I recently picked up a second hand, 1962,  copy of this book by Pete Seeger,  and this reference to nylon strings and Fred Van Eps caught my eye. 

I thought other members might be interested to see it.  Is the American Banjo Fraternity still in existence?  Unfortunately, since this dates from 1962 there is no website address!

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Sure sounds very much like Classic Style to me. There is even about a second of finger tremolo at the very end :-)

#1, it is obvious that I'm an idiot. I mixed the two up. "Haul" is from the C. Asbury recording, not Polk Miller. Sorry about that!

 

I still think it is a stroke/thimble style recording...

 

Rather than being an idiot I thought you might be the Guardian Of Secret Knowledge (about rare banjo recordings). 

I've listened to the recording a few more times, this time with slow-down software and with some basic EQ changes to allow me to hear more music and less noise and have concluded that the frequent triplets which sound so Twiddly Bit-ish at high speed are more likely to have been produced by one finger raking downward and not by separate fingers after all. Equally convincing in favor of stroke style is type of tone which, allowing for the limits of early recording fidelity, are more likely to be produced by a metal thimble banging down on a gut string than by finger tips moving upward. 

So if you're an idiot, move over and welcome me to the club for mistaking one technique for another.

Anyway, I like this performance a lot and I think the banjo tone is fabulous.

Trapdoor2 said:

#1, it is obvious that I'm an idiot. I mixed the two up. "Haul" is from the C. Asbury recording, not Polk Miller. Sorry about that!

 

I still think it is a stroke/thimble style recording...

 

I just hope I don't have to turn in my Guardian decoder ring. God knows how many boxes of Post Toasties I would have to eat to find another one!

I do think the downstroke arpeggios are the key to this style. There are some other sequences that sound (to me) like Converse-style "combinations".

It is a shame no other Asbury recordings have turned up. He cut about a dozen cylinders in 1897 for Columbia.

Sorry to enter late into this discussion.  I've been out of town and wanted to find my original documentation before I replied.  When I saw the box copied from Seeger's book, it brought  back a flood of memories.  My brother and I made my banjo when I was in 7th grade, about 1963.  Seeger's book was the bible for us "folkies" back then, and I think I probably had the whole thing memorized at one point.  Somewhere in 1964-5, I heard a recording of Fred van Eps and I really liked it.  Wanting to learn more (since there wasn't any information even in the Houston public library), I wrote a letter to Dr. Thornburgh, explaining that I had seen about the ABF in Seeger's book and that I wanted to learn more and did he have any music that I could purchase.  His reply is below.  Needless to say, I didn't follow up and it took nearly 50 years to find that sound again.  I really love reading the discussions here.  Thanks!

Wow, what a cool letter!

My first impressions of the ABF were off-putting as well. Thankfully, it took me only 10 yrs to decide I really didn't give a hoot what they thought about me and my steel-strung, resonator banjos, I was going to play this stuff regardless. I believe both of us (me and the ABF) have mellowed somewhat. ;-)

What a horrible letter!  (But gads, thank you for somehow keeping it & for sharing it.)  If I'd written to people who'd known my heroes and gotten such a reply, I'd be mortified.  I'm so glad you have found the sound again, as you say, and are here on the forum.  

Though I haven't been to an ABF rally I've been to other banjo gatherings and everyone I've met in the classic banjo world, both from the ABF and not, seems to be extremely nice, these days, and extremely knowledgeable.  The current lead of the ABF, Eli Kaufman, is superb on both counts, and will gladly try to put all the information in his head into yours.  

The ABF's reputation has certainly suffered, from what I've heard of similar stories in the past, but as Marc says they do seem to have mellowed greatly.  They also have a boatload of material and information (and a fine little bi-annual publication, The 5-Stringer), and it'd be a shame to let all of that languish just because of some former members.

Thanks again for sharing, and glad you're here.

 

I was astonished by the meanness of the letter  because I know Bob Thornburg, the banjo maker, a very kind and gentle man, and one who was introduced to the banjo through Pete Seeger's book.  But then I noticed that this gruff Thornburgh has an h at the end of his name.  It's gotta be a different BT.  

I concur with Aurelia about the generosity of the present ABF people and of Eli Kaufman who could not be more opposite in attitude from the stinginess of this letter. In fact when first corresponded quite some time ago he refused anything in exchange for the printed music he sent me. 

Two of my friends each have a Bob Thornburg banjo (without an h)  whose hoop is made from an old grain measure. The scale length is variable because it's a fretless instrument but I recall it averaging about a yard!  For the finale (or maybe the encore) of the first Secret Life Of Banjos concert some years back Bill Evans and I played a duet on these two banjos. They were tuned very very low. And we played Dueling Banjos, which was hilarious at low pitch. And a boing boing boing boing boing boing. I think we announced it as Drooling Banjos.

So that's where our reputation as angry, stuck-up nerds comes from! One must admire the man's insistence on protecting the ABF from communist espionnage. By that time the Soviets had successfully copied the bump-titty and were supplying North Vietnam with cheap longneck Vega knock-offs made in Leningrad and crude Russian translations of the Seeger book. Just think what might have happened if they got their hands on the twiddly-dee and some Morley sheets! It would have made the Tet Offensive look like a picnic in comparison.

Dr. Thornburgh is dead, he died twenty odd years ago, if my memory serves me right. His outburst about Communists reminded me of an amusing incident involving a very prominent Bluegrass banjoist (still alive) in the 1980s when I was doing a bit of Bluegrassing myself. We had a fiddler player in the band who was rather left of centre in his politics, we had spent an afternoon in the company of the prominent Bluegrass banjoist and the conversation, being amongst friends, had covered many things, including a friendly discussion about the current political situation in England. Afterwards I was talking to the PBB and he commented on the opinions of our fiddler; without thinking, I just said, 'Don't let -----(name omitted to protect the guilty) worry you, he's  a Communist'. The PBB was visibly shocked, he said, 'You've got a Communist in your band?' which I, and the rest if the band, thought was very funny. The ABF were a bit stiff on the Communist front, at one time, you had to fill in a form to join them, which, amongst other things, asked you to declare that you had never been a member of the Communist Party, or words to that effect.

Jody Stecher said:

I was astonished by the meanness of the letter  because I know Bob Thornburg, the banjo maker, a very kind and gentle man, and one who was introduced to the banjo through Pete Seeger's book.  But then I noticed that this gruff Thornburgh has an h at the end of his name.  It's gotta be a different BT.  

I concur with Aurelia about the generosity of the present ABF people and of Eli Kaufman who could not be more opposite in attitude from the stinginess of this letter. In fact when first corresponded quite some time ago he refused anything in exchange for the printed music he sent me. 

Two of my friends each have a Bob Thornburg banjo (without an h)  whose hoop is made from an old grain measure. The scale length is variable because it's a fretless instrument but I recall it averaging about a yard!  For the finale (or maybe the encore) of the first Secret Life Of Banjos concert some years back Bill Evans and I played a duet on these two banjos. They were tuned very very low. And we played Dueling Banjos, which was hilarious at low pitch. And a boing boing boing boing boing boing. I think we announced it as Drooling Banjos.

I like that after receiving a letter asking for information on this newly discovered music, Dr. Thornburgh attacks Thomas for finding him via the incorrect way.  Then tells him he will only trade for stuff he wants.

I read a couple of letters written by Thornburgh where he is desperately looking for a unnamed copy of a Converse tutor.  After reading this I hope he never found it.

Greetings!!!

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