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Showing posts from June, 2011

Benton Flippen (1920-2011)

This morning brought the sad news that Benton Flippen, the legendary fiddler from Mount Airy, N.C., died yesterday. Benton Flippen was a fixture at old-time fiddlers convention and was noted for his distinctive fingering style, which included many slides. In 1990, he won the North Carolina Heritage Award for his musical contributions.

There are many recordings available of Mr. Flippen:
Old Time, New TunesAn Evening at WPAQ, 1984 (with the Smokey Valley Boys)270 Haystack Rd. (with the Smokey Valley Boys)Fiddler's Dream (with the Smokey Valley Boys)Beware of Dog (with the Smokey Valley Boys)
The Banjo Hangout has a nice little tribute to Mr. Flippen in the forums. His obituary is also available. Below, he plays his signature tune, "Benton's Dream."

***UPDATED June 30, 2011:The Mount Airy News pays tribute to Benton Flippen

Frailin's Flix: North American Banjo Builders Documentary

Earlier this summer Craig "Frailin" Evans embarked on a tour of the eastern portion of North America to interview banjo builders as part of a project to document this "golden era" of artisans. He also spoke to a number of musicians and retailers to gain their perspective about our favorite instrument and these craftsmen.

Next year, Evans will tour the western part of the continent. The result will be The North American Banjo Builder Series, which he plans to make available by DVD and as pay-per-view online episodes. He recently established a website for the project at

The seeds of the banjo builder project can be seen in a series of webinars Evans conducted and posted at the Banjo Hangout. To get a glimpse of how the banjo builder series will look, he produced a video about Minnesota mandolin and guitar builder Lloyd LaPlant. You can also check out this introductory video where Frailin explains why he's doing this project:


Getting to Know Bob Smakula

Smakula Fretted Instruments has one of those websites that makes a vintage banjo enthusiast drool from both corners of his mouth. Proprietor Bob Smakula buys, sells and repairs instruments, with a focus on banjos, fiddles, guitars and mandolins. He started his business in 1989, when he moved to Elkins, W.Va., from Cleveland, where he worked with his father, the late Peter Smakula, at Goose Acres. It was his father who introduced him to the banjo and helped spawn his interest in old-time music.

“My father was a respectable banjo player and played both old-time styles and bluegrass,” he says. “After a long day of work for a major corporation, he would come home and play banjo for at least an hour before dinner. Always hearing banjo music while growing up kept my interest. When I was about 10, I had my dad show me basic clawhammer rhythm on the banjo.”

However, a lack of attention span caused a bit of a delay in applying those banjo lessons until the age of 15. That summer, in 1974, Sm…