Skip to main content

RIP Charlie Faurot 1935-2013

Once it became clear that it was clawhammer banjo I wanted to learn, the one resource that everyone recommended was the three-volume "Clawhammer Banjo" recordings by Charlie Faurot. For people who play this style of banjo, he was our Alan Lomax, a man who set out to record the living masters of our beloved five-stringed instrument. Faurot died Sunday at the age of 77.

Born in Chicago and educated at Yale, Faurot began recording old-time musicians in the 1950s. By the 1960s, he started publishing the recordings as a side business to his careers as a banker, math teacher, swimming and water polo coach, and computer systems consultant. A few years after retiring, Faurot founded Old Blue Records in 2003 and began publishing old-time recordings he made from the 1960s to the present, including albums he had recorded for County Records.

Looking through all the albums on the Old Blue Records website, it surprised me how many of Faurot's recordings I owned without realizing it.

The only time I ordered directly from Faurot's label was last year, when I purchased the Kyle Creed album "Banjo Lessons on Kyle's Back Porch," which included a non-commercial recording of the Camp Creek Boys with Benton Flippen on fiddle. In an age where online ordering is the norm, it seemed quaint to fill out an order form and send a check by mail.

When I wrote the article on Riley Baugus for the April 2012 issue of Banjo Newsletter, Baugus expressed his excitement that his then-new album with Kirk Sutphin, "Long Time Piedmont Pals," was recorded by Faurot.

"I hope you're enjoying the Kirk and Riley CD," Baugus wrote me in an email. "It is pretty cool because it is a bit of a 'Field Recording' done by Charles Faurot. Charles was responsible for the first recordings of Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham and Oscar Jenkins that went out on the County label, which turned the world outside of N.C. on to Round Peak music."

Faurot influenced the world of old-time music with his recordings and helped cement the legacies of some of the more revered musicians of Southern Appalachia, such as Wade Ward, Gaither Carlton, Matokie Slaughter, Oscar Wright, and of course Jarrell, Cockerham and Creed. His "Clawhammer Banjo" series have formed the foundation of learning material for generations of old-time banjo pickers and generations more to come.


Popular posts from this blog

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…

Clawhammer Picks and You: A Review

Clawhammer picks are a useful tool for increasing volume or to overcome fingernail challenges, such as broken, too short or weak nails. There are all sorts of commercial and homemade solutions available for banjo players, but it can be difficult to decide which options to choose. Thankfully, I've already done some of the work for you.
Just to be clear, I prefer my natural fingernail for frailing. However, there was a time when I experimented with regularly using a pick, and there are instances now where I find that a pick is necessary. Today, I'll take you through the five options I've tried. These are all available online at prices ranging from about $1 to $13.

Reversed/Reshaped Dunlop Pick ($0.75)
This was the most common suggestion before other companies started addressing the gap in the clawhammer pick market. Take a bluegrass pick, flatten it out and wear it backwards. The problem is that it's hard to get the fit right. While Dunlop picks are cheap and readily avai…

The Ongoing Search for Ohio's Old-Time Fiddle Repertoire

Since the beginning of my journey into old-time music, I have sought to find a connection to my home state. After studying the recorded repertoire of a dozen old-time fiddlers who spent a majority of their lives in Ohio, I have compiled a master list of more than 300 tunes. By cross-referencing this list, there were 12 tunes that I identified as “common,” based on their appearance in the repertoire of at least three fiddlers. The results of my findings follow.

This is far from a scientific method or academic study. I do not claim to be a musicologist or folklore scholar. I welcome any feedback.

Common Tunes:
Arkansas Traveler BirdieCumberland GapDurang’s HornpipeForked DeerGrey EagleJune AppleLeather BritchesMississippi SawyerRaggedy AnnTurkey in the StrawWild Horse At some point I would like to put together a list of tunes that are unique to Ohio or have a particular connection to an Ohio locale, such as Lonnie Seymour’s “Chillicothe Two-Step” or Arnold Sharp’s “Anna Hayes.” However,…