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Showing posts from January, 2013

Recording the Highwoods: An Interview With Chris Valluzzo

Like a brush fire spreading across a mountainside, the Highwoods String Band stoked a burning enthusiasm for old-time music and sparked legions of new converts to the sound of fiddle, banjo, guitar and bass. The band, which featured fiddlers Walt Koken and Bob Potts, banjoist Mac Benford, guitarist Doug Dorschug and bassist Jennifer Cleland, first played together in 1972 at the Old-Time Fiddler's Convention in Union Grove, N.C.

The Highwoods recorded three LPs with Rounder Records ("Fire on the Mountain," "Dance All Night" and "No. 3 Special") before breaking up by the end of the decade. Although their tenure may have been short, there influence continues today.

Horse Archer Productions, which has produced two previous films related to old-time music, is developing a documentary on the Highwoods, titled "Touched With Fire: the Highwoods String Band Story," which is slated for release this spring. These films are self-funded projects that prod…

Postcards: Freight Hoppers

Freight Hoppers in Cleveland

The Freight Hoppers are on the move. Unlike those wimpy birds that fly south for the winter, this hard-driving old-time string band is headed to the northern Midwest for a brace of shows this January. The short tour will see the band traveling through Wisconsin (tonight), Minnesota (tomorrow) and finally to my dear old Ohio (Monday and Tuesday).

Freights fiddler David Bass is originally from the Cleveland area, but word has it he won't be playing with the band for Monday's show at the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern. In his place will be Edward Hunter, who joins banjo enchanter and band co-founder Frank Lee (who will hopefully be playing the banjothat Jeff Delfield built for him), with Isaac Deal on guitar and vocals and Bradley Adams on bass.

The Freight Hoppers were the hottest old-time string band of the 1990s, performing all over the world and even climbing the Billboard charts, but the group took a five-year hiatus in the early 2000s when Bass underwent heart transplant sur…

Early Banjo: New Adventures

Just so you don't think I've gone down the rabbit hole chasing old-time fiddle, I've been devising ways to keep myself playing the banjo. It's true that the fiddle has taken up most of my music playing time so far this year, but I'm going to try something new — or rather old — to broaden my banjo horizons.

While old-time string band music remains my passion, I've always been drawn to the low-tuned minstrel style of the 19th century. I can hear its influence on old-time musicians such as Dan Gellert.



The early stroke-style of banjo during this period is said to be the precursor to the clawhammer style that I play. It only seems natural for me to take another step backward in time to explore this technique and see if I can add some tricks to my banjo bag.

Tim Twiss, the preeminent master and proponent of stroke-style banjo, recently published a book on the subject, appropriately titled, "Early Banjo."

The book is aimed at beginners and presents instructi…

Enter the Fiddle

Contrary to my original goal, the fiddle has had a detrimental effect on my banjo playing. That is to say, only 10 percent of the time I've spent playing music this year so far has been on the banjo. The other 90 percent has been all fiddle.

The screeching and scraping began just before Christmas when I purchased the old German trade fiddle you see in the photo above. With the help of Wayne Erbsen's Old-Time Fiddle for the Complete Ignoramus, I've learned the D scale and the tunes "Ida Red" and "Say Darlin' Say."

After an in-home trial from Shar Music, I chose a Presto Encore carbon fiber bow. Now, if only they could transplant the right arm of Melvin Wine in place of the one I've got, which can't seem to get the bow to saw across the strings in a consistent manner. It seems to move left and right almost as much as it moves up and down.

My poor banjo has sat neglected. I pick it up a few times while I'm practicing the fiddle to see if I…