Most of my friends know that somewhere along the way I fell hard for the banjo. People around the neighbourhood seem to enjoy hearing it but I’m sure there are those who think, what happened to that guy? Why does he play that old time stuff? Why can’t he just play some classic rock or blues or something like that? Fortunately in our crazy post-industrial world, there’s room for everything.
I didn’t grow up with old time music, although I’ve been aware of it on some level since my early adulthood. I can recall even during my university days back in the early 80s, listening to Doc Watson. I can’t explain my love of music not part of my upbringing or my background in any way. I had already been playing music from “somewhere else” for quite some time on button accordion. After my brother the trout, Salvelinas Fontinalis, started playing some clawhammer, I began messing around with that music on an oil can banjo I cobbled together myself, and ended up diving into that rabbit hole in a big way. The banjo is, as Jerron Paxton said, the most human instrument.
These days I know lots of people (and some fantastic players) in the old time community, but still to many people I know outside that world, old time music is alien, and banjo music = Earl Scruggs and the theme from the Beverley Hillbillies. I don’t know how many times I’ve told people sorry I really don’t know a whole lot about Bluegrass and no, I don’t play Dueling Banjos.
I came across a most enjoyable film available to watch free online, which offers a wonderful window into old time banjo music. It’s called Banjo Tales with Mike Seeger and it’s by Yasha Aginsky. In 2009, he accompanied Mike Seeger on what would be Mr. Seeger’s final field recording trip in the American South. The result is this wonderful film. For those of you interested in getting a glimpse into what old time banjo music is all about, I encourage you to watch it.