Banjo Confessions

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Category: Travels

Depending on the kindness of strangers

If you read my earlier posts you will see that I took the long road to learning how to play, when traveling overland to India and Nepal I would often ask those who played music already if they would help me get in tune, during that year long trip I did not meet one other banjo players, but I got plenty advice from guitar players.

Once back in the states my first wife and I moved up to the Napa Valley in California, I had a rough and unusual style of playing and when I met other actual banjo players I think they didn’t know what to make of me and my playing.  After my wife divorced me, in 1973, I went up to Weiser Idaho to the Old Time Fiddle Contest, and was blown away by all the music, suddenly becoming aware that there was a large following of traditional music that was alive and flourishing.

I tried to jam along with others but got some strange looks, but what did I know?? After Weiser I headed up to the Northern part of Montana I stopped at a rest stop and plunked away on the banjo, trying to make sense of what heard of other banjo players where doing at Weiser, when a couple of guys stopped at the rest stop as well, and asked me what style I was playing, I told them I was trying to do frailing or clawhammer, one of the guys took my banjo and commenced to show me how the right hand actually should be used.  And because of him I was able to actually get the sounds and rhythms that I was hearing others do.

Thank God!

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The Clueless Fool on the Road

Old Case

My traveling case back in 1971

Sometimes I think I have spent my whole life going from one embarrassing and humiliating experience to another.

The trip to India and Nepal was not planned but came about when I was in Greece, I kept meeting people traveling back from there,saying that one could make the trip for around $30.00. So with a backpack and my banjo in a canvas bag we started hitchhiking, then taking trains and buses for what turned out to be about a year long trip dragging an instrument I not only couldn’t play, but I couldn’t even tune it.

Somewhere in Afghanistan, someone heard my feeble attempts and thought I was doing some jazz improvisation, and started telling other musicians that there was this banjo player travelling on the same route, and when other musicians would invite me to jam with them, I tried to explain I knew nothing about music, and they would tell me not to be so humble, until I played about three or four notes, then they would usually say something like, “Oh yeah, you don’t know anything do you”