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John Les North Wales Bluegrass
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Playing Since: 1964
Experience Level: Novice
Old Orpheum banjo with neck made by my dad, Will Keys.
Will Keys & Evergreen, Chip & Tish Arnold, Trey Hensley & Drivin' Force, Jerry Keys, Tennessee Skyline, Bob Carlin, John Hartford, Wrigley Sisters, Dillards, Doc Watson, Doug Dorshug, Bela Fleck, Jim Lloyd, Donnie Scott, Tom Mindte, Barb Kuhns & Doug Smith (the aforementioned Evergreen), John Hiatt, etc. etc. Yeah, I know Hiatt isn't oldtime or bluegrass, but no one writes better songs. :^)
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Last Visit 5/20/2014
I am Will Keys' son. I'm here to offer information as needed on Will Keys and his friends, and to see and hear what all the other great musicians on here are up to. I do play the banjo a bit, but I'm mostly a guitarist and bass player. In fact, I went into rock and jazz as a guitarist over the years, but I always enjoyed playing the old tunes with my dad. I just love music, and any musician who knows how to play with his or her heart and soul is one to be respected, in my opinion.
Certainly not an expert on banjos or oldtime music, I will leave any technical questions about Dad's playing to the resident Will Keys expert, Chip Arnold. My expertise is in the history and life of my dad.
Interesting (or not) trivia about my dad, Will Keys -
1. He was an accomplished piano player also. Interestingly, he loved to play old tunes on the piano with a "3-finger-roll" that mimicked bluegrass banjo.
2. He could also play a guitar quite well with his 2-finger style.
3. He owned a Chinese banjo. Not a cheap copy made in China, but an authentic Chinese banjo. The frets were set much differently than an American banjo, and it had a beautiful snakeskin head on it. He never did get much out of it, because of the strange fret layout, but his nephew Jerry could play it. Jerry compensated for the fret problem by bending the strings and bending them often. I bought the banjo for Dad when I was in Guangzhou, China. He also owned a Turkish spike fiddle, but never played it. Barb Kuhns played it a bit when she and Doug Smith visited once.
4. My first recollection of Dad playing the banjo involved 3-finger Scruggs style picking. In fact, Dad played the Scruggs style for many years. It wasn't until the early '70s that he went back to the 2-finger style he had learned as a child.
5. Dad always said that he learned to play on an old banjo strung with wire from a screen door by his brother Jay. Is it true? Who knows, but it wouldn't surprise me, knowing how creative he and Uncle Jay were. Also, it wouldn't surprise me that they tore up the screen door to get strings. LOL One day I'll have to get cousin Jerry's take on the matter.
6. Dad's musical career didn't actually start at the Carter Fold, as usually stated. It was the beginning of his career as an oldtime banjoist, but he had actually played bluegrass banjo on WJHL-AM radio (Johnson City, TN) back in the 50's with a guitarist/vocalist named Vernon Fillers.
7. Cousin Jerry took lessons from Dad for a short while when Dad was still playing bluegrass style banjo. By the time Dad had switched back to the 2-finger style, Jerry was well on his way to being one of the best bluegrass pickers around.
8. Dad also played electric guitar occasionally, but he would never admit it. LOL He and Mom bought me a new blue flowered Fender Telecaster in 1969, and Dad would play it quite a bit.
9. Dad enjoyed all kinds of music, even though he played mostly oldtime. He really liked the Deraillers, after he saw them on Austin City Limits. One younger fan caught him playing "Snowblind Friend" by Steppenwolf at Galax one year. I remember learning that song on guitar and having Dad make me play it for him several times. Then he grabbed his banjo and played it with me. Of course, it wasn't a typical Steppenwolf song, being slow and melodic.
10. Dad won over his mother-in-law by playing the banjo with her as she played the piano. She loved the old ragtime songs. Dad recorded "Waitin' for the Robert E. Lee" on his A Banjo Original CD in memory of her.
'Gibson Flathead Tone Ring' 57 min
'How To Pick Out Songs?' 3 hrs
'Banjo ID Help' 5 hrs