For Shawn, the Restless Biologist, and Eric: The REAL Ultimate Classic Banjo...???

On this rainy Saturday, I've been mounting the neck back on a Gibson Bowtie after a lot of heel surgery while listening to Alex Magee's cut of "Jolly Darkies" which has been on repeat for about an hour and a half (I like Vess's playing a bit better on brown wax, but Alex's minor part is just great), and maybe it was all the mahogany dust and opining the fact that I can't make the ABF Rally (again) next week, but I realized this may be of interest to some.

Keep in mind, the guys and I were cussing and discussing this banjo under Gad Robinson's 2nd floor teaching studio (by the way Jody, Robinson's, though metallic don't sound metallic....they sound more like Fred Van Eps if he played a Gibson Mastertone flathead) on Boylston standing around beside the street car bench (we of course let the ladies sit on the bench while waiting...that' me in the bolar crossing the street early to meet the guys...some of the guys are still in the Tremont Spa) just over from Tremont and Court Streets (where some...ah...OTHER banjos were made), and the consensus was that Alex didn't really like this banjo very much, and when he did actually play it, he removed the resonator as in the 1927 Gibson catalog picture of him with it (don't ask me how the guys knew this 30 years earlier, but that's another story).

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Hi Chris

Really good to "meet" you too. Thanks for all the kind words.

The few remaining fragments of Old Boston's banjo mecca intrigued you, so I thought you may enjoy this pic of a long gone, but once bustling Scollay Square/ Court Street in the 1880s. You are standing about where the red dot is on the map looking up the square. The green circle on the map marks 121 Court Street, which in the 1880's was Fairbanks and Cole's address. In the photo, it's the rightmost curved facade at the end of the square. Look real close and you may see a whole sacful of double pointed shoes. :-)

That is so neat, Shawn, thanks!

Well...when I was there, I tried really hard to find any evidence of anything.  All the facades and buildings obviously have been razed or changed/remodelled, whatever, and I'm sure city infrastructure/utilities put under the streets, etc....

The hotel concierge was really intrigued with my quest...we got on google maps and did everything to find the location of the Gad Robinson studio in my picture....I wanted to see it and have a picture taken from the same perspective.

There is a small business building there now, but it's very small with alleys on either side...NOTHING like the Tremont Spa/Gad building in the pic....all streetcar tracks, either, of course.

It was interesting if not bittersweet, but what can I expect 120 some odd years later.

That map and pic you posted is really interesting....obviously F&C had a PRIME location and building....that is incredible....I would not have guessed that....I wonder if they had a few suites in that building or actually the whole building?  That sure is a prime spot.

Gad's addresses were like 170/177 Tremont Street, and there was something else on Tremont...I think AC Fairbanks after the Cole split, so I wondered if they were in the same building, next door/across the street, etc....

I tried to find Court street when I was up there, but apparently, Court is not near Tremont/Washington/Boylston but in a different set of blocks somewhere.

One or a couple of Vega's addresses apparently were on Boston Common at the head of Tremont/Boylston from what I could tell walking around with my map....really interesting.

Incidentally, all these locations were all around the Boston bombing from a couple years ago which had happened right before we were up there in Sep, so that added an eerie modern polluted feel to the old "go ahead optimism" I was in search of.

I grew up in Newton and my family is from all around there....from Cambridge to Holden/Paxton/ I had other motivations to see it all, too.

That F&C building is really, really something....sure would be neat to see some pictures of inside the show room and work rooms!    


PS-I enlarged the picture on my computer, and I didn't see the sack of double pointed shoes, but I DID see a small wood crate full of F&C Ivoroid tailpieces marked "prototypes".....they must have been getting ready to file that false 1886 patent already......the crate is right to the left of the main front door of the 121 building....the Postman must have just left it when the pic was taken and all the guys gone to lunch.

Dear Jody,

Aha -- my many thanks for this; you are a clear and patient instructor! I will test with another flyer which may be of interest to the discussion at hand.

My very best,


CW-Is one of those Alex?  Which one?  What year do you think?

That is incredible........


To continue the drift, I'll add the Burt Gedney was a student of Frank Converse.

The middle picture is Magee's first wife (the other Magee in the trio). She played the piano.

I would hazard to guess that the guy on the right side is Mr. Magee and the one on the left is Burt Gedney.

I have the dots to at least two Gedney pieces, "Banjoesque" and "Berkshire March". "Banjoesque" was published in BMG in '51.


Yes, what Marc said; Magee is on the right and Gedney on the left. Magee's wife, his former pupil Maude Brown, died in 1920, breaking up the group, Magee not playing the banjo again for six years until he and Gedney reformed with another pianist, Ruth Stewart. Magee worked as a plumber in his day job.

And continuing Joel's connection to drifting banjo history, Magee was a student of George Gregory as well as an associate of Bill Farmer (who recorded with the Ossman Banjo Trio, Farmer having performed with Gregory beforehand; Gregory, as most of us know, committed suicide reportedly due to depression brought on by musically-related repetitive stress injury.) Farmer also apparently worked as a plumber, incidentally.

Maybe there's a secret in here somewhere re: plumbing and banjo-playing. I can't even change out a washer, so that could be my problem.

Wow, Chris, this is all fascinating info that I didn't know.

I was just wondering during all this banter what Alex did for a living if not music....

I didn't know that about Gregory, either....very sad.

The interactions of these people is fascinating to me.

This time period of classic banjo in USA seems a very, very hard period with these people to find anything much about at all....I'd love to converse with you more about these things sometime, obviously have dug for the info and really tied a lot of these interactions together.....this is really, really amazing to me.

I really appreciate your post......

An interesting somewhat related thing to Gregory's injury is that Tarrant Bailey, Jr. had 2 surgeries on his right hand index finger I think from "over practice".  He had 2 attempted skin grafts to fix it, the first one failed, the second one he was good to go for the rest of his life.....I wondered when I read about that what would have happened if it negatively had impacted his playing abilities.

The other Chris

Dear Other Chris,

Thanks for your nice note, and I certainly can’t take credit for assembling all this; as a fourth or fifth generation banjo-compelled person (historically speaking, of course) most of the heavy lifting was done by others, and especially in this case by Pat Doyle of the UK, whose gentlemanliness is matched only by his generosity; I can’t begin to quantify all of the amazing material he’s shared from his decades of culling and collection, though I hope to assemble and publish a good bit of it at some point, and in the meantime I certainly am grateful and can post some things here.

Along these lines, the Magee details I mentioned yesterday are from a bio that Magee himself wrote in answer to researcher William Brewer for a BMG article, attached here. As well, a very late photo of Magee playing at a Lewiston, PA banjo rally in 1964 … I believe one of his last, if not the last. Sorry it’s not the Gibson, which does indeed appear to be a beautiful instrument!

I didn’t know about Tarrant Bailey, Jr. — from Gregory to Farland to him, I guess it’s pretty clear that, uh, maybe practice doesn’t always make perfect. Yikes.

All warmest of wishes,

The Other Chris.

Oh my goodness....I'm completely gobsmacked......I will digest this and be back again.....

This is incredible...THANK YOU, CW

PS-In initially reading the first couple pages, it is interesting that he was gigging as a young banjoist along the Hudson area.....pretty much right after Ossman had started in the same exact region....So, makes one wonder if Alex met/knew/played with Thos. Glynn........

And sounds like he DID like the Gibson!  Ok, Jody, put the Regal deal with me on hold, I'm saving up $25k for Alex's Gibson......LOL

CC (I THINK there's only one of me)

What do you (anyone) make of the banjo he's playing in the photo?

Van Eps?

His Old 12" Orpheum he mentioned in the letter?

It's some raised head large pot thing like that with ornate peghead......

board extension...all things considered...I say 12" or 13" Orpheum....fifth fret inlay looks like the Orpheum #1 style inlay (I remember cause I just sold one)....blocks must have been added later......????

Given Alex's apparent size/build, that does look 13" to me, so I say Orpheum...

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