Classical Time – for the Banjo-ista

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If this doesn’t draw in the banjo enthusiasts, I don’t know what will…

I should say it’s Classic Banjo Time.

The modern banjo has ancient roots and shares much with it’s African antecedents.  Its connection to the lute family along with the whole array of drum-headed cousins crossed many lost cultural boundaries in ancient times.  This makes it the perfect candidate for bridging musical genres and styles, from the Sub-Saharan and Arabic music the banjo, with it’s almost ever-present drone string, morphed into creature we know today.  Most non-players only know it from the post-war music known as Bluegrass or maybe even Old-Time Country but there is, and always has been, a broad range of music brought to life on this bright and varied instrument.

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Cowboy Singing – Thomas Eakins

I read somewhere long ago the real instrument of the American Cowboy was the banjo due, in part, to the timing and population of the very people who became cowboys.  Forget the 1950s movie stereotype, most cowboys were freed slaves, their offspring, or poor younger sons of Euro-Americans looking for a job and adventure.  Those who were not were likely caballeros from old Mexico or the west in general; they brought most of the guitarras to the scene.

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Thomas Eakins, Home Ranch 1888

Where I was going with this ramble was that the humble little banjo can do more than Mumford and Sons or Yonder Mountain String Band patterned rolls.  Nifty and tight as they may be, some of us want to reach beyond and find the real soul in our hands.  Don’t get me wrong, these are fine musicians, but really just one narrow style in a giant spectrum of sound.

Here’s a great example.  What could be better than Bach and banjo?

I suggest checking out more of Mr. Raphaelson’s videos if you want to add a little novelty to your listening lineup.  Whatever your instrument, love it, learn it, and expand upon it.

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Since we opened the post with a banjo beauty shot, it seems appropriate to end with one as well.  I love this inlay, by the way.

So Long Earl

Thanks to spending so much time with my grandparents as a young child, Earl Scruggs has been a musical influence on me since before I can remember.  I loves seeing him and Lester Flatt on the Beverly Hillbillies and in my early teens, I wanted to learn to play like him.  I bought a very cheap (read junk) banjo and plugged away at it after school, annoying friends and roommates for the next decade and a half.  I never became a great player but still love to sit around and pluck the strings when I’m alone. I went off to college to become a classical musician but spent far more time strumming a banjo than studying or practicing my chosen instrument.

Click the image to go to the Earl Scruggs web page.

Very few people can affect a whole new sound and style of music and be emulated by so many musicians.  People like Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, and even John Hartford influenced so much music in ways many younger people wont even know and took virtuosity to a high and classic level.  I’ll pull out the Scruggs book I’ve been carrying around for 25 years and maybe try my hand at some American classical music tonight.

Enjoy one of the coolest banjo licks ever played.