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Showing posts from March, 2011

The Looks and Sounds of Deep Creek Strings Banjos

There are many great banjo builders today creating magnificent instruments, but some of the neatest innovations and most interesting wood choices come from Bryson City, N.C., where Jeff Delfield creates his Deep Creek Strings banjos.

Delfield is a local librarian in Bryson City by day, but he has been building banjos for the past few years. However, his interest in building folk instruments started with Cigar Box Guitars, or CBGs, as he refers to them.

“I was always a fan of the banjo and banjo playing,” he says. “But, honestly, six years ago, when I moved to Bryson City, I didn't know the difference between clawhammer and three-finger, bluegrass banjo. I was much more interested in the blues — especially country blues.”

The music of Skip James, Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson, and others led Delfield to wanting a CBG, which in turn led him to wanting to build the instrument himself, he says, “Because I’m cheap.” One CBG led to another. Within a year, he had built…

Mike Seeger's Final Recording

Due out tomorrow is the final recording of founding New Lost City Rambler Mike Seeger, who died from cancer in late summer 2009. "Fly Down Little Bird" was recorded with Seeger's sister, Peggy Seeger, and features 14 tracks of songs they learned as children from field recordings.

From the Mike Seeger website:
Not "children's songs," these have a wide range in sound and subject: the quirky fun of Fod, the Poor Little Turtle Dove's lovesick plaint, a ballad in unaccompanied octaves, social commentary in The Farmer Is The Man, the spooky religiosity of Blood-Stained Banders. The two singers play various combinations of banjo, guitar, fiddle, harmonica, mandolin, lap dulcimer, and piano. Included in the booklet are Peggy's vivid evocation of their early listening experience and several early photos.Track Listing:

Old BangumThe Dodger SongCindyBlood-Stained BandersBig Bee Suck the Pumpkin StemWhere Have You Been, My Good Old Man?Little Willie's My Darl…

Frailing on a Blackfork

By the summer of 2009, my itch to replace my Recording King Songster reached the tipping point. My desire was for a banjo that had a deep, warm tone and had a more old-timey look. Bill Van Horn delivered exactly that.

I shot an e-mail to Van Horn inquiring about his B&P Banjos after seeing his posts on the Banjo Hangout. By Christmas, I was playing my new Blackfork model, a short scale banjo with a thin 12-inch pot and a Dobson-style tone ring.

Van Horn prides himself on being the first banjo builder to use the combination of a Dobson tone ring on a Keller drum shell. “This is the sound that I’m looking for and I got lucky with this combination of parts,” he says.

Inspiration to use the Dobson “doughnut” tone ring came after Van Horn heard the sound of an original Dobson with an 1881 H.C. Dobson “Silver Bell” patent tone ring.

“I was hoping to get just a little deeper, fuller tone and remember that Roger Siminoff said the more mass in a banjo the higher the pitch,” he says. “So…

Jamming Without Friends

One of the most important aspects of playing old-time music is the communal participation of playing the music with other people. However, sometimes that option doesn't exist. Thankfully, there's an "app for that" -- or at least there's a good website anyway.

Last December, Josh Turknett, a member of the Banjo Hangout wrote about a new webpage he had created, called The Old Time Jam, which features a music players with backup music tracks (with guitar, fiddle and banjo) to many traditional fiddle tunes.

When you go to the site, you see at the bottom a music player, called The Old-Time Machine, which gives you the option of playing with two different speeds of a guitar track or a combination of guitar-fiddle, guitar-banjo, or fiddle-banjo. It also shows the chord changes to help you learn a tune by ear.

If you've never been to a jam or want to improve your skills of playing with others, The Old Time Jam site is a great tool. It's also just a fun way to pla…

Away in Brevard

Thus outfitted, they went on ahead of their things, traveling first to the little town of Brevard, where there was no hotel, only a boardinghouse. They left from there in the blue light of the hour before dawn. It was a fine spring morning, and as they passed through the town Monroe had said, I am told we should be to Cold Mountain by suppertime.
--Charles Frazier,
Cold Mountain * * *  When I read the above passage from Charles Frazier's National Book Award winning novel, Cold Mountain, an immense feeling of nostalgia overtook me. I only read the novel a couple years ago, which happened to be when I was getting into old-time music. The book found me at the perfect time.

Frazier's 1997 novel about western North Carolinians during the Civil War is set primarily in the Appalachian Mountains and features a fiddler and banjo player as important supporting characters. References to old-time music are dappled throughout the storyline. But the reference to Brevard, N.C., struck a more…

The Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes

On Feb. 25, a new resource for old-time enthusiasts was released. The Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes, transcribed and annotated by Clare Milliner and Walt Koken, is an 888-page book that contains 1,404 tunes in musical engravings, arranged alphabetically.

The book also includes a main index of the tunes arranged by title, with references to source recordings and cross references to similar tunes and title; a tuning index arranged by fiddle tunings; a key index; and an artist index arranged by fiddler, showing the tunes included by that artist.

Additionally, the book features an artist profiles section with brief biographies of the 347 fiddlers and bands represented in the collection. A majority of the fiddlers were born before 1900. Finally, a comments section contains further information about the tunes and fiddlers.

The Milliner-Koken Collection is oversize format and cloth hardbound, which lies flat for easy reading. The book is $90 and available at www.mkfiddlet…

Who Kidnapped Cathy Moore?

When I was first getting into clawhammer there was one resource that really inspired me to experiment with the banjo. Cathy Moore's blog, Banjo Meets World, provides a wealth of information about playing the banjo in old-time music, as well as other folk traditions. Sadly, the website has been dormant since November 2009.

Last I knew, Moore was based in Bloomington, Ind., which I hear has a decent old-time scene. I know that she didn't disappear into the Australian Outback because she has recent posts at her professional blog about e-learning tools.

Despite Moore's absence from the site in more than a year, Banjo Meets World is still worth a visit to review the already existent content. I keep a link to her blog on the "Fellow Fogies" list to the right in hopes that she might post something new.

Two series on Banjo Meets World have been particularly influential to my own playing: "Beyond bum-ditty" and "Getting drive with Liza Jane." Both post…