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Vinyl Hunter: The Origins

My old-time music on vinyl collection has grown exponentially over the past two years. As I mentioned last time, this aspect of my collection has been one of the primary targets in my own resurgent interest in buying records.

I started buying vinyl in high school. Having grown up in the 1980s, my music consumption started with cassettes and then moved to CDs. Vinyl was the media of my parents' generation, and they played plenty of it in the house. I was raised on the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Mamas & The Papas and others from the 1960s and '70s.

My first piece of vinyl was the 1993 split seven-inch of Velocipede and Kill City Babies. My mind had just been blown after seeing Velocipede play at an Amnesty International benefit concert at my high school. I went to check out the merch table, and the only recording they had were the three songs on one side of this dual album.

These were both local bands active in Northeast Ohio in the 1990s. An upperclassma…
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Banjo Playing Timeline: Revisiting an Unfinished Post

This post began six years ago. After writing about my 10-year banjoversary, I discovered an unfinished draft from 2012. Started as a follow-up to a reflection on my music listening journey, the post was an attempt to trace my personal banjo playing history. It's about time I finished it.

1994 / Prelude to a Picker: A high school friend who played bass was convinced I had perfect hands to be a guitarist. My long fingers being perfectly suited for intricate fretting. I got an acoustic guitar for Christmas and began taking lessons. However, I lost interest because I wanted it all now, and I quit after a couple years because I had no patience to learn.

2007 / The Tipping Point: After becoming obsessed with banjo music, I started researching how to play one and what instrument to buy.

March 2008 / Give Me the Banjo: With my tax return, I bought a Recording King "Songster" and began my journey. I started with Scruggs three-finger style, but started to lose interest after few mont…

Vinyl Hunter 8: The Edden Hammons Collection

Behold, the latest addition to my old-music on vinyl collection. The Edden Hammons Collection was released in 1984 by the West Virginia University Press Sound Archives. The album was reissued on CD in 1999 as The Edden Hammons Collection: Volume 1. The two-disc second volume was released in 2000.

Hitherto finding this album at a reasonable price through an online dealer, this album was going for upwards of $125 or more on eBay. The outer sleeve has a couple small dings, but the vinyl is pristine and the accompanying booklet with contributions from the late, great Alan Jabbour is in good shape.

One of the big reasons I'm excited to get this album is because a couple years ago I learned Hammons' version of "Washington March" from  Bruce Molsky's Southern Old-Time Fiddle Tour. It's nice to finally have the source recording for that tune.

Edden Hammons died in 1955. He was recorded in 1947 by West Virginia University professor Louis Chappell. Ultimately, the 52 tu…

Milestone: A Decade of Banjo

This year is shaping up to be a big one for anniversaries. Not only has it been five years that I've been playing the fiddle, but Saturday marked 10 years since I got my first banjo.

Yes, I know I've told this story before, but sometimes I still can't believe how naive I was when I decided to start playing banjo. When I sought advice on what instrument to buy, people asked what style of banjo I wanted to play. I was listening to a lot of Old Crow Medicine Show, Carolina Chocolate Drops and the Avett Brothers, and I was just starting to get into people like Earl Scruggs, Roscoe Holcomb and Dock Boggs. I wanted to sound like all those guys!

I think I told someone I wanted to play like Old Crow and Scruggs, because I thought those were names that would be the easiest to define, and so I was steered toward a resonator banjo better suited to bluegrass. I had no idea what old-time was or that there was any other way to play the banjo besides that rolling three-finger picking of …

Review: Ken Perlman, Frails & Frolics

Listening to Ken Perlman fly through a set of dance tunes provides a masterclass on the melodic possibilities not often explored on the five-string banjo. Perlman is, of course, a pioneer in melodic clawhammer banjo playing. He has released dozens of albums and two classic instructional books. His latest album, Frails & Frolics, is a collection of fiddle tunes from Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton and elsewhere.

The album is Perlman’s first solo album since 2001, and his first devoted solely to the banjo. The 17 tracks present 46 tunes, mostly arranged as medleys or “sets.” The tunes showcase Perlman’s immaculate playing style. It’s truly a marvel how he can manage to sound all notes of a fiddle. His triplets and trills are masterful. The packaging isn’t flashy, but a simple eight-page booklet gives in-depth background about each tune and its source, as well as notes on Perlman’s arrangements. It’s clear from the liner notes that Perlman has done extensive research into the orig…

Outtakes: Highlights from the Tom Collins Interview That Didn’t Make the Cut

Considering more than a thousand people viewed my last post in the span of a few days, it seems Tom Collins is a popular guy. He provided some great answers to my questions, so inevitably there were some responses that didn't make it into last week's post. As a bonus, here are some highlights from the cutting room floor.

On Collins' favorite banjo player
If I had to pick one, it would be Fred Cockerham. He’s a big part of the sound I have in my head. I spent the first several years chasing his sound like some kind of mad dog. His style is spare, but can drive real hard. He also wasn’t afraid to get weird. Some of his renditions of tunes are downright experimental. He can hew to tradition, but has these moments of leaving it behind and soaring into the unknown. That’s exciting to me.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Walt Koken. Such a different player than Fred, but has that same spirit: spinning the old melodies and taking them into the unknown. Walt’s exuberance, and …

Getting Blitzed with Tom Collins

A little more than a year ago, Salem, Massachusetts-based banjo player and teacher Tom Collins embarked on a yearlong project he called Banjo Blitz. The weekly YouTube series provided short banjo lessons on technique. Each video is about five minutes long, give or take, and presents a short pattern — or “ostinato” — designed to teach and improve a specific aspect of banjo playing.

The mission was to get the audience “to practice clawhammer in discrete chunks every day without the burden of trying to memorize tunes,” Collins says. He wanted to build skills rather than repertoire.

“Let’s take the tune off the table,” says Collins, who has been teaching banjo for 11 years. “Let’s focus on a simple, mantra-like ostinato that can train your body how to execute a technique properly, while training your ears how to hear it properly. Let’s also make it so that you can do this every day without it sucking every spare minute from your life. The big dirty secret about learning how to play an ins…