So, Clifftop was probably even crazier/amazing than last year but I was so exhausted when I got back last Sunday that I didn't even have a brief "back in town" post in me (also...seems kinda silly to only write a couple sentences anyhow). So for the first time in a year, I missed a week on the weekly banjo blog - my apologies to the readers but I'm back this week with a new tune/tab.
a brief overview of my Clifftop trip this year:
I camped in roughly the same place, surrounded by roughly the same people (mostly from Boston) as last year...which was just super cool. Great to have gotten a "crew" together and we had a blast jamming as in previous years. However, there were some new faces in the neighborhood as well, several Canadians, a Georgian, a soon-to-be New Yorker, and a guy from Utah set up camp right next to me. I learned a bunch of great new tunes from that group ("Molly's tune" from Snake Chapman and "Walk along John to Kansas" stick in my mind the most) and got to pass along a few as well (they really latched on to the Henry Reed tune "Texas/Newcastle" which I talked a lot about here).
Greg Galbreath, who built my banjo (here) gave a "Masterclass in Banjo Building" (in conjunction with Craig Evans who made the banjo builder series) which was really really great. Greg talked about some of his motivations behind building and showed pictures of how his work has changed over the years - dammit his stuff - especially his inlay - just gets more impressive by the day! It was just a real treat and a great reminder of just how special my own banjo is.
I played my version of "Yew Piney Mountain" (here) in the contest. I definitely got a bit of stage fright when mic-ed up, but still managed to get through it pretty well overall. I got a lot of compliments from those in the audience but no love from the judges - still pretty happy with how it went! The level of playing in the contests was super high! The amount of talent, on the fiddle stage especially, that didn't make the finals was astounding (e.g. Brittany Haas just killed it up there and didn't make the top 5).
Weather-wise, there was some rain, but overall it wasn't quite as humid as last year, which was a relief. We did get a full moon on a clear night as well, which brings me to the tune I tabbed/recorded for this week. The night of the full moon, after watching the band finals, I hiked out to a cliff face with one of my new Canadian buddies Cam, who is an astoundingly good fiddler in multiple styles. We brought our instruments and plopped down on the precipice to play out into the valley: he taught me a Medieval tune with 4 parts that was just crazy cool. A couple days later, after getting home, I think I've managed to remember the first 2 parts, which sound a lot like a fiddle tune in their own right - I have no idea what the tune is called so I've decided to call it "Cam's Medieval Tune" until I find out. In summary, what follows is a likely-garbled version of an excerpt of a fiddle tune that I've renamed - talk about the "folk process" at work : ). Hope you enjoy anyhow.
Cam's Medieval Tune
The tune is in D dorian (post on modes here) and again has been shortened to 2 parts with an AABB structure. Its not crooked though it does have some rhythmic oddities that force you to do a lot of "stride breaking" while you play - more on that later. Without further ado, "Cam's Medieval Tune:"
"Cam's Medieval Tune" (misspelled above) played on my Buckeye in double D (aDADE).
So - I have to undercut this recording a bit before we go further. First off, I chipped my nail at the very end of clifftop and after shaving it back down my tone is not at is best - to my ear it sounds a lot brighter and weaker than normal. This problem gets worse on the high strings. However, my nails grow fairly quickly so I expect to be fully recovered in a week or so : ) Secondly, I recorded the A and B parts separately (I kept screwing up the B part) and the transition is not exactly seamless - theres some strange noise between the two parts and the AC in my house definitely cut on when I was recording the B part...*sigh*...didn't really notice all of that 'til I'd already put the microphone up. Finally, hearing it again, I definitely lagged a bit in the B part. Overall, I guess the real purpose is to get the tune across and I think I've at least accomplished that here. If this is your first time hearing my playing, please scroll back through the archive to hear something a bit more listenable : )
I wrote out a tab for this tune for those interested in playing it as well:
Though you'll likely never come across this one in a jam, you can think of it in the "etude" category - that is, its a great exercise for learning technique. In this case, the technique is "stride breaking," which I discussed in a few previous posts (here and here). The stride breaking happens in the first and 3rd lines of the A and B parts. Most of it is of the "use your striking finger on 'and' beats" variety. However, there are a couple odd things worth exploring further:
First, look at the 2nd measure of the A part. The "4 +" beat includes an striking-finger stroke on the open 3rd string - no big deal except that the note repeats on the "1" beat of the 3rd measure. This forces you to do 2 strikes in quick succession (basically 2 quick 8th notes with your striking finger), which is something I've definitely never recommended before. This isn't the smoothest of moves - in fact, too many notes like this and it probably wouldn't seem like you're really playing clawhammer anymore. However, one move like this doesn't sound too choppy and theres not really another way to get this note. If the song went too fast, I'd likely just drop the first note and play the following descending phrase in stride (I'd likely also consider filling in the end of the 2nd measure with a bum-ditty or something).
Second, look at the 5th measure of the B part. The "4 +" beat of this measure includes an striking finger stroke on the 2nd string, followed by another on the 1st string. We've seen this move before, and unlike the 2 notes on the same string as discussed above, we can accomplish these notes in one move (as seen in figure 8 here). The difference is that the move starts on an "and beat" this time - double stride breaking!
Finally, I just thought I'd point out the chords in this tune. First off, though its a dorian tune (which indicates that a D minor chord would be the tonic chord), I decided to end both the A and B parts on an D major chord. Theres really nothing going on in these measures so I thought it would be kinda fun to play with the tonality. Also, I choose C majors for the 4th measure in the A and B parts. While this would be an obvious choice due to where the melody goes in the B part, an A major would be the "vanilla" choice for the A part. However, the C major works with the melody in the A part and has a bit more flavor so I went with it for symmetry.
Anyways, hope you enjoyed reading this and playing the tune. In the next few weeks I may re-record "Cam's Medieval Tune" and mess around with harmonizing it as well. To anyone reading, if you happen to know the name of this tune, (or rather the tune its based on) please let me know!
I've stopped somewhere in Ohio to find some wifi along the road to Clifftop (getting there later tonight) and I thought I'd take a sec to post something about the instruments I've decided to bring and why. Here's what's currently in the back of my car:
The Buckeye (here) - Great banjo for solo playing, singing along to, or smaller jams/duos
El Hefe (here) - For bigger jams. Also, I've added back the 6th string (here), which allows me to play more of a "supporting role" when Im not the only banjo in a jam.
Bacon Mandolin (here) - I met some really great mando players last year and I'm hoping to get some pointers!
Baritone Ukulele (here) - for early morning/unobtrusive picking
I left my guitar at home for a few reasons: first off, its a bit big and I've already got 4 other instruments with me. Secondly, if you have a guitar, people make you play it! I'd typically rather play banjo so why even present the option? : ) Perhaps not the most "jam friendly" decision I've made.
For some reason, my music tastes on the trip down have veered far from Old Time. So far, I've listened to Modest Mouse, Belle and Sebastian, the Killers, Jeff Buckley, and Creeper Lagoon. Oh and the Fugees! Kinda on a journey down memory lane....but I think I'll have it out of my system by the time I hit the festival : )
I'll be back next week with some good Clifftop stories! If you're going to the festival, come find me and say hi!
While I'm still in the throes of moving houses (ugh...for some reason I thought doing this a little bit at a time would be less stressful), I feel a bit negligent for skipping the blog last week; I'm therefore making time for it this weekend. For today's post I'm tackling "the cluck," a sometimes-maligned percussive maneuver favored by many so-called "modern" clawhammer players (myself included). Let's get started!
What is the cluck and how do you do it?
Most readers of this blog likely know what I'm talking about already, but for good measure: the cluck is a percussive sound accomplished by the right hand (for a right-handed player that is...). The sound is something like a "chimey" click, like you're snapping along to the beat with a little bit of resonance (sound examples to follow).
As for how to do it - well, to be honest, while I can pull a cluck out of just about any banjo (in fact, I'm usually fighting to dial back my clucks), I have a hard time explaining how to do it when people ask. What I can tell you is that, while I play melody notes with my index finger, I cluck with my ring and middle fingers (kind of simultaneously). I have very short fingernails on those two fingers so its mostly skin hitting the strings, which may or may not be important. The motion moves across the strings faster than a brush and actually involves a little kind of twist/flick of my wrist. I also hit mostly the top 2 or 3 strings rather than all 5. If that's not enough info for you to get a cluck out of your own banjo, there are some really great tutorials on youtube (in particular one "rocket science banjo" video featuring Tony Spadaro) that can likely be of more assistance.
Things that affect the sound of the cluck
First off, setup matters. As readers may know, I'm pretty finicky about head tension (here) and banjos with properly tightened heads certainly have louder clucks than those with looser heads. The Buckeye (here) has a pretty wild cluck at a head tension of 90ish and above - in fact the clucks kind of dwarf the melody notes at that setting, which is one reason that I really like to keep the head dialed back to 88 or 89.
The other thing that really affects the intensity of the cluck is where you do it. The type of cluck that rings across an open field/parking lot/etc. for most banjos lives around the 19th fret. In fact, I got the buckeye scooped to the 15th fret just so I'd have plenty of room to hit this location with all of my might. There is a natural harmonic at the 19th fret that likely propels clucks forward at this locale. If you're having trouble clucking, you might try moving your efforts to the 19th fret sweet spot.
However, you don't have to be there to cluck - you can cluck over the head and further up the neck. Below, I've included a picture of the Buckeye and some corresponding sound files - I've marked out 4 places on the neck and recorded myself clucking (just a basic bum-ditty with brushes switched out for clucks) at all 4 of them.
Figure 1 - A picture of the Buckeye taken in the apartment I just moved out of (nostalgia!). I've marked 4 places on the neck/over the head that correspond to where I cluck in the sound files below. Note that these locations indicate where the cluck happens - my melody notes (i.e. the "bums" in the bums-ditty below) are played a fret (or imaginary fret) or two up the neck with my index finger.
Examples 1 and 2 - Over the neck clucking. Example 1 (left, above) is clucking at the 12th fret, while Example 2 (right, above) is clucking at the 19th fret. The 19th fret is my go-to spot.
Examples 3 and 4 - Over the head clucking. Example 3 (left, above) is clucking just over the head. In fact, I'm trying to play with my index finger at the head-to-pot joint and cluck just below that so I may have aimed the arrow a little low in Figure 1. Example 4 (right, above) is clucking about halfway between the head-to-pot joint and the bridge.
As you can tell, all of these clucks sound just a bit different. In general, theres a bit of a rounder/more-bassy/darker sound as you move up the neck, and a sharper/more-trebley/brighter sound as you mover towards the bridge. This is the same pattern that melody notes follow when played over the neck or towards the bridge and likely also has something to do with the harmonics/overtones that one finds at these locations. The clucks in Examples 2 and 3 sound pretty good to my ear but those in Examples 1 and 4 are not that usable (Example 1 is a bit weak, and Example 4 I find a bit annoying).
When to cluck
As I learned in a recent post on banjo hangout (here), when to use the cluck (if ever!) is a contentious issue amongst banjo players! However, as with most things banjo, this is obviously a matter of opinion and theres really no wrong answer about when to cluck.
My position on the matter can be summed up as follows: I freaking love clucks. The percussive side of the banjo is one of the things that attracted me to it in the first place and up-the-neck clucky playing is really one of my favorite banjo styles to listen to. I've also gotten to a place in my playing where my clucks are fairly non-optional - I don't really do a lot of index-finger brushing these days so I either put clucks or ghost notes where my brushes would normally go - I could likely work on breaking myself of this habit...but I don't wanna. I control the intensity of my clucks by dialing back my right hand force and/or moving around where I strike (as shown in figure 1 and the sound files above). That being said, clucks don't always play a huge role in my playing. For example, my version of "Yew Piney Mountain" (which I've talked about here) includes only a few (what I deem to be tasteful) clucks:
Example 5 - "Yew Piney Mountain" played on the Buckeye with just a few clucks : )
The anti-cluck crowd seems to think that clucks are either 1) over-used by many players or 2) non-authentic. In the over-use camp, some players tend to cluck on every available off-beat (i.e.the 2nd and 4th of every measure). This constant off-beat clucking is a lot like mandolin chopping in bluegrass, which I guess is the complaint people have about it. I don't actually have too much of a problem with this (in fact playing with a chop-heavy mandolin player is actually kind of fun) but I suppose I can understand the desire to keep old time weird : ). Some players would rather not emphasize the off-beat at all, and I guess these voices would be anti bum-ditty as well. As for the authenticity, I quibble with this a bit: while clucking may not be a mainstay of every clawhammer source recording, you can definitely find clucking in Fred Cockerham's playing...he probably got it from somewhere. Perhaps it is more prevalent these days and thats the issue? Maybe its something about putting Fred Cockerham technique into Hobart Smith tunes (for example)?
Overall, I think there's room in Old Time for a lot of different banjo styles - so I say put clucks wherever you like. However, you may want to learn how to keep them under control in case you get the stink eye for being over-clucky in a jam : )
As always, thanks for reading! Next week I'm off to Clifftop (!!) - hopefully I'll have time for a quick post first....
Moving is terrible...
This weekend was all packing boxes, transporting boxes, unpacking boxes, repeat. No banjo playing whatsoever and definitely not enough time to write a proper blogpost. Sorry to all reading - hope to be back next week!
Also, definitely looking forward to Clifftop in a few weeks - hit me up using the contact tab if you're going and would like to get together and jam!
After another couple weeks off, I've finally gotten back to recording my "album" (here). This week's tune is one of the first fiddle tunes I ever wrote and its called "Sisyphus' Hill." Interestingly I've slipped this one into an Elderly video alongside some standards (as mentioned before, here) - that clip is below:
Me playing "Sisyphus' Hill" on an Ome Northstar; filmed for my side-gig as a banjo tester for Elderly instruments (still love every Ome I've ever played!). Link for full video: youtu.be/052xPB-Dm5Q
The way I played the tune above is the way I used to play it with my band back in VA...but I decided to give it a few tweaks before recording this time. The biggest change is that I ended both the A and B parts on a C# (both parts originally ended on an A). The song is mostly in A minor, but this change forces both parts to end on an A major chord. Here's the Audio file of my "album" recording:
"Sisyphus' Hill" - an original fiddle tune by Jeff Norman (me). Played twice through by me on my Buckeye tuned to aEADE; guitar accompaniment the 2nd time through using a 12-fret Epiphone Masterbilt in standard tuning without a capo. Tune and recording Copyright 2017 - Jeff Norman.
I think I like the changes but I'm wondering if the major chord is too gimmicky...opinions welcome in the comments!
A bit on the name: my buddy Chris named this tune in reference to the Greek myth of Sisyphus, who had to push a rock up a hill only to have it roll down again every day for eternity. Chris thought this was a good metaphor for fiddle tunes which (when played right!) seem to go on forever : ) We even named our band the "Sisyphus Hill Stringband" for a while but the reference was lost on a lot of people ("Is that hill around here somewhere?"). Best not to have a band name you have to explain so much - eventually we changed to "Happy Hollow Stringband" instead.
As for banjo stuff: Buckeye banjo, no recent alterations (it could use some new strings!), tuned to A modal (aEADE). Amazingly, I've only got 1 more tune to finish up the album...maybe I can actually push through to the end next week!
Recently, in an effort to escape real life, I've been listening to the "Get Up in the Cool" podcast (www.camerondewhitt.com/getupinthecool/), in which the host, Cameron DeWhitt, interviews (and plays duets with) Old Time Musicians, many of whom I've seen around at festivals (though most of whom I've never spoken with myself). As I mentioned in a previous post (here), one of my favorite episodes that I've heard so far features Brian Slattery (www.bfslattery.com/bfsCMS/), a man of many talents (check out his website...) one of which is that he's a fantastic musician. You can listen to this episode by clicking here. Disclaimer - I don't know Cameron DeWhitt personally, nor do I have any kind of stake in this podcast...I just really really like it.
I loved hearing Brian talk about how he associates certain tunes with certain people - in fact he says that he only learns tunes directly from other people (rather than recordings or sheet music). While I do sometimes supplement my tune learning with sheet music or recordings, I definitely attach tunes to people in the same way. In fact I probably wouldn't learn many new tunes if it weren't for hearing them played for the first time by someone around me. Lately my main new tune source is a local fiddler. Some of the gems she's shown me over the past year or so of weekly jamming include "Rock Andy" (from Snake Chapman), "Five Miles from Town" (from Clyde Davenport), and "Maggie Meade" (from J.P. Fraley). These tunes may come from different sources, but I'll always associate them with her. Really, if you exclude the tunes I learned in my early days of picking random tabs off the internet, pretty much all of my tunes came to me from somebody I've played with over the years - kind of gives them an additional level of meaning.
In the spirit of the Brian Slattery "Get up in the Cool" episode (again, here; the episode is appropriately titled "I learned this tune from..." hence the title of this blog post) I decided to learn a pretty sweet tune called "Lone Prairie" from Brian Slattery's playing. Before I go too much further, here's my recording:
Me playing "Lone Prairie" (or maybe it's "Alone Prairie?"...or perhaps "Lonesome Prairie?") on a nylgut-strung 1880's Buckbee banjo tuned to aEADE.
About the tune
As I've recounted before (here), I first heard Brian Slattery play this tune at Clifftop last year. I was wandering around listening to jams late one night and I found Brian playing fiddle alongside a cellist, a guitarist, and a bass player - the tune was totally mesmerizing and I stayed to listen until they were done (which may have been another 15 minutes or more) trying to hum along and save the tune for later. This was one of the occasions where I really regretted my choice to live my life sans smart phone (with which I could have easily recorded this jam). The tune faded out of my head far too quickly and I figured that I was never going to hear it again. However, months later I got to 34:23 on the aforementioned podcast and there it was!
In the podcast, I believe that Cameron DeWhitt refers to this tune as "Alone Prairie," a title I couldn't find much info about when I looked online. Brian says he associates this tune with the fiddler Jon Bekoff; he's only got one tune with "prairie" in the title on Slippery Hill (www.slippery-hill.com) which is titled "Lonesome Prairie" (and is definitely the correct tune). Whatever is the actual name, what Brian and Jon play is a squirrely/crooked D minor tune with 2 parts. At least I think its crooked...theres definitely some sort of strange phrasing in the A part; Slippery Hill also has a tune called "Lone Prairie" from Wade Ward which is a 1 part A modal tune, though it sounds an awful lot like the A part to "Alone/Lonesome Prairie." Perhaps this was the ultimate source of a tune that took a few turns through the folk process?
About the recording
First, the banjo: I've got my new-to-me/old-to-the-planet Buckbee (more on that banjo here) fixed up an playable; it mostly just needed new strings and a bit of a head tightening. I also swapped out the bridge and tailpiece...its the perfect couch plunker! If I get around to getting a less-substantial bridge (i.e. 2 feet and no ebony top) it'll probably be loud enough to play in a small group too - but for now I'm digging its mellow tone and I bet my wife's thankful to have a muted banjo in my hands : ). As usual, I recorded in Garageband with my Yeti microphone - no effects etc. (just wanted to get an honest picture of the banjos sound).
I made a rather bold decision to move the tune to a different key (Gasp!). To explain: when I play the tune in D minor (using aDADE tuning) I spend a lot of time on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd string; I don't touch the 4th string at all. Like "Dubuque" you would need a 6 string/low bass banjo to play this tune in the "standard octave" (see my post on that here)...unfortunately, out of restlessness I've put El Hefe back in its 5 string configuration for the time being. Using Wade Ward's version as precedent, I tried it out in A modal (aEADE) and it works really great there. For now I'm content to leave the tune in A minor and slip a capo in my case (again, Gasp!) for the unlikely occasion that I ever come across this tune in the wild. It actually sounds kinda cool up high (I'd be capoing at the 5th fret to get to D minor).
Finally some self-criticism: I screw up a bit around 1:40 (note: the cool chord at 1:44 is intentional)...I just didn't have the patience to re-record today so I'm choosing to find it charming. Also, My tone leaves a bit to be desired as I broke my banjo nail (final Gasp!) this week and had to shave it down pretty close as a result. Maybe not quite long enough to get a great strike on those fat nylgut strings without skimming the finger pad; *sigh* the banjo sounded a bit more plunky a few days back.
Thats about it for now - next week I may talk about playing G minor tunes, or jigs, or clucking, or I'll add another track to the album. Havent yet decided : ) Also, I just realized I missed a significant anniversary last week: I've been doing this blog for just over 1 year at this point - thanks to everyone who's been following along! To all of my domestic readers: have a happy 4th of July! (and to any Canadians in the mix - happy 150th!)
Today's post will be a bit brief as I just got back from the Indiana Fiddler's Gathering (www.indianafiddlersgathering.org) and though I had big plans to record another tune for my "album" of original fiddle tunes (here) I'm just too exhausted at the moment. I figured I'd spend this post reliving the weekend's activities instead...you know as if this were a for-real "blog" blog : )
I was told about the Indiana fiddler's gathering (aka "Battle Ground") by a local MI banjo player who described it as "The Clifftop of the Midwest;" following such a ringing endorsement, I made a rather last minute decision to go. Well I'm certainly glad I did - it turned out to be a pretty amazing weekend! On Saturday I found a great group of musicians to pal around with including members of the MI-based Old Time (and more!) duet Red Tail Ring (redtailring.com). Man...those two can play!! I had to bow out at 1 am but my guess is that the jam may have kept going for a few hours (with the tunes trending weirder and weirder!). On Sunday, I went to the festival-organized Old Time Jam run by Brad and Ken Kolodner. Interestingly. while I know Brad and Ken as banjo and dulcimer players, respectively, Brad played bass and Ken played fiddle, both sounding great! When the jam was over I managed to play some banjo duets with Brad including "Five Miles from Town," "Sally in the Garden" and "Home with the Girls in the Morning." I mostly stuck to pretty standard melodies for all the tunes (out of nerves!) while Brad roamed all over the neck around me - it was a heck of a thing! One guy recorded us on his phone but I forgot to ask for his info - maybe I can find that stuff on youtube at some point!
Though the description "Clifftop of the Midwest" certainly bore out in the caliber of jamming, Battle Ground is a bit more stage-focused than Clifftop and the concerts certainly do not disappoint - I only got to see the Saturday afternoon and evening sets, but there were some pretty great acts in there! Brad Kolodner's band Charm City Junction (www.charmcityjunction.com) played a mix of Irish, Bluegrass, and Old time Tunes (...ever heard "Last Chance" on an accordion??). The Canada-based string quartet, The Fretless (www.thefretless.com) took some traditional tunes to some super weird (in a good way) places; they also brought my new buddies Red Tail Ring on stage during their set to play their song "Fall Away Blues" together, which was just a stunning performance! However, I was perhaps most impressed by Roger Netherton, a young fiddler who just tore up the stage and had the crowd on their feet; I didn't find a website for Roger but check out the recordings on his soundcloud page: soundcloud.com/roger-netherton. The guy can't be more than 20 years old...look for a lot of great music to come from him! (Hunter Robinson killed it as the banjo player in Roger's band too : )
Anyways, fiddlers conventions are always a bit draining for me - lots in the way of playing, less in the way of sleep - but its totally worth it to escape the real world every once in a while. Going to sign off and go catch up - hopefully next week I can actually get back to recording!
After another short travel-related hiatus from recording my album (here), I'm back with another original fiddle tune! This one's called "South Kensington Shuffle" - its a D tune with an AAB structure though the B part is twice as long as the A part so it feels like an AABB tune. Here you go:
"South Kensington Shuffle" - an original fiddle tune by Jeff Norman (me). Played twice through by me on my Buckeye tuned to aDADE; guitar accompaniment the second time through using a 12-fret Epiphone Masterbilt in standard guitar tuning capoed on the 2nd fret.
Tune and recording Copyright 2017 - Jeff Norman.
I recorded this playing along with Garage Band's built-in metronome set to 110 bpm, but I think it could be a pretty great barn-burner for the speed freaks out there! The A part starts out pretty close to the C part of "Cumberland Gap" (the 3 part version in D)...but I'm okay with the overlap : ). The B part of "South Kensington Shuffle" starts on a G (IV) chord, which I think sounds nice.
The "South Kensington" part of the name comes from the hyper-posh region of London my parents lived in for a few years; to any Brits who may be reading: yeah, yeah...I know. The "shuffle" part is because I think a near-constant shuffle would be a great way to approach this tune on fiddle (...of course thats how I approach every tune on fiddle...). The Buckeye has been un-edited since the last recording...one tone ring, steel strings, renaissance head. Tuning is aDADE.
Hope you enjoyed the tune - we're on the home stretch of the album so hopefully I can finish soon!
I've been traveling for work and was able to stop by my old stomping grounds of southwest VA on the way back to America's high five. Lots of banjo to be had in these parts - I thought I'd use this week's post to give a bit of a blow-by-blow:
Thursday night I arrived in town just in time to play a duo gig with the fiddler from my old band in Virginia Tech's Moss Arts Center. The (quite fancy!) event was a reception for an exhibition focusing on local woodworkers called "From these woods." (info here). If you click the link you'll be hit with some eye-candy at the top of the page in the form of a GORGEOUS Buckeye banjo (www.buckeyebanjos.com), which was featured at the show! I, of course, got to play most of the tunes on my Buckeye (here), though I kept El Hefe (here) handy and tuned to Old G as well since shifting down to that tuning does take a bit of "settling in" time for any banjo. Greg wasn't the only banjo maker on exhibition: Mac Traynham actually had a banjo there too (mactraynham.com)! The gig went great...even though I always get just a bit nervous about playing through a PA : )
Friday was the first night of the Henry Reed Memorial Fiddlers convention (more info on that here) and I spent some time down there last night at a really great jam session! Amazingly, it can sometimes be hard to find musicians to play with at these things (...I never feel like one of the cool kids...) but yesterday I just decided to force myself to be sociable and I'm glad I did! I started by finding a guitar buddy: I sat down at his campsite and we started playing some tunes. As people walked by I just flagged them down and asked if they played anything. Eventually we expanded to 3 fiddles, 2 banjos, a guitar, and a guy who traded off between mandolin and banjo-uke. Really fun group! The best tunes of the night were definitely "Sandy Boys" and "Benton's Dream"...the latter of which the group definitely took to some interesting territory : )
Today (Saturday) I'm going back to the Henry Reed festival to compete in Banjo (and maybe Banjo-Fiddle duet..super cool that they even have this category!). I'm planning on trying out my "Yew Piney Mountain" for the banjo competition (here). Then, a trio version of the Happy Hollow Stringband (me on banjo + fiddle & guitar) are going to play a local fish fry, and we'll go back to Henry Reed afterwards to compete in the band competition. We're planning on picking a couple of tunes for the contest based on how they went at the fish fry. I've never done the band competition at Henry Reed but I've gotten 3rd and 5th in banjo in past years - I'm always surprised at how nervous I get up there! (I actually kind of train-wrecked at the end of "Newcastle" last year due to jitters). Just something about playing into a microphone I guess...hopefully I can give myself a powerful pep-talk this year!
In other news, the banjo that starred in last week's post (here) has shown up back in MI and my buddy says its pretty cool - can't wait to try it out! Next week, I plan on getting back to recording - until then!
I'm traveling for a week and, in all the past week's hubbub, I didn't have time to record prior to leaving town. Therefore, the next track on my album (here) will have to wait. However, I did manage to find time to purchase another banjo : )
Several weeks back, I thought it would be a fun to convert the Buckeye over to nylgut strings (recording of me playing "Banging Breakdown" on that banjo here). While I liked the sound, I really missed its steel string voice, and it didn't take me long to switch back. However, I've got the nylgut bug - its just kind of nice to have a banjo with such a different sound and its a bonus that nylgut leaves my banjo nail unscathed. So, I've been keeping my eyes peeled for a full-time nylgut couch-plunker in the Banjohangout classifieds. A few days ago I pulled the trigger on a fretted Buckbee! Below are a few photos:
Known specs are as follows:
- Shorter than normal scale length (maybe 24ish?)
- Spunover pot (I think...)
- Super cool looking skin head
- 40(!!) hooks
- Dates from the 1880s (probably)
- nylgut strings
Also - theres an interesting bridge on there as well. Because I'm leaving town, I've had to have it mailed to a friend's house and he'll get to play it before I do. However, I'll get my hands on it next week and, based on the specs, I'm expecting super-plunkiness - I'll try to get a recording up here in the near future!
About this blog
I have lots of ideas about banjo playing and music in general - this blog allows me to get them all out of my head and see what you think.