Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Since I have joined this community, I have been curious as to what drawn all of you swell folks to this uniquely American genre of music. What made you want to start in the first place? What was the initial appeal? What road blocks did you experience? How did you do your research?

Many thanks to you all,  -M.F.M.

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I'm fascinated by the antebellum era, anyway, and have played 1860s base ball.

I've also enjoyed the limited number of recordings of the social orchestra of the day.

What drew me to minstrel banjo, was a recording of Civil War songs by Bob & John Minstrels (Bob Carlin and John Hartford).  The low down plunk, (lower tuning) got me!  Oddly, I had Bob Winan's "Early Minstrel Show" 25-30 years earlier but I guess I wasn't in a place in my life to have it hit me, then.  Went and saw Tim Twiss on my birthday in 2007 and that got me to dust off a banjo and try learning the minstrel style.  But, eventually, Tim asked me, instead, to dust off my fiddle and so I barely pick up the banjo except to determine a good key for a particular song/tune.

It's pretty long and odd story how I found out about the minstrel banjo and stroke style. At one time in 2014, I started really liking country music, eventually from listening to county music, I found out about Bluegrass and it eventually became the only music I liked. By 2015, I wanted to pick up the 5 string banjo for playing bluegrass and was learning until around the end of the year never really got far with it. I watched Hee Haw a lot at the time and that's where I heard about the clawhammer style banjo and old time music, that's when I started clawhammer banjo. That's when sometime in early 2016 I first heard a minstrel banjo on YouTube and then my mother got a bell Boucher minstrel banjo for Christmas time and that's how it been ever since. That's also when I joined Ning Minstrel Banjo.

As for myself, around 2013-2014 (I don't quite remember, as those years were rather unpleasant), I started to gain an interest in The War To Suppress Northern Arrogance, and I pondered to myself, "Hmm. I wonder what sort of music they listened to at that time?". I went on youtube and searched "Civil War Music". Once I had sifted through all of the Guns and Roses and Captain America results, (Popular culture can prove to be quite the inconvenience for historical research) I found some 2nd South Carolina String band, and liked it very much. Along the road, I stumbled upon Carl Anderton and Scott Miller's entrancing rendition of Arkansas Traveler, and I had never heard the like before. I knew once I had seen it, that was the instrument I wanted to play, and for the Christmas of 2015, I got a Bell Boucher that gives me great service to this day.

I wanted to be uncle dave and learn all de tunes under the sun so I went back as far as I could and kinda got stuck there. The minstrel banjo style CD was my real gateway. Once I heard that I was sold. Carl, Tim, Mark and Paul's YouTube channels all helped seal the deal.

I am also drawn to the funky and plunky nature of the tunes and the only real road block was relearning to read sheet music because otherwise I was hoping for tabs of all the songs I liked.

Matthew Menice wrote, "Popular culture can prove to be quite the inconvenience for historical research".

Yes.  "Lady Antebellum" is my biggest online research hurdle.

So much captain america for a while there haha

I attended the very last "Tennessee Banjo Institute" in 1992 and was fascinated by Clarke Beuhling's minstrel performance at the "Banjo Meltdown" show. I had owned an 1889 Stewart banjo for about 5 years (playing it in clawhammer style) and was just starting to research what that banjo would have sounded like and the music it had played when new. At the flea-market there, I bought a copy of Converse's "Little Yellow Book" but really didn't explore it much at all. I moved to "Classic Banjo" for the next 10 yrs...but all the while I had been eyeing Bob Flesher's Boucher kits and thinking about the really early banjo (and buying the CDs, more reprint tutors, etc.). Bob's books of Tab got me really started playing in the stroke style...and when I need to 'wake up' my fingers, I still start with his books.

I live about 2hrs from Nashville and often visited George Gruhn's shop when I stumbled on Dan Knowles' series of minstrel banjos...which looked amazing and sounded just right in the Briggs tuning. They simply spoke to me and I finally bought one...and took it to the first AEBG. Miz Diane must have seen my eyes light up when I got to play Bob Winans original Ashborn...she bought me my Hartel Ashborn for our 21st anniversary in 2008.

I don't play as much as I used to but this style is a very deep and strong part of my musical background.

An accident. I began playing clawhammer style banjo, but I was getting a little bored. I can't put my finger on it, but there is a little something that annoys me about the "old time" banjo crowd.

I'll expose myself to potential criticism, but in terms of marketing, I feel as though they only give me two choices, hilbilly or flowery hippie type. I dont fit in either category.

In minstrel and classic banjo, I've found my my musical kindred spirits. Lets be honest, you kind of have to have a geeky side to be interested in this type of music. I love it.

Anyway, one day, I was learning to play "King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki Me Oh" from the Anthology of American Folk Music on the banjo. I stumbled upon Carl Anderton's videos and his version of "Keemo Kimo". I was intrigued. Eventually, I stumbled upon this website, but I didnt really understand what was going on. What is Rice, Briggs, Buckley's? Why is everybody dressed in funny costumes?

Eventually, I came across Tim Twiss' demonstration of a Don Gardner Minstrel banjo. I decided to order one myself. 

After watching most of Carl Anderton's videos many times, I knew that this was the type of music that really interested me. Being a fan of history, this combines two passions. Slowly but surely, I find myself perusing through original source material

I prefer classic banjo, but I do enjoy playing minstrel tunes from time to time. I havent really played "old time clawhammer" or whatever you want to call it, in months.

My name is David and I'm a 19th century banjo enthusiast.

What drew me to this forum is the focus on early banjo.

I live a long, long way from where the Antebellum period in the US has any particular musical or social relevance. My interest is in early English banjo of the 6 and 7-string variety. And - humorously - without wishing to direct a shower of our renowned English rain on your 'uniquely' American parade, though the modern instrument and blackface minstrelsy undoubtedly originated in America, early banjo is not a genre of music; it is simply a reference to the earliest examples of the instrument regardless where they were. The vast majority were in the US. Some very beautiful examples weren't and it is those that I play and that have a regional relevance and hold a fascination for me.

Ah, yes, Mr. Bostock. I have seen a couple early examples of 7 string banjos (though I haven't a clue as to how they're played). Is there any music made specifically for the banjo that was written in the UK before 1860? If so, I would be interested in learning it.

There was a long existent and vibrant music and dance culture with a large repertoire of indigenous tunes in the mid-19th century England in which the banjo was introduced. That pre-music hall culture was one that was deeply interwoven with community life, social function and the annual cycle rather than being a natural context for novelty solo performance. It was highly likely that, as with other new instruments of the period such as the Anglo concertina, the banjo was adapted and in many cases quite naturally integrated into that community musical context rather than being differentiated or thought of as particularly 'special'. So in answer to your question there are hundreds of English tunes that date from pre-1860, almost certainly some were played on early banjos within that culture. 

Matthew Menice said:

Ah, yes, Mr. Bostock. I have seen a couple early examples of 7 string banjos (though I haven't a clue as to how they're played). Is there any music made specifically for the banjo that was written in the UK before 1860? If so, I would be interested in learning it.

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