Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Banjo Feast #1

Happy day before Thanksgiving all! Hope your preparations are going swimmingly, & for those of you who are traveling, hope your journeys are safe.

Of course, holidays can be mixed blessings some times—& with that in mind, I thought I’d offer a little something over the next few days to brighten your mornings, or whatever part of the day you may visit Robert Frost’s Banjo. & those who are enjoying a festive holiday—well, this should just brighten up your day a bit more, as it should for our many friends outside the U.S. who are free & clear from the Thanksgiving frenzy.

In an old Peanuts comic strip, Linus once observed that, “The way I see it as soon as a baby is born, he should be issued a banjo.” This, in Linus’ view, would cure existential angst. I tend to agree with Linus on this point—so I’m offering a banjo feast from now thru the weekend—excepting Friday, when we’ll be enjoying Bernie Jungle’s Homegrown Radio appearance. Otherwise, each morning thru Sunday, two banjo songs!

& not just banjo songs: as Thanksgiving is the foodie holiday par excellance, they’ll all be foodie songs too. Today’s selections are the enigmatically named “Rush in the Pepper,” performed by one of my favorite old-time banjoists, Cathy Moore of Banjo Meets World. Tho Ms Moore has a serious day job in a whole other field, she is a very talented player, & there are also some great instructional videos on her blog & her YouTube channel. She brings verve & an uncanny rhythmic sense to the banjo, & I always enjoy listening to her play. I’m sure you’ll feel the same way.

The second video features someone else who was both a performer & a teacher—the late Mike Seeger, who was responsible for bringing so much old-time music to people’s consciousness from the 1950s until his death last year. Seeger was in his own way as much of an apostle of the banjo as his half-brother Pete, & in fact concentrated more than Pete on the real old-timey sound. Mike made much of his mark with the wonderful band, the New Lost City Ramblers, but he was also an accomplished solo artist who excelled on a number of instruments. Mike Seeger is playing one of the first tunes many banjo players learn, “Bile Them Cabbage Down” (“Bile”=”Boil”), but he brings a real artist’s take to the simple tune. He’s also playing a gourd banjo—this is truly vintage sound! Please note that Mr Seeger had some problems tuning the instrument, so the tune itself doesn’t start until around 1:50: take heart, all musicians who’ve ever gone thru that on stage—it happens to the best!

Enjoy! & tune in tomorrow for more of the Banjo Feast!


  1. Great tjunes to start the day with, John. Thanks!

    I can sympathize with Mike Seeger in his piece; homemade instruments are always the worst to tune and keep tuned. I had a friend in Newport who had a whole collection of things like gourd banjos, cigar-box fiddles, plank zithers, etc., and they were all the very devil to tune!

  2. I've never quite understood Thanksgiving - but have a good one anyway. It sounds a bit like having two Christmases - which can't be a bad thing in my book.

    Great banjo videos.

  3. Largely unsung heroes, The New Lost City Ramblers, but what a crucial influence they were back in the days of that first major folk surge.

    It's a shame we can't get more of a view of the gourd banjo. Clearly it's unfretted, as would have been the case, of course, when the instrument was in its infancy.

    Great videos, both. Thanks, John, and have a fine Thanksgiving.

  4. Hi Roy, Dominic & Dick

    Roy: Great point! & as I mentioned, I think it's good to know this can happen to anyone onstage, not just us sloggers!

    Dominic: I've never quite gotten Thanksgiving either, & I've lived here for 54 years! It's not my favorite holiday. Glad you liked the music.

    Dick: Totally agree about the view of the banjo--yes, it's definitely fretless. Frets were a relatively late innovation on banjos--late 19th century, & quite a few folks still play fretless banjos in the "old-time" scene. Thanks for the good wishes.

  5. Ha! I love this version of boil them cabbage down, "Tell that gal quit foolin around" was sung "the only song I ever did sing was..."

    I like this better. and what a banjo! Have a great time with family this week.

    Chec out Joe Craven, from Calif. Plays on ANYTHING, but even made a mandolin out of a bedpan..."bedpandolin"



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