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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.


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


    Tom Collins

  2. Love your blog and keep picking that banker. Hope to see you in the jam circle....sooner than later.


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