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Milestone: A Decade of Banjo

This year is shaping up to be a big one for anniversaries. Not only has it been five years that I've been playing the fiddle, but Saturday marked 10 years since I got my first banjo.

Yes, I know I've told this story before, but sometimes I still can't believe how naive I was when I decided to start playing banjo. When I sought advice on what instrument to buy, people asked what style of banjo I wanted to play. I was listening to a lot of Old Crow Medicine Show, Carolina Chocolate Drops and the Avett Brothers, and I was just starting to get into people like Earl Scruggs, Roscoe Holcomb and Dock Boggs. I wanted to sound like all those guys!

I think I told someone I wanted to play like Old Crow and Scruggs, because I thought those were names that would be the easiest to define, and so I was steered toward a resonator banjo better suited to bluegrass. I had no idea what old-time was or that there was any other way to play the banjo besides that rolling three-finger picking of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown."

Little did I know that when people asked me what "style" I wanted to play, they were referring to the very different methods those players used to get the sounds I heard, from various up-picking styles to clawhammer.

I spent about six months or so working through a bluegrass instructional book and feeling discouraged that I couldn't get the tunes to sound right. Then, I met my wife (another big anniversary coming up!), and the banjo hid in its case until the winter. It was during this hiatus that I finally learned the difference between bluegrass and old-time, three-finger picking and clawhammer. I decided then to renew my pursuit of learning the banjo, and I haven't looked back since.

A year later, I bought my current banjo for Christmas (see photo above) and started attending a local old-time session. The banjo has taken me on quite a journey over the past decade. I've met all sorts of good, good people. I've attended numerous local festivals, and I even started this blog.

A Funny Side Note 

One of the main reasons I was so concerned about not giving up on the banjo was because I had played guitar in high school, but I quit after a couple years. I didn't have the dedication to stick with it. I was too concerned with trying to sound like the guys in bands I was watching every week at places like the Euro Gyro, The Mantis and elsewhere in Kent, Ohio, my hometown.

I always regretted not sticking with the guitar. I didn't want to be saying the same thing about the banjo. I always thought 10 years sounded like a long time to be playing an instrument. Now, it hardly feels like any time at all.

After college, I moved to Akron, Ohio. When I attended my first old-time jam, with my Recording King banjo in hand, it was at that same Euro Gyro in Kent. The jam had started the year I graduated high school at a nearby coffee shop, Brady's Cafe, where I used to hang out and study as a student at Kent State University.

Anytime there was an open mike night or some group was about to start playing music at Brady's, I would pack up and leave. I'm sure I just missed out on being introduced to old-time music a good 10 years earlier than I was because I left to find a quieter place to work. Talk about missed opportunities!

No matter. I found the music exactly when I was ready, and I can truly say I'm better off for it.

Comments

  1. Congrats on the 10 year mark, Brad! Here's to another 10 more!!

    Cheers!

    Tom Collins

    ReplyDelete

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