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W.K. Lewis - Anybody know anything about this banjo player?

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Sep 16, 2019 - 1:52:28 PM
3317 posts since 1/2/2004

Asking for a friend.

A banjo belonging to Lewis appears in a photo spread in Esquire, November 1973:

https://classic.esquire.com/article/1973/11/1/the-return-of-the-banjo

Thanks.

 

Lew

Sep 16, 2019 - 2:02:27 PM

115 posts since 3/16/2008

I don't have an answer to your question, but loved reading that article, a gem in the archive. Thanks for sharing it.

Sep 16, 2019 - 2:25:33 PM
like this

52355 posts since 12/14/2005

Don't know jaques merde about W.K. Lewis (pardon my French.)
Got as far as the line about Sweeney adding the 5th, drone string, and realized I had read the article before.

Also remember people on the HangOut saying that Sweeny's ad-men made that up, and drone strings were nothing new.

Anyway, Best Wishes for finding out about Mr. Lewis.

Sep 16, 2019 - 3:02:10 PM

hoodoo

Canada

523 posts since 10/6/2017

quote:
Originally posted by mike gregory

Don't know jaques merde about W.K. Lewis (pardon my French.)
Got as far as the line about Sweeney adding the 5th, drone string, and realized I had read the article before.

Also remember people on the HangOut saying that Sweeny's ad-men made that up, and drone strings were nothing new.

Anyway, Best Wishes for finding out about Mr. Lewis.


Jacques Merde, I really laughed at that one. Haha

Sep 16, 2019 - 3:44:27 PM

2499 posts since 12/4/2009

Hello,

To parody Mike. It is the Fourth, Luke. Remember the Fourth.

African instruments already had a short drone. The bass string was added to give Joel’s instrument more depth. Thus, the 5 string banjo was created.

Sep 16, 2019 - 3:51:39 PM
likes this

1072 posts since 7/12/2004

This 1973 article refers to "the late Lester Flatt", anticipating Lester's death by more than five years.

Sep 16, 2019 - 4:09:49 PM

115 posts since 3/16/2008

To be clear, I'm aware of the article's shortcomings. I just liked the feeling of reading about Bill Keith being a newcomer to the scene.

Sep 16, 2019 - 4:55:31 PM

505 posts since 5/19/2018

Jacques Merde....

....beyond classic.

Sep 16, 2019 - 6:49:31 PM
like this

1072 posts since 7/12/2004

quote:
Originally posted by rooksbay

To be clear, I'm aware of the article's shortcomings. I just liked the feeling of reading about Bill Keith being a newcomer to the scene.


That's also strange. Bill went to work for Bill Monroe in 1963. Between then and the publication date of the article, he invented his tuners, wrote the Scruggs book, played and recorded with the Kweskin Jug Band. His important recording Living On the Mountain with Jim Rooney was released in 1962. His break on New Camptown Races, which has been cited as a seminal influence by banjo players like Tony Trischka, was recorded in 1964. He and Eric Weissberg were the go-to banjo players for session and advertising work. By 1973, Bill Keith was one of the best-known names in banjo playing. It's not that the article is badly researched - it got the Bobby Thompson reference right - it's just weirdly, inconsistently, carelessly wrong.

I can understand the misspelling of Mugwumps, which may also be due to a bad OCR translation of the article. But Bill Keith wasn't a newcomer in 1973 any more than Lester Flatt was dead.

Sep 17, 2019 - 6:13:08 AM

4680 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by mike gregory

Don't know jaques merde about W.K. Lewis (pardon my French.)
Got as far as the line about Sweeney adding the 5th, drone string, and realized I had read the article before.

Also remember people on the HangOut saying that Sweeny's ad-men made that up, and drone strings were nothing new.

Anyway, Best Wishes for finding out about Mr. Lewis.


This was mostly Sweeney's family well after he was dead.  When John Henning (banjoist and teacher) sough to track down the story and traveled to Appomattox in the late 1890s this is what he was told by the family.

It is important to note that influential figures like S. Swaim Stewart was skeptical about the earlier claims (as were many other) and openly doubted that Sweeney added the short octave string.

The Sweeney family produced and gave to Henning the reverse "left handed" banjo now known as the "Sweeney Banjo" that had a story attached that Sweeney had built it for a family member who played violin reverse or "over the bass".  In his letter to Frank Converse, Henning wrote that Sweeney made the neck for a "discarded banjo rim" which we now know to be a Boucher product.

Somehow this extant instrument has had all kinds of significance added to it.  For many years in "folk revival" era histories it was stated that this was the first "5 string banjo."  Or it was claimed to be a banjo that Sweeney used.

It was Henning's story, relayed to him by the Sweeney family, that cemented the "Joe Sweeney invented the banjo" thing.

Family lore can invent and distort all kinds of history that no amount of research can undo in public perception.

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