Joe Morley  “The Lightning Banjo Player”


Over the last 18 months, site member Richard Ineson has been working on a biography of the world’s greatest composer for the Classic Style Banjo, Joe Morley.


All classic style players know of Morley but if you visit the

NEW  page you will find out MUCH, MUCH more about his life.


The Life of Joe Morley



I first discussed this project with Richard in February 2015 as an addition to Anthony Peabody’s page:


 “Works of Joe Morley”


Anthony has been producing audio tracks that can be played while you view the individual scores of Morley’s compositions.



Thank you Richard for all your hard work!






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Thank you , Richard

Thanks Richard! All Joe needs now is a blue plaque...

Thanks Richard, this is phenomenal!  Looking at the photos of Morley, did he play with a free floating right hand?  It's hard to tell.

John....I don't know whether Morley played with a free-floating right hand, and this question is not dealt with in his banjo tutor (a pdf file of this is available on this site).  However the George Morris tutor (also a pdf file on this site) says that the right hand little finger should rest on the vellum...and Geo. Morris is known to have taken lessons from Morley in the early part of the 20th. cent. in London.  It seems reasonable to assume that Morley did the same.....John

John..The late great Bill Ball was a great admirer of Morley and his music and he once told me that when he was a youngster, with his father, he went to see Morley play. Bill always played with a floating right hand so I suppose his playing style could have been influenced by Morley....Steve.

Richard, thank you so much for this addition to the classic banjo universe. Though you may not reap the rewards tomorrow, another group of youngsters will sing your praises. Dedication, like experience, is not quantifiable. It just grows on you until you have to share it with someone else. That is a legacy to be proud of.

Thanks to everyone for your thanks, I love you all. The biography was a chance to set the record straight, as far as that is possible. Anthony Peabody played a large part in doing the research I just got everything into what I hope is the right order.

John, I don't know whether Joe played with his finger (s) on the vellum or not, I suspect that he used both methods, but in his photographs his vellum seems pretty clean which suggests that he was a 'floater'. I used to play with a floating hand but I have played with the index finger on the vellum  for many years now  - I can play louder doing this, this was important before microphones were invented.

Danielle, I like the idea of a Blue Plaque, it might be a possibility, which building would you choose to put it on?

Hal, my reward is helping to keep the memory of JM and his music alive, it was an interesting project which I enjoyed doing.

Marc, you are doing as much as anyone and more than most, to keep the banjo in the public eye.

Richard....great biography of Joe Morley and many thanks for all the hard work that went into it....John

YES , i am with Richard , supposing JM used both methods ;  you cannot  decide , one day , playing floating hand ;  just speaking by my own experience ;

I also play both ways, not only from day to day, but even on the same day, even on the same tune. 

marc dalmasso said:

YES , i am with Richard , supposing JM used both methods ;  you cannot  decide , one day , playing floating hand ;  just speaking by my own experience ;

Thanks Richard and Anthony for you diligence and the hours put in. 

I am puzzled on one point: your account of Clifford Essex inviting Joe Morley to play in London for the first time accords with other accounts. Morley cannot be seen playing a fretless 7-string banjo!  Why on earth not? It seems as though Essex was afraid the audience would see such a banjo and equate it with dirty feet and bad manners. I don't understand this. Can you explain this to this American?

I think I can answer your question Jody, but you need  a bit of background information first.

Clifford Essex and Alfred Cammeyer had their first studio at 59, Piccadilly, where they remained until the dissolution of their partnership in 1900, Essex when took the upper floors at 15a, Grafton Street, rooms which had previously been  occupied by the greatest actor of the Victorian age, Sir Henry Irving.

Cammeyer meanwhile,  moved initially, to 14, Jermyn Street, his wife, Annie Vaughan Hughes, was the widow of an army officer, and her father had a jewellery shop situated on Jermyn Street, which probably had some influence on  Cammeyer's  decision to set up his studio in this fashionable street.

Cammeyer later moved to 97a, Jermyn Street, (although Cammeyer claimed Jermyn Street as his address his premises were accessed, via York Street, more properly. Duke of York Street, the impressive marble entrance is still there) and eventually he took the house at 3, Swallow Street, formerly occupied by famous banjo composer and player, Herbert J.Ellis, when Ellis died in 1903.

Cammeyer finally settled at 6, Swallow Street where he remained until sometime in the 1930s when he relocated to Poland Street. Cammeyer's wife died in 1938,  in which year  Cammeyer retired to live on the Derbyshire estate of his banjo pupil, and mill owner, the Honourable Arthur Strutt.

Essex and Cammeyer purposely chose their premises, for the addresses which bestowed on themselves and their businesses,a very valuable commodity in Great Britain in the 19th century, 'respectability'.The banjo had been given the seal of approval by the Royal family, and this made the banjo a 'society' craze, the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward V11, was a banjo fan and had banjo lessons from the Bohee Brothers who had their studio in Coventry Street, the Prince also purchased a banjo from Alfred Weaver.

That the banjo was approved of and played by, members of the Royal family was the single most important factor is ensuring its success with 'society'  at the end of the 19th century.

Queen Victoria had been much amused ( for a change) by the Ethiopian Minstrels who had performed for her during a visit to Arundel Castle in December, 1846, there is also, a so far unsubstantiated, story of Joel Sweeney entertaining her with his instrument during his visit to the British Isles in, I think 1843.

Queen Victoria encouraged her several children to take up the banjo and the Prince of Wales, later King Edward V11, is said to have been an accomplished player of the instrument, the Clifford Essex Pierrot Banjo Team also entertained the Prince and Princess Alexandra on board the Royal Yacht at Cowes in 1891, and on other occasions.

Essex and Cammeyer very shrewdly, dealt with only the upper echelons of society, it would be interesting to know how much they charged for lessons, but we know that they sold banjo solos for four shillings each (20p in new money)  at this time; this was a sizeable sum of money in the 1890s.

Essex said that they could sell as many banjos as they could get hold of and that the price of these banjos 'was no object', E&C imported American banjos from the top manufacturers such as Cole before establishing their own workshops

To answer your question, Clifford Essex could not be seen to put Joe Morley on at his concert playing any old banjo, especially a crude, old fashioned, seven stringer, as the customers of E&C would have wondered why they were expected to purchase very expensive banjos made from exotic woods, inlaid with mother of pearl, with carved necks, ivory pegs, gold plated fittings etc. when the foremost player of the instrument could play the most demanding of pieces on an unfretted old tub.

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