Friday, February 1, 2013

“A Bunch of Rags”

A happy Banjo Friday! The month of February is upon us, & I have some exciting series planned for this month—with one caveat. I have been having some computer woes, & these have affected the posting schedule a bit (e.g., no Any Woman’s Blues in January.) But I hope to have the problem straightened out before too long, & also hope that I can keep things going with some degree of normalcy in the interim.

I think Banjo Friday works best when there’s a theme or featured artist, & we do have one for February. Vess Ossman was one of the most popular banjo players at the turn of the 20th century, & also was an early recording artist, including recordings made on cylinders in the latter part of the 19th century—in fact, today’s recording “A Bunch of Rags,” was made in 1898! One source claimed that this is the first ragtime recording, but according to the Red Hot Jazz website, it was actually the third. 

Ossman played in what is now called the “classic banjo” style: he fingerpicked the instrument in a way that’s similar to playing a classical guitar, & he used gut strings. His repertoire featured a number of rags & rag-inflected pieces. In addition to making many recordings, he toured the vaudeville circuit, & enjoyed considerable fame both in the States & abroad; at one point he made a tour of Great Britain.

This is wonderful music, & while the mainstream banjo sound has developed in different directions, musicians like Ossman played a key role in popularizing the instrument.

Hope you enjoy “A Bunch of Rags.”

Photo of Vess Ossman (circa 1900) links to its source on Wiki Commons & is in the public domain


  1. What a wonderful recording. There's a piano in the background, I think. In those pre-mixing desk days I imagine the piano must have been placed a long way away from the "microphone" when they recorded it!

    1. Dominic: I'd say definitely a piano in the background, as there are notes that don't occur on a bano (low end) no matter how you tune it! Yes, there were no mixing boards in 1898--just distance.


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