Friday, July 15, 2011

“Star of Munster & Greasy Coat”

Happy Banjo Friday!  & let me tell you, if today’s musical selection doesn’t bring a smile to your face & a tap to your toe, well I just don’t know what we’re going to do with you!

If you’ve followed Robert Frost’s Banjo over the long term, you may recall that I’ve written in the past about a banjo player named Cathy Moore.  As I understand it, Ms Moore has a “day job,” but I find her playing style very compelling, & I also think she’s a gifted teacher based on the instructional videos posted on her blog Banjo Meets World & her YouTube channel of the same name

Clawhammer or frailing style has been known over the years as a particularly effective playing method when accompanying dances—it lends itself to strong rhythms, & is percussive & driving, at least in the hands of a strong player.  Ms Moore is that indeed, & as I understand from her online writings & video, she has a background in traditional dance communities—that really comes out in her playing!

If you watch Cathy Moore’s hands as she plays (& this video seems to have been shot to facilitate that), you will get a good sense of the clawhammer motion.  Tho the motion is very much driven by the wrist joint (as is the case with most solid right-hand technique on banjos, guitars & similar instruments), the hand itself is kept in a more static position than, for instance, in much fingerstyle guitar player or in many of the “up-picking” banjo styles.  I tell myself that my fingerstyle guitar background is what has made my right hand so reluctant to learn frailing, but in truth there are some musicians who are very adept at both—Ken Perlman comes to mind.  As an aside, anyone seeking instructional books on either clawhammer banjo or fingerstyle guitar would be well-advised to check out Perlman’s materials.

Cathy Moore’s playing not only demonstrates what clawhammer playing should “look like,” but it also demonstrates the great drive & swing that the style & the instrument allow.   Listening to this medley, with tree frog accompaniment, never fails to bring a bit of happiness into my day; & it reminds me why Linus famously noted in a Peanuts cartoon that every baby should be issued a banjo to counteract existential angst!

Hope you enjoy this delightful music!


  1. Yup, my toes were definitely tapping on that one. A great way to start the day; thanks, John!

  2. I love this music. It really does chase your troubles away for a little while.

  3. Hi Roy & HKatz

    Roy: Exactly! Thanks--glad you liked it!

    HKatz: What I find in Cathy Moore's playing as far as the intangible (which itself arises from her very tangible skills, but is more than them) is joy. I don't know if you remember Caroline Pond who did a couple of songs for Homegrown Radio in January (I think), but she also has that quality.

  4. You're right, my toes were tapping! Fun.

  5. ... and I love the dog "woof" at the end.

  6. Hi Lizzy: I love that aspect of Cathy Moore's videos, too--the "real background sounds." So glad you enjoyed this!

  7. Great stuff, John, though daunting as far as learning to play clawhammer is concerned. I agree with you that there is a joy or peacefulness in her manner and her playing--which does NOT get in the way of the toe tapping. Thanks for alerting me to the frogs too.

  8. P.S. This also led me to Mean Mary James. Do you know her picking? Not too shabby.

  9. "I tell myself that my fingerstyle guitar background is what has made my right hand so reluctant to learn frailing..." It's so hard to go against a learned technique! Similarly, I think, I've found myself fighting a losing battle with my brain on the odd occasions I've tried to play "slap bass".

  10. Hi Banjo52 & Dominic

    Banjo52: Do you play bluegrass/Scruggs style banjo? Frailing is obviously very different than that. Probably two finger picking (i.e., thumb & index finger) with either thumb or index playing the lead is the easiest of the old-time styles. Don't know Mean Mary James, but will look her up. Great name!

    Dominic: Now that's very interesting. I always doggedly return to trying clawhammer however. I can do it passably, but my actual problem is that I learned it "wrong" way back when & I have a deuce of a time overcoming the bad habits I picked up.


Thanks for stopping by & sharing your thoughts. Please do note, however, that this blog no longer accepts anonymous comments. All comments are moderated. Thanks for your patience.