A happy Banjo Friday, friends! We’re back with a feature on another renowned bluegrass banjo picker & let me tell you: today’s video clip is short—but man, is it sweet—& it might just have some smoke coming out around the edges!
Sammy Shelor reportedly first learned banjo at age 4 on a homemade instrument that used a pressure cooker lid. Whether that’s true or not, it makes a good story, & it is definitely a fact that by age 10 he was performing on the banjo in bluegrass bands. His first full-time professional gig was with the Richmond, Virginia band Heights of Grass, which he joined at age 19 in the early 1980s. The Heights of Grass became the Virginia Squires, & when this group at last disbanded, Shelor joined the Lonesome River Band with Tim Austin, Ronny Bowman & Dan Tyminski. Their 1991 album on Rebel, Carrying the Tradition, proved to be a breakout hit for the band, & with Shelor at the core, the Lonesome River Band has continued as a top-notch bluegrass outfit to this day, tho with many personnel shifts—in fact, Shelor is the only remaining original member.
Shelor plays a hard driving style that has its basis very much in the roots of Scruggs picking. Still, he has made that prototypical bluegrass style very much his own & has added more than his share of licks to the bluegrass banjo repertoire. Shelor has won the International Bluegrass Music Association banjo player of the year award four times, & he was also a recipient of the 2011 Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass (his connection with Steve Martin ought to endear him to one of our resident poets!); the Steve Martin Prize is picked by a panel including such luminaries as Martin himself (who is, in case you don’t know this, a fine banjo player in his own right), Earl Scruggs, Tony Trischka, Béla Fleck & others—a true honor when one is picked by such luminaries!
“I’d Worship You” is not in fact one of the many bluegrass gospel songs—it’s a high speed love lament originally popularized by the Stanley Brothers. Here the Lonesome River Band gives it a barn-burning rendition, with Shelor’s banjo pyrotechnics definitely starting several fires in the process!