I was reading through the Gatcomb's Gazette editions that Joel Hooks kindly uploaded, and in Volume 7 No. 3 the opening article titled "Old-Time Banjoists" provides a lot of information that is very relevant to this forum and could shed light on a number of topics discussed here including the beginnings of fingerstyle banjo. Here's a link:
How are you sure Black players were doing that?
I agree. The skin, gut, low tension etc seems to add an extra latency of some sort. Playing fiddle tunes live at any reasonable tempo is ....so iffy at best. They become something else altogether, played slower and articulated as the minstrel banjo permits. I think perhaps we become confused because of the fiddle tunes that appear in the repertoire. I bet they ended up there because many banjo players doubled, or even did the fiddle better. The Buckley book for example. There is no claim that the banjo should play those crazy tunes in the back. I certainly think the low tuned sluggish banjo would struggle in the day. They simply are there...even the Emmett stuff....it is for fiddles.
Interesting. I'll check out your publications.
I've always felt that claw hammer and stroke style are like fiddling without the bow. I may be out in left field here, but to me the movement of the wrist and arm is much the same.
Rob MacKillop takes this to the extreme... to make a point he played all of Briggs in guitar style, which is not how it was intended to be played. Still, guitar style is very different than thumb-lead. Richard, it seems like you really want to use thumb-lead and are trying to get someone to tell you it is a period correct way to play the minstrel repertoire. It isn't. It's a modern style, much like clawhammer. You can obviously use it if that is what you want to do, but it won't look or sound historically authentic. I really recommend sticking with stroke-style and giving it a good, long chance before you decide you don't want to play the tunes this way.