In the distant past (all of two years or a tad less), I wrote about the banjo playing technique known as “frailing” or “clawhammer.” For those who aren’t familiar with banjo playing, it involves striking down on the strings with the fingernail of either the index or middle finger, while also using the thumb to either play the drone string or else “drop” down onto the four other strings & play parts of the melody. Frailing is an African technique that came across on the slave ships along with the akonting, or original African banjo. It’s a very rhythmic & percussive style, & is still used commonly in what these days is called “old-timey” music (as opposed to bluegrass, which features quite a different style of banjo playing); it’s also long been favored as a style for dance accompaniment because of its rhythmic drive.
I’ve dabbled in clawhammer style playing, tho for the most part I have a sort of idiosyncratic banjo playing style—perhaps the sort of thing you’d expect from someone who learned guitar fingerpicking for playing old blues & ragtime. But tho I’m not a clawhammerist myself, I do love to listen to this style. There are a number of talented practitioners these days, but one player I especially like is Cathy Moore of the (now apparently dormant, sad to say) Banjo Meets World blog.
Ms Moore is an excellent musician, tho as far as I know, she has never issued any recordings beyond those found on her blog & her super YouTube channel (also called Banjo Meets World) Ms Moore’s playing is—as frailed banjo music should be—filled with pulse & drive, but it’s also crisp & melodic. She also often ventures outside the standard 2/4 timing of most clawhammer banjo music, playing a number of pieces in “odd” time signatures such as 7/8, 9/8 & 11/8. The song I’m featuring, “Trâgnala Rumjana” is, according to Ms Moore’s notes on the video, “A Bulgarian song in 7/8 played over the scoop on my Gold Tone OT-800 banjo.” For the uninitiated, a “scoop” is literally a scoop out of the bottom of the fretboard—it’s found on a number of banjos, especially the openback models favored for frailing, because a lot of frailing/clawhammer players tend to play with their right hand above the fretboard as opposed to the banjo drum.
Speaking for myself, I do hope Ms Moore, who has been silent both on her blog & her YouTube channel, is ok & still playing the banjo—I’d also add that if Cathy Moore ever wants to record an album, I’d definitely get in line!
Hope you enjoy this.
The pic shows a Gold Tone OT-800 banjo—nice machine!