Teaching yourself an instrument can be tricky, especially if you have no experience in playing any instrument, and not being around those that do. On top of that, learning to correctly play a style like clawhammer by oneself from a book is even more insane. When I first started teaching myself the banjo I found some tab books, but soon found out that if I never heard the tune before how was I gonna play it correctly. So I started looking for records that included tunes I wanted to learn, which in 1971 wasn’t that easy. Nowadays there are plenty of teachers, videos, youtube, etc where you can actually get the concept.
Framus Banjo circa 1971
In 1970/71 I traveled the “Hippy Trail” from Europe to Kathmandu, by bus and train, a year long trip, where I carried an inexpensive Framus banjo that I bought in Berlin, and Pete Seeger’s book. I depended on the kindness of strangers (fellow travelers) to help me tune it, but during that whole trip I never met anyone who knew anything about banjos, especially the clawhammer, or frailing style. Plus Pete’s book had examples of many styles and diverse tunes, like “Ode to Joy” which kinda kept me unfocused on any one style.
I had some encounters at various borders where they were concerned that I was going to sell the banjo in their country and if I was then I should pay some sort of duty, when they wanted proof that it was my personal instrument I had to pull it out of my case and play it, well, since I couldn’t really tune it myself, or even play the durn thing it was kind interesting to see their expression when I tried.
In Afghanistan the people loved it, the chrome parts especially, and I was offered semi precious gems, like Lapis Lazuli and Turquoise, as well as globs of Opium, all which I declined. But in India the land of the Sitar, they just acted surprised at how much I payed for this 5 string instrument, ($30.00) as compared to what a Sitar cost. Read the rest of this entry »