Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I just heard that Pete Seeger died.  Though his playing is not of this specific genre, I would bet that it was he that turned a lot of us in this direction.

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Isn't using an up pick with the index finger, (instead of down) the difference that Pete cites between frailing and the basic stroke?  I thought that Pete usually accompanied songs (at least quieter songs) with the basic stroke.

I attended a class that Peggy Seeger taught, on how to accompany ballads on the banjo.  She taught a simple up-pick/pinch thing and talked about it being similar to Pete's method- she said it was a nicer quieter way of accompanying yourself in a delicate rhythmic way while not overpowering or distracting from the ballad you were singing.  It was terrific while she sang various ballads.

I'm another life-long Pete Seeger disciple.  Bought the red book and a Harmony plastic-rim banjo while in high school in the early 1960s, as well as a lot Folkways albums.  Shifted my loyalty after awhile to Mike Seeger and the New Lost City Ramblers.  Still more Folkways albums.  Played old-time music for years and years, with occasional forays into bluegrass.  Met Pete and Toshi a couple of times while working for Ralph Rinzler at the Smithsonian Institution.  

Who would have guessed that at the end of the day I'd be exploring the very earliest banjo traditions.  The only down side is that transitioning from Pete's bump-ditty, bump-ditty to more traditional banjo styles (Buell Kazee and Tom Ashley, then Round Peak, and now stroke style) has proved fairly daunting.  But I'm keeping on keeping on.

Banjos aside, I'll most remember Pete Seeger for his singular commitment to issues of social justice, not only in America but around the world.   His voice will be sorely missed.  


I wasn't aware of Pete Seeger until I had been enticed to learn the banjo by some local banjo folkies in the Milwaukee (Wisconsin) area. Bill Ross and Peter Stampfel turned me towards the instrument. I bought Pete Seeger's instruction booklet and (confused to the point of utter frustration) was about to give the whole idea up until Bill Ross strolled past me while I was trying to duplicate the "frailing" approach and uttered the immortal words: "bump titty". It never occurred to me that was the rhythm Pete was aiming at. I had kept counting! It was smooth sailing (away with ladies and such) from that moment on.

It's funny, and somewhat of a relief to read that others also had difficulty figuring it out from Pete's book.

Like I said, when he took a moment from "Rainbow Quest" to demonstrate it, it then seemed obvious.  Sounds like others had similar experiences.

Some great reminiscences here. It's been a surreal week at the Center for Folklife with Pete's passing. For those who might be interested, here's something that I had the chance to share with a archival collections blog at the Smithsonian: http://si-siris.blogspot.com/2014/01/remembering-pete-seeger-1919-2...

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