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The banjo that went to war.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

My father enlisted in the Navy in 1955.  By the time the Viet Nam war was in full swing I’m convinced his superiors had recognized his courage, leadership, and physical strength.  At this time, he could bench press nearly 400 lbs and his peers had nicknamed him “Hercules.”  

My father was chosen to be a part of the elite VAL-4 unit, the only one like it in the Navy.  The “Black Ponies” as they were named maintained the OV-10 A “Bronco” which provided close air to ground support along the Mekong Delta for the River Boat Patrol Forces.  My father was a Plankowner in this group and was promoted to AMHC 1 (Chief) before being reassigned.  

Initially shipping out from San Diego in March of 1969, the action was so hot in the middle of the Tet Offensive that he could not reach his base for several months.  

He had been playing the banjo since the early 1960s and initially purchased an early 60s Gibson RB-250 but shortly thereafter traded it along with $350 for pre-war Gibson style 3 tenor banjo conversion (#271-16) from famed West Virginia luthier, Andy Boarman.  Not wanting to risk transporting such a nice banjo to the jungle in the middle of a war that he didn’t know if he was coming home from, he decided to purchase another to take with him.  

About this same time, the Kay musical instrument company was experiencing difficult times.  Sold in 1965 and again in 1967, the company finally dissolved in 1968 sending their remaining inventory anywhere that would sell it.  It has been well noted that many Kay banjos showed up both new and used in pawn and jewelry shops up and down the west coast in the late 1960s through the early 70s.  

It was in one of these shops in San Diego in March of 1969 that my father purchased this 1967-68 Kay Artist K-90 banjo.  This is banjo that went to war with my father.  He noted its purchase in a letter to my grandfather dated June 1969.  He also noted that “other than having our aircraft shot to hell we’ve been pretty lucky as we’ve only lost one pilot.” 

Outside of the oddball “Silva” models of the 1950s this banjo is a top of the line American made Kay featuring a hand polished neck and rim.  The rock maple neck feels electric guitar-ish in the hands.  It features hand cut block pearl inlays and sports a really cool set of vintage D-tuners.  The heavy polished one piece flange almost provides the “ping” of a tone ring.  It retains its original case, as well as some picks and other memorabilia.  

The sound, you ask?  This banjo backs down to nobody, it survived a war.  In all seriousness, it is a formidable banjo and suited for stage, jam, or studio.  

Dad kept this banjo until he sold it hastily one evening when a persistent friend interrupted an intimate evening with his new bride, my mother, in 1977.  

This is the banjo that I should have learned on as a child but alas for the sum of $30 the slogan became reality, “every kiss begins with Kay!”

After being out of the family for 45 years I acquired this banjo in January 2023 from the gentleman’s son who bought it that evening.




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Playing Since: 1985
Experience Level: Purty Good

revellfa has made 12 recent additions to Banjo Hangout 

[Teaching] [Jamming] [Socializing] [Helping]

Occupation: Clergy

Gender: Male
Age: 46

My Instruments:
“Ole Nance”, 1932 Gibson TB-3 FON 271-16 with Don Bryant neck (style 3 inlay with Bella Voca headstock.)
1968-69 Kay K-90 5 string resonator Banjo
2020 Helix longneck with Gold Tone neck, Vintage B and D Soft Pedal Knee Mute, DeArmond model 76 banjo pickup, B and G Benders, and D Tuners.
Home made fretless with spoons and a brass ring, pickup added.
Gourd banjo made by myself in 2016
"The Crude Dude", Custom D-Scale Banjo made for me by Ken White of Elkins, WV (now deceased.)
“Cletus”, 1950 Gibson Southern Jumbo
1969 Martin D-18
1969 Gibson Blue Ridge Model Acoustic Guitar (my Grandfathers')
“Sterling”, 2019 Jake Wildwood Silverware box “Parts-caster” resonator guitar.
2021 Cigar Box Uke concert scale low G strings.
Home made cigar box uke concert scale
Three String Lap Steel Cigar Box
“Gutsy” Cigar Box Guitar
1933 Gibson Kalamazoo KM-11 Mandolin
Kneebow from Vauldville
Several three string cigar box guitars, diddley bows, and banjos that I have made out of junk with my friend Dan's help.
Old Student Fiddle
No Name Fiddle given by a friend
Home made Bass
“Kelly”, 2016 June Appal Mountain Dulcimer
Concert Zithier purchased in London in 2018.
Dulcimer made by an old man and given to me
Teardrop Dulcimer wall hanger.
a couple of banjo-ukes, and various other junk that is awaiting my attention including some gourds that are screaming to be made into something...
A few banjo ukes awaiting restoration

Favorite Bands/Musicians:
Don Reno and Red Smiley and all the Tenessee Cut-Ups.
Uncle Junior
Mike McCauley
Wade Mainer
Uncle Dave Macon
Frank Proffitt
Frazier and Patterson
Heather and Tony Maybe
Stephen Foster
Buell Kazee
LeRoy Troy
Gene Autry
Eddie Adcock
Ralph Stanley
The Carter Family
Doc Watson
Norman Blake
Mike Seeger
The Korn Kobblers
Annie and Mac (check them out on You Tube)
Homer and the Barnstormers
Mississippi John Hurt

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Profile Info:
Visible to: Public
Created 9/25/2006
Last Visit 5/21/2024

In his early years, Rev. Frankie had significant exposure his Grandfather, a semi-professional banjo player and early pioneer of the three-fingered style played on the five-string banjo. Growing up, Frankie continued to learn his craft by playing along with his father, a banjo player, and his uncle, an old-time and bluegrass guitarist. In an attempt to explore and understand the music of his ancestors, Rev. Frankie has hit time’s rewind button. His curiosity has led him to become a versatile musician, playing four different styles of banjo as well as guitar, ukulele, and various other stringed instruments. His playing styles are both unique and nuanced.

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