Hey, it’s Banjo Friday! Hope your week is coming to nice end & that you’re looking forward to the coming weekend. What better way to start it than with some banjo music?
If you stopped by last week, you know that this month’s featured artist is Vess Ossman, a master banjoist who played in the late 19th through the early 20th century, & made some very early recordings of banjo music, both as a soloist as in today’s selection & as a leader in an ensemble. Ossman played the 5-string banjo with gut strings, in what is now called the “classic style,” namely in an approximation of the right-hand technique used for classical guitar playing. This style has lost favor over the years, & most people these days encounter the banjo either in a bluegrass context, where the Scruggs style finger rolls are the underlying technique or in an old-time music, where the banjo is typically played in the frailing style. But there are still players these days who like the “classic style,” & I’ve featured it a good deal lately on the blog, since it interests me quite a bit.
Ossman recorded “Dill Pickles Rag” in 2008, & it’s a cylinder recording as you will see in the video. Phonograph cylinders are quite a story in themselves. Edison’s first recording cylinders used tin foil, but within a couple of years he had patented the wax cylinder, which actually could be used for home recording, as well as commercially. However, by the early 20th century, the “indestructible” celluloid cylinders were developed, & these came into mainstream use. Actually, by the time Ossman recorded “Dill Pickles Rag,” the cylinders were already in decline in favor of the disc. It is interesting that the cylinders were thought to have better audio reproduction than discs—so apparently, the downhill curve that we note in our own time in audio reproduction from LPs downward to CDs & still further down to mp3s, had already started in the early 20th century! We should have stuck with the cylinders.
Hope you enjoy this lively & fun recording.
The image of the Edison Cylinder Records links to its source on Wiki Commons. It dates from 1910 & is the public domain