets and it’s a shorter scale, 25.5 " scale. So that makes the left-hand stretches even easier.
BNL: Interesting. Still sounds like a banjo. When I stood outside earlier listening to you play, I heard the sound of the dreaded metronome. I say dreaded as a joke. But obviously it’s your friend. On your desk are your computer, your metronome and your picks. Have you always used a metronome?
TW: No. Once I started working in LA in the studios with players that had that metronomic timing, I realized I needed to begin a serious relationship with the metronome!
BNL: I think some people get the idea that if you play with a metronome you’re going to be playing mechanically. That’s not necessarily true. The metronome reminds you of where the beat is. I believe Tony Rice said that if you’re in rhythm and you know where the beat is, you can play the game a little better, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be right on top of the beat. We know many banjo players who are known for playing behind the beat, or ahead. But knowing where one is is important. So do you practice with the metronome all the time or use it as a reference, like when you’re learning licks, do you speed up the time to get more facility with your the right hand? How do you use it?
TW: I do all of that. I try and use a metronome whenever I can in whatever way will best serve each specific goal. I find that the most important thing about playing with a click is not learning how to respond to the audible signal, but how to internalize that pulse. I’ve discovered for myself that the highest level of perfection in my playing happens when the internalized song is playing the fingers, instead of the fingers playing the song. If our attention shifts to the small mechanical motor movements—and this instrument is very demanding in that way—it can really use a lot of brainpower and we lose that forward momentum of the song. If, however, that feel, that song, that melody is internalized—that internalized song will interpret the song better through the hands rather than the other way around. So for me, playing with a metronome is more about—how do I get that feel ingrained in my core? There’s nothing like the feeling of being rhythmically entrained in a group setting.
BNL: That’s interesting. I’ve never heard that before.
TW: When you watch some of the greatest players that are really known for their time, like for instance a friend just took me to see a Chris Thile concert. His time and groove are just incredible. You can see it emanating from his core in his movements. Pat Metheny also really moves with his playing. I play with Brazilian musicians that just have this extraordinary sense of time and accompanying full-body movement.
BNL: Do you tap your foot when you play?
TW: Sometimes. I consciously worked hard to get out of the habit of tapping my foot, for working in the studio.
BNL: Well yeah, there you can’t.
TW: But when I play onstage there’s movement.
BNL: So tell me why you’re here at IBMA.
TW: I was hired to come demonstrate the new banjo pick-up built by EMG. EMG’s owner Rob Turner invited me to evaluate it over two years ago. EMG is one of the leading pick-up manufacturers in the world. They pioneered active pickups—pick-ups with batteries. They’re really known for what they’ve done with electric guitar and bass pickups. I had a custom Strat made for me in 1984 with EMG pickups. The only people I knew that had EMG’s were studio players. So when Rob contacted me I thought that was neat, because I had fond memories. I probably got together with him at least 20 times. We were recording banjos with extremely high-end studio microphone—recording everything: pick-up direct signal; pickup and microphones. Rob would study each session and strive to make the pickup sound like the studio mics. The end result is that he came up with this banjo pick-up that I believe is really the best.
BNL: What makes it so good?
TW: It installs in two minutes and uninstalls in one minute; there’s no alteration to the banjo; it doesn’t change the sound in any discernible way. The bottom line is, it makes the instrument louder without feeding back and imparts no noise or hum. Each subsequent version led him to develop this technology where he made a preamp installed on dual coils that in turn made them microphonic. So you’re not just hearing the metal strings vibrating, or the tiny metal shim that’s picking up the head tone—you’re picking up the actual acoustic resonance within the chamber of the banjo.
BNL: Which is interesting because I’ve known Rob a long time, and he’s explained to me how air has quite a lot to do with pick-ups.
TW: The nature of great legendary pickups is that pickups have a particular sound. And that’s not the case with this pickup. Each of the four banjos in the booth sound uniquely like themselves—meeting the most basic goal of an acoustic musician, of making your instrument sound like your instrument, only louder.
BNL: So that’s why you’re here at IBMA. Out in California I saw the breadth of your playing, and I think what you’re doing is unique. Is there anything you can talk about with your right hand technique?
TW: Most of the unorthodox techniques have come as a result of me being a slave to the muse. I figure out whatever fingering is required to make the music happen—there are no rules.
BNL: I notice that you do a lot of arpeggiated types of things, which don’t really sound like melodic style, or chromatic. It doesn’t seem to fall into either of those. I mean it’s melodic in the sense that each note is a melody note. Did this come from practicing scales? Practicing arpeggios, or is this just what you say, a slave to the muse? That’s what you heard, so let’s find it on the banjo?
TW: That’s exactly right. I’d play a passage and intuitively want to take it somewhere else—then start searching. The first thing we ever play on the banjo is a roll, which is an arpeggio.
BNL: I wouldn’t call you a position player. Like in bluegrass, where you play out of a certain chord formation…
TW: No, that would make life a lot easier. Occasionally there are melodies, chord scales or lines that I hear that just don’t really lay out well on the banjo. What often happens is that I come up with some variation that I like even better.
BNL: Is that driven by how you’re going to play it on the banjo?
TW: Yes, so the banjo as a tool facilitates melody as well. So it goes both ways.
BNL: Did you study scales quite a bit?
TW: Intermittently. I think the trick is deep listening and then responding to those sensibilities.
BNL: You mentioned Bill Keith and obviously Bill solidified that whole melodic approach. Did you, early on, learn some of those Bill Keith-types of melodies? I don’t hear a lot of the typical chromatic, bluegrassy melodic scaly-type stuff. I don’t hear the half step chromatic type of motion. Obviously it’s turned on something in you because you play melodically but I wouldn’t say it’s like too many other people.
TW: Yes, I was attracted to and began learning and exploring that style from the beginning. I learned many pieces by Bobby Thompson, Larry McNeely, Eric Weissberg, Marshall Brickman, and Bill Keith. My fundamental goal is to implement whatever technique is required to bring the music to life.
I love the linear “wash” that is possible in the melodic style. In preparing to record the music for “Milagros,” I realized that there were several songs that I had no recollection of writing—I literally could not identify the time or place of their creation; only that I had indeed been playing them. I was confused due to the fact that my compositions usually have a mental watermark, sometimes reflected in the title. In the hopes that I had not subconsciously plagiarized classic melodies, I asked two music scholar friends to review the material; luckily they dispelled my concerns. They could site baroque, classical, romantic and chromatic classical, modern and even atonal—a lot of Russian, French, Spanish and of course, Indian influences.
BNL: I hear the Russian influence too.
TW: Yeah, I love the Russians. But they couldn’t find anything derivative. The one observation they made was that it reminded them more of piano literature than anything else.
BNL: I think that kind of sums up the scope of your playing.
TW: Or at least the right hand of the piano.
BNL: Which is kind of significant. So right now are you playing any bluegrass gigs?
TW: Yeah, I love playing straight ahead bluegrass.
BNL: Actually when I heard you playing bluegrass banjo, I heard nothing that would have tipped me off to this other kind of music you play.
TW: I did a series of concerts this summer and one was with a good bluegrass band that had Wayne Sprouce playing fiddle. It was hardcore bluegrass, and then a couple nights later I played a set of original music. I assembled a ten piece band for that, and people were a little confused.
BNL: So it seems that to play the tunes you do, and to get to a point where you don’t have to struggle through them, that must take a lot of practice. What’s your typical day like? Do you play banjo every day? Do you have a practice regimen?
TW: No, I wish I did. I used to.
BNL: Any advice to a player is coming up?
TW: I got my first banjo on my 17th birthday, and my mother says I practiced eight to ten hours a day. And I got pretty good pretty quickly and ended up being in a band doing festivals in a year. Ours brains learn best through total immersion.
BNL: When you sit down and practice do you play tunes? Practice licks? How did you learn that stuff?
TW: The way I learned to play in the very beginning was by recording things I wanted to learn on my dad’s reel to reel recorder and then turning it to half speed. And a lot of what I recorded was Bobby Thompson, from “Hee Haw.” Somehow I knew the music in between scenes wasn’t Roy Clark. And that’s what really attracted me. Bobby and I became friends shortly before he died. He really loved hearing what an influence he’s been on me.
BNL: So you were drawn to that melodic stuff right away.
TW: I was. But probably the first accomplished banjo player I ever saw was Greg Rich.
BNL: Now I know Greg Rich as a luthier and designer: the guy who turned Gibson around, and who really knows about old banjos and recreating that tone. But I was surprised when you said he was an influence because I’ve never heard him play. But he taught you Slipped Disk.”
TW: I only took one formal lesson and it was from Greg. And he told me a funny story a few years ago; he laughed and said, “I have to come clean to you. I could never actually play Slipped Disk.”
BNL: But he could teach it. So he was part of the southern California banjo scene.
TW: He lived near where I grew up. He was a friend of Larry McNeely’s. He quickly turned me onto Larry. He said you’ve got to go see Larry, so I went with my best friend Jeff to McCabe’s, and little did we know that Larry was the opening act for the first David Grisman quintet concert. And David has been a serious influence on me ever since.
BNL: And I know you’ve played with David and lots of other people.
TW: Yeah, Dawg is a great guy. “Milagros” is now on his label, Acoustic Oasis, which is very exciting!
BNL: Many musicians, due to circumstances, are part time. It sounds to me you’re a full time musician. How long have you been supporting yourself, doing exclusively music?
TW: Since I graduated from high school. 1977. Now and then I’ve done various interesting odd jobs. I lived in Japan and worked as a record producer. But mainly west coast, and Hawaii as well. Being a professional musician has changed dramatically over the years but I’m still here!
BNL: What’s new? What would define what’s happening with you now?
TW: “Milagros” was just recently re-mixed and re-mastered by a great engineer. In the process, I found several takes that were better than the ones I had put out the first time! The original audiophile recording can now be fully appreciated, as Acoustic Oasis offers the highest resolution download formats available.
BNL: When did you record the album the first time?
TW: The engineer had some personal problems and disappeared so I mixed it and mastered it. And you wouldn’t think a solo instrument is tricky to mix but there were four mics. So now the overall sound is much more expansive. Having now performed hundreds of solo banjo concerts of these complex and often times slow and sustained pieces of music, it’s given me a unique perspective that I don’t think many banjo players have. There’s nowhere to hide—no rhythm guitar, no solo instruments—and so it’s given me the ability to refine microscopic awareness regarding tone, technique, and playing against silence. Interestingly, when I began performing this music live, I was very surprised by the strong emotional reactions that the music would elicit in audiences, often seeing them in tears.
I also plan to be selling artificial calfskin banjo heads in the near future.
BNL: Will they be available through you?
TW: Yes, in the beginning. They’ll be called DeCalf Heads. I’ve become devoted to the sound of calfskin. So, I’ve been working hard to replicate that without the constant maintenance!
I spent a lot of time this past year playing with the great fiddler Blaine Sprouse. He’s on my new record, and we also began recording a new project. It won’t be exclusively banjo and fiddle duets, but we’ll also take some of the lesser-known Kenny Baker tunes that he knows and loves, and arrange them ensemble style with Dana Rath from The Modern Mandolin Quartet.
I’m also about to release a new record called “Soul House,” which is my original vocal music. I do play some interesting banjo on several pieces, and it’s in a variety of different styles. It has a lot of other musicians on it and, although it’s all acoustic, some of the songs are highly produced. They’re all originals, except one traditional African song.
Quotes from Tim’s peers:
Bobby Thompson: “It’s a great CD; he takes the banjo further than most other banjo players. He plays chromatic banjo extraordinarily well. I loooooove his banjo playing!”
Dawg (David Grisman): “Tim can play everything from hardcore bluegrass to Bach. His original banjo music is grounded in many traditions, including Indian classical (he’s the Ali Akbar Khan of the banjo) and I’m very impressed with his considerable composing skills. His “Milagros” is a gem.”
Bill Evans: “You won’t believe your ears when you hear Tim play banjo. He brings a staggering technical ability to his sophisticated original compositions, which themselves reflect his advanced harmonic and developmental ideas that draw upon classical and world music traditions. He can make the banjo sound like an orchestra or he can rival the most outrageous flamenco guitarist you’ve ever heard. But most importantly, it’s all in the service of music that moves the heart and soul. There are just a very few banjo players in the world who are capable of playing like this—you have to check Tim out!”
Peter Rowan: “Tim’s multifaceted playing brings unusual influences together in a classic bluegrass approach, from old-time to flamenco with eastern spices. It’s a tasty blend!
Greg Rich: “I first met him at a jam session in Huntington Beach. He knew I was taking banjo lessons from Larry McNeely and wanted to know if I could teach him Larry’s Slipped Disc. In just one 30 minute lesson he not only learned how to play it note for note but nailed the speed, timing and technique almost as well as Larry himself. His creative style combined with technique is just amazing.”
Ryan Cavanaugh: “The first thing I noticed about Tim’s playing is that he knows how to use space very well. He’s not constantly playing notes and he knows how to let his music breathe, utilizing the banjo’s sustaining overtones, harmonics, and of course...silence. Banjo traditions all seem to involve unabashed virtuosity (which Tim brandishes as well), however, Tim, like so few, has transcended the need for speed when the music calls for it, using his wonderful sense of lyricism and integrity.”
John Balch: “Fantastic musicianship. Wonderful
compositions. Listening to Tim’s classical banjo music, I
hands of a true master. I’m amazed when a banjoist can
realize the limitless potential of this instrument in the
approach a classical piece. This is entirely original music
that is both contemporary and classic. It is not an
adaptation of historical music written for other instruments
and transposed to banjo. “Milagros” is vital new music
conceived and performed to exploit the unique capabilities
of this instrument.”
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Playing Since: 1976
Experience Level: Expert/Professional
Occupation: musician, teacher
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Last Visit 5/9/2020
I began my career as a Southern California bluegrass banjoist in the late 70's, playing and touring alongside some of the most influential acoustic musicians of our time, including Stuart Duncan, Gene Libbea, and Alison Brown. I worked as a studio musician in LA for many years in a wide variety of musical styles. I am a concert musician, producer, arranger, and film composer. Milagros, a CD of my original classical banjo music has received international attention and is often featured on NPR. I also recorded a CD of ragas with the world-renowned Indian sarod master, Stephen James. I recently recorded banjo tracks for a Dave Matthews Band movie soundtrack and CD. My performance & recording website is WWW.TIMWEED.COM. I also teach online lessons using Skype - lesson details are available on my teaching website at WWW.TIMWEEDMUSIC.COM.
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