I was misled. That is a quote for Stephen King's "The Stand," I can't remember exactly where or from whom, but some guy had just been whacked by the devil and his last words were "I was misled..."

I spent the bulk of my years in the banjo world playing exclusively in the bluegrass style. And I enjoyed it immensely, no doubt about it. I used to read everything I could get my hands on about Earl Scruggs and the development of the banjo style. Everything I read told me the same basic story...banjo playing clunked along throughout history until Earl made the smooth, fast, flowing bluegrass style a reality. 1945 is when the banjo became a truly exciting instrument, according to that version of banjo history.

The truth is, the five-string banjo had been a really kick-ass instrument from the beginning. And by the time of the "classic" era, it had developed to a point where it knew no limits. It's repertiore was as varied as the hues of the rainbow. In fact, it was actually more important to American (and European) culture than it is in the modern era.

I'm ranting here, I know, but I guess I'm just sorry I didn't appreciate to true scope of the banjo until now.

Views: 33

Comment by Joel Hooks on March 30, 2009 at 23:05
I'm glad I was not the only one. While not the bulk of my years, it was several. The bluegrass cliché quickly got old and the banjo went into the closet. It was not until I got into "living history" and set out on my own did I find the truth.

Thanks to the 'net and the efforts of folks like you for cracking this apparently guarded secret about the banjo.

My "master-clone" now has nylon strings on it.
Comment by Trapdoor2 on March 31, 2009 at 2:17
I came into the BG scene late (~1978) and had previously experienced the banjo mostly as a Dixieland and 4-string ragtime instrument (Eddie Peabody, Micky Finn's, Shakey's Pizza, et al) before tripping and falling into the BG pond and learning how to play the 5-string. I also followed along with the Scruggs version of banjo history for years. Oddly, I learned "Spanish Fandango" from a 1970's vintage BNL and was attracted by the 'difference' and the historical factor.

I went to the 1992 Tennessee Banjo Institute and saw Clarke Buehling and Chris Sands performing...that was all it took, I had to learn that classic stuff! I still have the cassette tape I bought from Clarke back then...still plays (though I have transferred the tunes to my ipod).

Even though I've been playing around with this stuff for 15 yrs, it really didn't 'sink in' until we started sharing music and information via the internet. Thanks, Carl. You're keeping the flame burning brightly.
Comment by marc dalmasso on March 31, 2009 at 7:35
2 ways : if you feel beeing a bluegrass musician , you stay in the bluegrass stuff
if you feel beeing a banjo player , you ' gonna explore others roads like c_b for example

amazing : cb in French means contre_basse ( upright bass ) but all the french musicians from the jazz scène essentialy say " grandmère " ( grandmother ) for an upright bass
Comment by Trapdoor2 on March 31, 2009 at 13:35
Here, we call the an upright bass a "Doghouse Bass", either because it is big enough for most dogs to sleep in or perhaps because if you practice too much your wife will make you sleep in the dog house...
Comment by Jody Stecher on April 4, 2009 at 17:18
The first instruments that were called "doghouse bass"may have been just that. I used to see home made bass instruments in local country music bands. The resonating body was shaped like a doghouse, perhaps an actual doghouse. An eye screw was fastened to the roof and a rope secured to it. The other end of the rope was attached to one end of a broom stick. The other end of the stick was notched and it fit over the point of the roof. The player pulled on the stick to loosen and tighten the rope and get different pitches which were amplified by the doghouse resonator. Same idea as the washtub bass. Whether the term "doghouse bass" got transferred to the bass viol or whether some folks decided to take the slang term literally is something I don't know.

Re bluegrass: unfortunately most bluegrass *does* all sound the same these days but it was not always like that. In the early days each band had a signature sound and rhythm. I first listened to bluegrass on the radio in the 1950s, often to live broadcasts and it was easy to tell who was playing banjo after just a few notes — the individual styles and sounds were as different as Van Eps and Ossman were to each other. Which brings me to the first posts on this thread: you should have seen my jaw drop to the floor when I first heard motifs in classic banjo that were supposed to have been invented in the 1940s and when I first saw techniques and fingerings unambiguously notated in Parke Hunter's or Joe Morley's compositions, which were thought to have been first developed in the 1960s. I don't think anyone has meant to be deceitful about who invented what, it's just a matter of lack of access to accurate information.

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