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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Times, they are a changin'. Considering the polarized political climate in 1965, I guess one could forgive him for being Mr. Grumpy-pants. I have met similar attitudes (without the politics) in bluegrass circles as well.

I never understood cliques or the "me/mine" attitude...and when I decided to do this "classic banjo" thing, I adopted a "what's mine is yours" attitude...with counteracting these pitiful, grasping people specifically in mind.

Mister Grumpy Pants would make an excellent title for a Banjo Solo.

Trapdoor2 said:

Times, they are a changin'. Considering the polarized political climate in 1965, I guess one could forgive him for being Mr. Grumpy-pants. I have met similar attitudes (without the politics) in bluegrass circles as well.

I never understood cliques or the "me/mine" attitude...and when I decided to do this "classic banjo" thing, I adopted a "what's mine is yours" attitude...with counteracting these pitiful, grasping people specifically in mind.

I have photocopies of two of Zarh Bickford's mandolin Tutors (well, I have one and a half actually). They are excellent.

Joel Hooks said:

Greetings!!!

A friend of mine has a little Clifford Essex introduction to banjos booklet from the 60's. Apart from the fact that it makes it seem like there were still zither banjo players on every street corner they are particularly scornful of long necks. It says something like "the origins and reasoning behind this development are quite obscure." Which they really aren't, they're on page 63 of the Seeger book...

Mr. Z.M. Bickford was a busy puppy in the music biz. His banjo arrangements show up in many of the American "popular music" collections of the teens and twenties. I cannot quite bring up the name of the publication but it was issued annually for decades...and Mr. B was editor or something. Feist? Witmark? Remick? I can't remember...very similar to the JAT tune collections.

With regards to the Thornburgh letter, I think after the initial astonishment, my mother finally calmed me down and I viewed it as just one of those things you run into.  Who knows, he may have been a (I was going to say a really nice man, but that doesn't seem right in these discussions) very interesting and talented person.  It just goes to show what can happen when we let ourselves be unchecked.  Words have ramifications.  It's historical enough now that I hope we all can read it and learn from it.  We surely don't want to drive people off from this great music!

(and now, for safe keeping, I just put the letter into my record cover from "How to play the 5 string Banjo" by Pete Seeger, Folkways Record FI 8303, with a red cover.   Serves him right!)  :)  G'night folks!

Jody, what software are you using for slow-down?

Jody Stecher said:

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...

 

The Amazing Slowdowner .


Thomas Edgar said:

Jody, what software are you using for slow-down?


I love the Amazing Slowdowner.  When my music teacher first told me about it, I thought he was kidding regarding its name.  An Abbott and Costello routine ensued.

Jody Stecher said:

The Amazing Slowdowner .


Thomas Edgar said:

Jody, what software are you using for slow-down?


Yes, Jody put me on to The ASD and it is very good.

Buy it from here:  http://www.ronimusic.com/index.html

It costs quite a bit at $50 but it is very good for 'hearing' exactly what is going on when Van Eps et al. charge through their performances.

If you don't want to pay $50, Quicktime 7 allows you to slow down to around 50%, without a change of pitch, and that is free.

Quicktime 7 also can change pitch so you can tune the recording to your banjo instead of vice versa.  ASD does this too and it also has a pretty decent equalizer so you can get rid of fsssssss on the high end and rrrrmmmmm on the low end. Want to hear what Olly Oakley or Vess Ossman sounded like without the out-of-time piano or without mis-harmonized orchestra complete with screaming cascading piccolo? A few EQ adjustments bring the banjo forward and reduce the noise makers. ASD also slows down all the way to 20%!  And early versions of the software come with the package.  I use version 5, the most recent, for most things. With a click of the mouse one can access the earlier versions and occasionally one of these is more effective on early recordings than the new versions. The most obvious improvement in successive versions is the quality of sound at slow speed. It's relatively crude and metallic in the earlier versions and  more musical sounding in the latest version. But sometimes this metallic grating sound clarifies what actual notes were played on the old recording. When listening for study rather than for pleasure, I don't care much about sonic fidelity, and will endure industrial noise pollution for the sake of clarity of melody, for the sake of deciphering the musical contents of an old cylinder.

Just thought I'd add something to (perhaps) redress the balance a little regarding the late Dr. R. Thornburgh.   His photo appeared in an early 1960's "BMG" magazine here in the UK.  I was in the American Express office in London in the summer of 1964 and recognised (from that BMG photo), that the chap standing in front of me in the queue was indeed Dr.Thornburgh.   Taking my courage in both hands, I asked if it was he, and did he play the banjo?   He replied (warmly) in the affirmative, invited me to the coffee shop, and my recollection of the subsequent conversation is that he was a very friendly, approachable and down-to-earth guy and very pleased to talk banjo...whatever style one played.  (In those days, I definitely wasn't a classic banjoist....).  I never saw him again.  My understanding is that he was an eminent eye surgeon with his practice in California.   I can only assume that he was on vacation in London, UK in the summer of 1964.  My memory of him is entirely positive.....

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