Recently site member and fine banjo player of many styles, John Field from the UK, died and one his wishes was that his collection of BMGs should be made available to all who want to read the world famous magazine for the Banjo, Mandolin and Guitar player.

 

John’s collection is not complete but stretches from 1925 to when the BMG publishing company went into liquidation in 1976.

 

All the monthly copies that he had have been scanned and are now available for download. There are gaps but if you are able to help fill them with scanned copies of BMGs that you are willing to share, please contact me.

 

Click on the menu at the top of the page and then on a magazine front cover to download as a PDF file, you can now read articles from the great players of the time featuring news, tips, comments and suggestions. Also there are music scores available in each magazine for all styles of banjo playing (and Mandolin and Guitar!).

They are a fun and really interesting look back in time...ENJOY !

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I'm finding it fascinating - I have just been reading some BMGs from the 1920s and Emile Grimshaw is posting scores for popular tunes of the day like 'Everybody Loves My Baby' and there is a running column 'The Plectrum Banjoist and Dance Orchestra' with topics such as the best method for writing notation for the tenor banjo.  The banjo is alive and kicking.  I also came across an interesting summary of the BMG banjo diplomas in BMG 1925 (5) where there are additional marks for being able to play chord tremolo plectrum playing (I wonder if the BMG went onto to develop diplomas for the plectrum and tenor banjo?).  Anyway, contrast to Feb 1960 where there is a lament for the complete demise of the banjo ('Banjo Survival').  I think I am going to try and read them in order and will keep eyes peeled for first mention of Folk banjo (and also tab).

Also, the advertisements are very interesting - if anyone has The Jazz Folio or The Artist Folio for Tenor Banjo by John M Tait (published by Nicomede Editions)  could they get in touch.  Thanks.

Well...I misunderstood your query. I'm crawling back under my rock now.

Joel Hooks said:

Thanks, but if one happens to notice the first mention of TAB and "folk banjo" in the BMG please make a note of it.  Thanks.

(You are supposed to include that TAB was used for lutes-- that is the go to answer.)

No worries!  I am just looking for data. 

In the random later issues I have looked through it seems that "folk" was being covered at the same time that "banjo" (as I have discovered according to CE and BMG the 5 string is the only "banjo"  the rest need a qualifier) was still finger played aka classic banjo.

I am interested in the way the two were handled by the ageing crew.  I figure there was plenty of resistance.  For example, one issue I read recommends that anyone wanting to play folk banjo should first study Grimshaw's book.  Another issue recommends "ear playing" for folk banjo, no need to learn "orthodox playing."

I am also interested in how they accept folk banjo.  Do the seasoned writers accept that it is a recently discovered "older" or "original" style the same way it was sold in the US, or do they consider it new and what the kids are doing.


Trapdoor2 said:

Well...I misunderstood your query. I'm crawling back under my rock now.

Joel Hooks said:

Thanks, but if one happens to notice the first mention of TAB and "folk banjo" in the BMG please make a note of it.  Thanks.

(You are supposed to include that TAB was used for lutes-- that is the go to answer.)

I can say that as I index the sheet music (starting from the 20's and moving forward), I did not need a banjo qualifier until later in the 1920s. After that, most of the sheets are marked "Plectrum or Fingerstyle" or "Tenor-Banjo". I have used "Banjo-5" to segregate that which is specifically 5-string. However, I think that later on, I'll need to add a qualifier to allow search discrimination for "Bluegrass" and perhaps "Folk" (if that turns up).

I just skimmed the Dec 1958 issue (the only 1958 issue), which has Pete Seeger on the cover. The accompanying article is effusive with praise...and does mention "folk" music. It also speaks highly of Pete's banjo tutor and tells how to obtain same.

It seems there is some dichotomy in whether Rock 'n' Roll is acceptable or not. I read one article about Bill Haley and his Comets that was very positive...and another alluding to the inescapable trip to perdition should one be caught attempting to play such drivel on one's instrument. Much funny stuff too. A review of a 45rpm record of "See You Later, Alligator" was very short and to the point. "Not if I see you first!" LOL!

Today, I did a quick survey of "Christmas issues" from 1932 to 1960. The first issue I found where TAB used was the Dec 1945 issue...used in an instructional bit for Hawaiian Guitar. Tab for Hawaiian guitar appears quite often in BMG but with my limited scan, I haven't found it specifically discussed. Generally, I observed that the tunes presented with TAB tend to be due to scordatura, that is, alternative tunings. There is one tune I ran across that is tabbed in 4 or 5 different tunings on the same staff. Looks crazy!

So far, that's the only TAB I've come across. I did read an article that warned against learning tunes by ear or by copying a recording. Makes you go deaf or grows hair in the wrong places or something like that. ;-)

Which issue had the article warning against learning by listening?  This I've got to read!   What's next? Don't try to learn anything about food by tasting? And especially don't learn anything about life by experiencing anything,.....



Trapdoor2 said:

Today, I did a quick survey of "Christmas issues" from 1932 to 1960. The first issue I found where TAB used was the Dec 1945 issue...used in an instructional bit for Hawaiian Guitar. Tab for Hawaiian guitar appears quite often in BMG but with my limited scan, I haven't found it specifically discussed. Generally, I observed that the tunes presented with TAB tend to be due to scordatura, that is, alternative tunings. There is one tune I ran across that is tabbed in 4 or 5 different tunings on the same staff. Looks crazy!

So far, that's the only TAB I've come across. I did read an article that warned against learning tunes by ear or by copying a recording. Makes you go deaf or grows hair in the wrong places or something like that. ;-)

I don't recall which issue...and of course, I do have hyperbolic tendencies.

Essentially, it was not about listening...it was about copying note-for-note from a recording. As I recall, the writer was concerned about players not learning to read notation or understand theory.

In my scans, I haven't found TAB discussed, it is merely presented. Surely there is an issue where, at least, the details of use are outlined.

There are a couple of articles about early banjo history (Nov and Dec 195...8? 6? I don't remember). One presents a banjo held in a UK museum that is 18th century (and therefore predates Sweeney, etc.). From the photograph, it is obvious to me that it is a 19th cent tackhead...but the card in the museum sez 18th cent and therefore it has to be! We were obviously in the early stages of questioning authority back then. ;-) There is also a photo of a gourd banjo...that obviously has a Boucher inspired neck on it. Claimed to be much earlier, of course. Interesting to me that it boils down to an attempted refutation of the various Sweeney myths...something we still contend with.

As I slowly work through these I have been enjoying the tutorials on specific solos.  Most of them will recommend buying a specific recording of a piece to listen to (and sometimes play along with).  In one example that I can think of the author even points out where the recording deviates from the written score.

Jody, the articles in these issues (like most magazines with many contributors) are the opinions of the authors and can be all over the place.  I have run into multiple examples where an author will state as fact something that is obviously wrong or inaccurate.  We are very spoiled.  If I am writing something and want to include a bit of history it is very easy and quick for me to search my notes (that are digital) or search the various internet sources with primary documentation. This was impossible as recently as 10-20 years ago.

I'd not put too much stock in one author's ideas.  What I like to look for is trends in views from different authors.  One thing I have picked up on is that the guitar gets recommended often as the best instrument for "folk singing." Perhaps guitars were the most profitable, they were certainly the easiest available new.

There were also "folk clubs" in England where people got together to sing "folk songs" just like they did in the olden times (or so it is insinuated).  Evidently there was also an education department sponsored program to hire "minstrels" to go to schools to sing "folk songs."  It was this government endorsement of "folk music" that I would like to have a better understanding of.  For the US as well.

It seems that there was a belief that "folk songs" were wholesome and represented moral values (this would obviously be counter to the politically motivated US "folk songs").  This was endorsed by a certain class that were willing to formalize this "folk culture" into a curriculum.  Then there were the people who sought to find only the "folk songs" to include in that that conformed to the cultural nostalgic values they wanted to support/create.

It was in that messy mix of actual cultural history and artificial "folk values" that I want to get a better understanding of.  First the motivation of why people started focusing on it (why it became suddenly popular).  And second, how to clean up the mess of fact and fiction of what is now being called "vernacular music" (formally "folk music").

Clean up all the folk fictions and replace them with folk facts? What planet do you hail from, Joel? ;-)

Nowdaze, we are forced into reading between the lines of folksong so that we may be properly (and popularly) offended. Won't be long before 'folk' is considered offensive and must be replaced by "vernacular American" or "vernacular European". 

In that same issue with the early proto banjo (all of which have been addressed recently in the new Roots and Branches book) Dec 1964, read the article Banjo Technique on page 74.  Not a very glowing review of Seeger's book.  Also some resistance to TAB.

The "Sweeney added the 5th" string was questioned early on.  I don't think anyone really believed it.  SSS questioned it a couple of times in print.

Looking at early magazines the story seems to come exclusively from members of Sweeney's family that were alive in the 1880s and 1890s.  They were the ones who had the most to gain from the story.

In one issue of BMG I was reading where they were questioning the claim that the "Sweeney Banjo" was supposedly the first banjo ever built.  Again, this is where we are spoiled.  There was never a question about what that banjo was if people had the sources we do.  Frank Converse included in his Reminiscences that the "Sweeney Banjo" was built for a family member who played violin "over the bass" using an old rim.  We now know that it was a Boucher rim. 

In the 1950s George Collins wrote in the Fretted Instrument News basically saying that the Sweeney/5th story was not true.

So this has just been a perpetual ignoring of facts that just goes around and around with no real goal that I can see.

Sort of like what we call "classic banjo" has been deliberately ignored since the 1930s.  It was still happening.  People were still writing about it in major publications, but somehow it was entirely overlooked/ignored by a couple of generations who created a "folk" version of the banjo.

Heck, Paul Cadwell went around to "folk festivals" and played concerts to college "folkies" to share classic banjo-- he got good reviews and people to this day remember hearing him play (because it left an impact) but they went on with no change in the Earl Scruggs history of the banjo.

RE: "Folk" -- that is happening.  It is now "Vernacular." It is all folked up!

Joel,  I think you may be mistaken on several points.  

1) People did believe that Sweeney added a fifth string. Most believed it was the short string that is called "the fifth string" on string packets and printed tutors on how to play.  Other believed he added a bass string to a four string banjo that had 3 long strings and one short drone.   I still don't know if he did either.   My best guess is that he did add a low string to an existing banjo of his, but that doesn't make him the first to do it.  When I was about 13 or 14 years old I developed the guitar technique that made Maybelle Carter famous.  I hadn't heard her recordings. I simply adapted some banjo techniques to the guitar, an instrument without a high drone string.   That does not mean Maybelle didn't do it many years before I was born. But I did invent it.  It happened to already exist.   Sweeny may have done the same when he added a string.

2)  I see no evidence that the Classic Banjo genre was deliberately ignored.  At least not in the sense of suppression of facts in the cause of ideology.  I think that classic banjo music sounded like the pop music of the early 20th century which was no longer viable to the sensibilities of those interested in traditional southern banjo music.  The latter is of course a real genre played by real people. I don't know why that seems to bother you since you are on a campaign  — a campaign I applaud and welcome — to verify facts and have them be accepted as facts.   Anyway, I think classic banjo is ignored by people who find that it does not engage them.  There is no conspiracy I can see.

3) the Earl Scruggs version of banjo history is not wrong, it is simply incomplete.  Earl did create a systematic technique that was more developed than that used by other players in his milieu. 

Joel Hooks said:

In that same issue with the early proto banjo (all of which have been addressed recently in the new Roots and Branches book) Dec 1964, read the article Banjo Technique on page 74.  Not a very glowing review of Seeger's book.  Also some resistance to TAB.

The "Sweeney added the 5th" string was questioned early on.  I don't think anyone really believed it.  SSS questioned it a couple of times in print.

Looking at early magazines the story seems to come exclusively from members of Sweeney's family that were alive in the 1880s and 1890s.  They were the ones who had the most to gain from the story.

In one issue of BMG I was reading where they were questioning the claim that the "Sweeney Banjo" was supposedly the first banjo ever built.  Again, this is where we are spoiled.  There was never a question about what that banjo was if people had the sources we do.  Frank Converse included in his Reminiscences that the "Sweeney Banjo" was built for a family member who played violin "over the bass" using an old rim.  We now know that it was a Boucher rim. 

In the 1950s George Collins wrote in the Fretted Instrument News basically saying that the Sweeney/5th story was not true.

So this has just been a perpetual ignoring of facts that just goes around and around with no real goal that I can see.

Sort of like what we call "classic banjo" has been deliberately ignored since the 1930s.  It was still happening.  People were still writing about it in major publications, but somehow it was entirely overlooked/ignored by a couple of generations who created a "folk" version of the banjo.

Heck, Paul Cadwell went around to "folk festivals" and played concerts to college "folkies" to share classic banjo-- he got good reviews and people to this day remember hearing him play (because it left an impact) but they went on with no change in the Earl Scruggs history of the banjo.

RE: "Folk" -- that is happening.  It is now "Vernacular." It is all folked up!

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