Friday, February 15, 2013

"The Buffalo Rag"

A happy Banjo Friday!

Today’s post will be brief, as it’s being done on the fly, but it’s another selection from this month’s featured artist, Vess Ossman. If you’ve missed the previous two posts, Ossman was a master banjo player in the late 19th & early 20th centuries, a star of the vaudeville circuit, & also an early recording artist. 

“The Buffalo Rag” was recorded in 1905 or 1906 (I find conflicting dates on the web.) This is a departure from the first two recordings I’ve featured, in that one of those was a solo & the other played with just a backing piano. In this case, Ossman is playing with his full “orchestra,” presumably a combo similar to the one in the photo above.

Now 1905 was in the days of cylinder recording (by that time, mostly the “indestructible” celluloid cylinders), & more to the point, it was years before the advent of mult-tracking. In order to “balance” the instruments’ sound, the recording engineer had only one expedient at his disposal—get the loud back-up instruments as far from the mike as necessary! Now a 5-string banjo is relatively loud, but remember, Ossman was playing a banjo strung with gut-strings, which are not as loud as the steel strings used by most players now, & he was playing with his bare fingers, not with fingerpicks. In addition, based on the photographs I’ve seen, his banjos all were open-backed, & not equipped with a resonator, such as you see on banjos set up for bluegrass. All of those would combine to make an instrument that had a more mellow tone, & also one that projected less sound—so getting its sound to come through the brass would be a challenge. I do note that the diameter of the head on Ossman’s banjo is fairly large, & that would help give a somewhat more full sound.

Hope you enjoy it! It’s fun music.


Image links to its source at Given that Ossman died in 1923, which is the cut-off year for public domain in the United States, any photograph of him must necessarily be in the public domain.

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