I'll say it up front- I am brand new to the banjo, and have no experience with one. So I'm starting at the very beginning. I'm part of a small group called the Rappahannock Whalers in Virginia that sing 19th century sea chantys, sea songs and tales of the sea. While the COVID has really put a damper on things this year, we put on a rollicking fun, if not a little bawdy (we are sailors after all ;-) ) show and try to get the audience involved.
My interest in banjo is to eventually be able to accompany some of our songs. Since I'm brand new to this, it may take quite a while until I'm ready, but its the journey, not the destination - right? I bought this Buckbee (may be a Dobson?) from a friend. I believe it is from the 1890s. We got it tuned and he showed me some basic chords and techniques to get started. I want to learn traditional style common to the period we sing. Ive looked at many of the posts and videos here, what a great resource. Ive also found a lot of great youtube videos. I look forward to learning from you all. Thanks, Steve
I think you'll find that the banjo sounds great on many of those songs.
Probably search for someone who teaches 19th century "stroke style" playing. There are several on this forum who will probably show up on this thread.
When I was a kid at home in the early sixties, the record that was played most often was "Foc'sle Songs and Shanties sung by Paul Clayton and The Foc'sle Singers". Along with Paul Clayton, among the singers was the most colorful Dave Van Ronk and Bob Yellin (of the Greenbriar Boys at the time), the ideal accompanist on the banjo. Mainly played in two or three fingers picking and basic strum depending on the context, group or soloist. Even if this style of banjo does not claim authenticity, it is nevertheless very effective, present and sober.
An always fascinating album sixty years later and could be a good source of inspiration. SmithsonianFolkways offers several other interesting shanties albums. JLouis
I love playing/singing sea songs accompanied by the banjo. My spouse and I have performed sea songs at the Charleston Sea Festival here in Oregon, also in nearby Bandon in years past I use either a Tradesman banjo with Aquila Minstrel strings lowered down from G to D tuning (dADF#A) or a short neck banjo raised to C from G (cGCEG). Favorites include Jolly Roving Tar, Go to Sea No More, Home Dearie Home, Hanging Johnny, Away Rio, South Australia, Handsome Cabin Boy and others. The banjo works great for these songs. Sailors were allowed to take with them anything they could carry in their sailor-sack on board and there is a history of banjo playing sea songs back in the 19th century. If you are curious about banjo and singing, just type the same on the "Q" to the left of this page. Good Luck! banjered
Some of those songs you mention are in our line up. They are great fun and we try to engage the audience and get them to sing along. A rollicking good time.
Lot of traditional shanties sung here in the west country. These guys from Port Isaac have accordian and guitar to accompany their voices.
Apart from this year of course, we also have the Sea Shanty Festival each year in Falmouth, which is a cracking event, though I haven’t been brave enough to take my banjo as most sing unaccompanied, but next year, I may risk it!
Welcome to the HangOut.
Most of those songs only need three of four basic chords, so you've got THAT part knocked.
For starts, strum down on the strings with your thumb, pick up on the first string with a finger (Index OR middle, as you like) then thumb the 5th, and pick up on the first.
For a fake but fun chanty, give a listen to my autobiographical "BOLD & JOLLY PIRATE".
Very nice Mike, thanks for sharing.
Pete Seeger banjo stylings might help as well.
My wife and I hope we get to hear you at some point. We live in Williamsburg and coordinate the old time jam here. We often go to performances at the Waterman's Museum in Yorktown where they often have sea chanty groups perform. You might touch base with them as a potential gig spot for your group.
Best of luck with your banjo journey. I am well into mine with over ten years of playing now and still love it.
Thank you Richard, good to know. We are just amateur singers who love naval and seafaring history. We are still learning the trade, but have a good time doinng it. We normally sing in local pubs, coffee houses, on the streets of downtown Fredericksburg and in the local battlefield national parks. This past year has been pretty much limited to the last two due to COVID. Between songs we tell sea stories, naval history tidbits and tales of the sea.
We have a few youtube amateur videos of a some of our songs.
Thanks for the encouragement!
And here are the lads themselves.
THE RAPPAHANNOCK WHALERS
Tenor banjo on this one...North West Passage.
So, is the goal to give a historically informed performance or play some old timey banjo type accompaniments?
If historically informed, you are in luck as there is no shortage of learning materials! But be warned that historically informed banjo playing does not always fit into the nostalgia tinted ideas of what "old music" should be to our presentist minds.
RE : Banjo. It is only a "Dobson" private label banjo if stamped as such. No stamp-- just a Buckbee.
The goal is to simply accompany some of our songs. I realize this may be a year or 3 until I'm competent enough, but I look forward to learning regardless. Its not something I have a deadline for.
I find no Dobson labels, just the Dobson style heel.
Northest Passage is one we sing, thanks.
Stephen, I met a group like yours at Tenterden folk festival in Kent several years ago, they were from Cornwall or Devon as I recall and, extremely good too ! Anyway I jammed in the pub with them nearly all night long playing my 5 string banjo and, I am not a claw hammer player at all , when we got kicked out of the pub looooong after closing time we continued playing and singing outside under a lampost , those six guys sang and I played banjo, I never played more than 3 or 4 chords all night ! So I say learn a handful of chords and how a capo works and just go for it, it is so much fun, watch Pete Seeger or Luke Kelly or Tommy Makem, they do almost exactly what you are aiming at doing, we only stopped in the small hours when a grinning policeman advised us of the time !
Lol - great story, thanks !
It’s a long story, but I saw Stephen’s post in a CH FB group I belong to, and it’s apparently a small world. We served together years ago. I actually ran into him at the VA hospital prior to COVID starting about a year back. So I offered to help him since he apparently lives 20 miles from me.
I got to play this banjo some yesterday. Very nice little buckbee, and mostly setup right. Very playable. I really liked it. He got to hear what it can sound like, with my mediocre playing, and I gave him some stuff to start with. I gave Steve a Dan Levenson beginners book to help him get started. Interestingly enough that book starts you out in double C, and he was a full step down from G, so got a text this AM to help him get it tuned to C relative. Hopefully he got it.
...And I think I got recruited to play banjo and sing with them ??
Yes Brian, you've been recruited!
Thanks for all your help, you really helped me get a jump start. It was great to hear you play my old Buckbee, you really brought it to life. This journey is just beginning, its great to have a nearby mentor!
As I begin to learn about this banjo, I've been playing with different tuning. Unfortunately, this resulted in a broken 5th string while tuning it to g. It broke at the tailpiece. Looking close at the no-knot tailpiece. I see knots on the strings. I did some reading on no-knots and now understand that the strings should be looped around the little knobs. The string broke right at the sharp edge of the slot.
I also note that the tailpiece bolt/bracket (sorry, I don't know the correct name of this part) is not tight up against the pot, and there is also a gap between the dowel and pot. Can this simply be screwed in further to close the outer gap so the bracket is seated against the pot? I don't know why it was not screwed all the way in, unless the screw is longer than the hole in the dowel. Im not so concerned with the dowel gap. Ive seen photos of other banjos with similar gaps. But maybe a filler piece should go there?
I'd appreciate your thoughts and insight on this.
I pulled it apart and tightened up the tailpiece bracket to the pot. Then reinstalled the strings, tying loops on the end to avoid the sharp edges. I need to work on my loop tying skills. Not pretty, but they hold fine. I think these are guitar strings, they are a little fat. I'm going to order some nylguts and Labella 17 nylons to try.
'Little Stewart' 48 min
'Up 18 North' 2 hrs