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jbalch added a blog entry 'JDBALCH pre-mounted HIDE BANJO HEADS - 2019 Price List' 1 day
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Playing Since: 1955
Experience Level: Expert/Professional
Occupation: Banjo Builder
A.A.Farland (1895), One of Farlands personal stage instruments,
Liberty Buckdancer (1980) 11" openback, maple tonering,
Ode Grade 5 (1965), Brazillian Rosewood neck, Engraved Aluminum Rim,
Mathers Minstrel (1850s), used on all my minstrel CDs,
Teed Minstrel (1862), oldest known Teed existing,used on my CDs,
Turnbridgeware Minstrel (1860s), Very Fancy, 12" rim, 7 string,
Bob Flesher Chamber Pot - Maple(2008), new evolutionary banjo design, Top secret! Even the KGB is trying to steal the secret for a Russian bathroom accesory.
Bob Flesher Chamber Pot - Walnut (2008), under construction, Top Secret!
August Pullman Mandolin Banjo, (1887) mandolin body & 5 string neck
Sears Silvertone (1955), My first banjo made by Bacon
Reed Martin, Dan Gellert, Clarke Buhling, Troy Boswell, aka "Leroy Troy", Kyle Creed, Dr. Horsehair's Old-Time Minstrels, Harley Bump and the Bump Mountain Boys. Georga Pot Lickers, Nicky Nasal and His Nine Nasty Nose Pickers playing "I Get You, You Bugger You"
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Last Visit 9/3/2019
I listed my self under Banjo Experience Level as a “Expert/Professional” because everyone knows what an expert is. “Ex” is an unknown quantity and a “spurt” is a drip under pressure. I am a professional because I finally make my living at building banjos full time. If you are interested…I was born in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii eight months before the U.S. entered World War Two. Therefore I own a “pre-war pot” just above my belt buckle. I was in the bombing of Pearl Harbor and enjoyed sucking my bottle during the attacks. But I still have a piece of bomb shrapnel and a Japanese machine gun bullet that my parents picked up in the front yard. I also have a lot of good war stories from them. When I was about 7 years old my parents signed me up for violin. Not fiddle but violin. AAArrgue! When I was 12 years old and living in San Antonio, Texas, I persuaded my mother to trade the violin for a nice little mahogany Martin guitar. Using a book called “Nick Manuloff’s 5-minute Guitar Lesson” it only took me about 3 years to learn how to play. My mother was from the Ozarks and played the guitar. She knew a lot of old-time mountain songs which she taught me. That is how I came by my hillbilly roots. During this time, at the age of 13 or 14 years, I invented something for the guitar which I knew would revolutionize guitar playing for ever. I found that if I took a case knife from my mothers silverware and strapped it onto the fingerboard of the guitar with a rawhide shoe string I could play the same chords only in different keys. Wait till the guitar world hears about this! Later on to my amazement and disappointment I found someone had already done this back before Columbus. I called my invention “A Knife Tied on With A Rawhide Shoe String.” They called their invention just a “Capo”. I think their invention sold better because of the name. I understand. It was probably easier for Earl Scruggs on stage say, “Capo up to the 2nd, Lester.” Than for him to say “Tie your knife onto the 2nd with a rawhide shoe string, Lester.” But, what did I know? At 15 years of age I heard Joe Maphis play a 5-string banjo on TV and I said to my self, “Whoa, that’s the sound I’m looking for? Living in Southern California at the time, I found a beautiful Sears Silvertone banjo made by Bacon. After 6 months of chores and haranguing my folks to death they finally bought me that banjo for $75.00. I still have the banjo. After a little while I had a band going with a guy on an accordian and a bongo drummer. We made our debut performance at an Italian dinner. That night I became a professional banjo picker because they paid each of us $5.00 and a dozen meatballs. I know it was humble beginnings but it was a start. I know this is not as exciting as sitting at the knee of Reed Martin, Bob Carlin or some of those other big time banjo pickers but it was all I had and my Dad enjoyed the meatballs. His banjo investment of $75.00 and all that racket had finally paid off. In about 1960 I entered the 2nd Topanga Canyon Banjo Contest. I thought I was playing in the 3 finger bluegrass style but when I finished, Stu Jamison, one of the judges, said we don’t believe that is bluegrass so we are going to move him to the traditional category. Well, I ended up with a 2nd place behind Taj Mahal. There might have been only two of us entered that day. I don’t remember. But I learned I didn’t know what I was doing So, I took some lessons to learn Bluegrass and Frailing, as they called it then, from Bill Cunningham, a transplant from the Grandfather Mountain area of North Carolina. Bill still plays fiddle every Saturday night on the green in Asheville. In 1964 I got a job with the Andy Williams weekly TV show on NBC. I to the NBC studios in Burbank, CA on a Monday morning to audition to be the banjo player for a group called "The Good Time Singers". and two hours later I am sitting next to Andy Williams rehearsing a song called “Thumb Pick Pete” which I never heard of. Two weeks later after a commercial the scene opens up on my right hand picking “Thumb Pick Pete” Wow! I was impressed because supposedly there were 10 million people watching my hand on my banjo head. I was playing my brand new Ode Grade 5. After a season on the show I was "laid off while they were still hiring" because I was getting all the good speaking parts which paid more money and my cohorts in the group got jealous. When I got the job the year before a good high school friend of mine warned me in jest, “Be careful on who you step on on the way up because you will meet them on the way back down. He was right. There they all were. Lucky I for me I had been nice to them. In 1965 I opened a store named “The Old Banjo Shoppe” in Long Beach, California. That is how I met the legendary and mysterious banjo builder, Art Gariepy. He taught me the rudiments of banjo building. Some of his ideas and thinking I still use. This is where I learned to inlay pearl, engrave metal and carve heels. I also met the Durham boys, Bob and Don, brothers of the infamous Mel Durham, bass player and fiddler of the California bluegrass scene. They said they saw potential in me and took me under their wings, they said, “so as to steer me right.” They me taught many old-time tunes, lore the finer points of clawhammer and how to drop my thumb. Ask Mike Saeeger who Bob Durham is. The New Lost City Ramblers used to always be trying to get old songs from him. He like fooling with them and would laugh and tell them a bunch of tall stories. About this time I started learning to fly with the idea of becoming an airline pilot. I never knew till later that only one out of a thousand who started actually made it. In 1967 I was hired by Eastern Air Lines and I moved to Connecticut. In 1969 I traveled down to the Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention where I met the legendary, Wade Ward, Kyle Creed, Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham and last but not least, the wild man, George Peagram. But, I was really impressed by Ike Frost He was something to behold and remember. In bib overalls, he would stop you every time you would walk by, pull out his newspaper clippings about him winning a banjo contest somewhere. When he looked at you his eyes looked half closed like he was looking at you from the belt buckle down and he talked like he had a rag stuffed in his mouth. Then he would clawhammer a little tune for you and ask how you liked it. I didn’t know what to say because it sounded to me like a chain saw cutting up a car during a Chinese fire drill. Maybe dropping a thousand pots and pans from the ceiling of the Superdome to the concrete floor below would give you a better idea of how it sounded. Yes, Ike Frost was picker to be remembered. I also met Paul Morrissey, a banjo picker who lived about 2 miles from me in Connecticut. In 1969 we founded the Liberty Banjo Company. There are still catalogs floating around with my weird kind of humor in them. In 1985 I moved to Atlanta, GA and when my airline went down in 1990 and I could not get hired with another airline I decided I had three choices. I can work on an asphalt truck, I can drive a garbage truck or I build banjos for a living. So, I selected the least promising choice for a career. I chose to build banjos. In 1990 Bob Flesher’s Custom Banjos was founded. In 1991 Dr. Horsehair’s Old-time Music was founded. I moved back to California in 1998 because my mother was elderly and now we desperately want to move back to the southern mountains of North Carolina as soon as the housing market comes to life. Yes, you can make a living building banjos if you are willing to work long hours and 6 days a week. I have many new models to build and put on the web site for sale as soon as I can clear off the large backlog of orders. That brings us up to today and why am I sitting writing all this stuff that nobody will read and you probably don’t care about anyway. Well, that is my bio. It is so long because I am so old. Probably no one will get this far but if you do and want to make a comment, ask yourself first, is it a positive comment or a negative comment. If it is a positive comment send it to me. If it is a negative comment send it to my friend, Mike Ramsey. HA!
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