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Riley Baugus: The Excerpts

The April 2012 issue of the Banjo Newsletter includes my article about Riley Baugus in the quarterly section Old-Time Way. Baugus is a considerate and insightful musician and gave me so many thoughtful answers that I couldn't possibly include it all in the space provided. Here are some excerpts from the interview that didn't make the cut:

On his uncle, who was one of his banjo teachers: "I had an uncle from Sparta, that played in an old-time stringband when he was a young man. He moved up to Fredericksburg, Va., in the early 1960s with his family. He followed some friends there to cut timber. Their plan was to stay for six months. Just long enough to cut one tract of timber and then come back home to the mountains. He and his family still live there. He's 85 now. He played guitar mostly, but got a banjo back in the late ‘60s and learned to play it pretty well, two-finger style. I loved the sound of the banjo. It was incredible. He taught me a bit."

On his early days: "Of course my playing was pretty rough at first when I was trying to learn tunes, but I played almost all the time. If I had free time, I'd play. I used to take my banjo to school so that when there was a free moment or class period, I could play. I just loved to play."

On his ideal playing venue: "My ideal playing venue is wherever people gather that want to hear old-time music being played."

On his banjo preferences: "I like a banjo that is loud, but mellow, with a deep tone, sort of 'thuddy,' but with good cut. I don't like them to sound too muddy or damped, just rich and loud with all the overtones taken away, and solid, not metallic or jangley."

On building banjos and a busy schedule: "I do build banjos when I'm not out playing or recording or working on other parts of the music. I don't take orders for banjos anymore, as it would be impossible to fill them with the limited amount of time that I have to actually work in the shop. If people want one, I have them send me a request via e-mail and then I put their address in an e-mail list that I send out when I get one completed. That gives everyone a fair chance at getting a banjo without having to wait for years after they've ordered one and having it take an excessively long time. I really like making people happy, but that becomes more difficult when they're waiting for an instrument that you can't get finished."

In the BNL article, available to read here, Baugus shares many more insights about his playing, the elusive "Round Peak style," and old-time music in general. Be sure to check it out, and forgive my shameless plug.


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