Friday, March 30, 2012

Man Played Banjo

Earl Scruggs, RIP.

Here're a few rippin' instrumentals with Earl & Lester, all recorded, I think, on the Martha White show in the early '60s:

"Cumberland Gap":

"Ground Speed":

 "Fireball Mail":

One more: "Earl Scruggs Breakdown". Is he using the tuning peg here to "bend" the note instead of bending the string--or is he re-tuning while playing? I've never seen anyone use the tuning peg to bend a note, although I have seen Junior Brown tune down the low E so he could hit lower notes (and then tune it back up to E to keep playing with standard fingering):

And here's a longer documentary from '72 with performances by Dylan, Baez, Bryds, etc. Amazing to think that it was called "The Complete Earl Scruggs Story" though recorded 39 year ago:


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  2. Can't watch these from work, but from your questions about bending notes using the tuning peg, it seems that this will be a treat indeed. I occasionally delve into folk/bluegrass/country, but not enough sad to say. I do have very deep Ohio Valley roots (family there since the 1780's!)

  3. Looks like he's bending the note with the tuning peg....

  4. Yeah, it sure does! At the end, tho', the announcer asks him, "Earl, did something go wrong with your banjo there?" -- which I didn't quite get and wondered if it was in reference to that move.

    I'll have to ask my bluegrass instructor, who's quite an accomplished banjo player.

    Tuning down (or up) with the peg to bend the note seems totally do-able (it'd take practice, but I can imagine figuring it out) -- but tuning back into proper tune without missing a beat ... that bit seems quite difficult to me.

    It'd be much easier today thanks to clip-on tuners.

    1. It would seem difficult, but he carries it off with aplomb. Doesn't seemed to have hesitated or interrupted his flow in the slightest. My impression is that it's intentional for the specific effect, plus a bit of showmanship. Like Jimi Hendrix playing behind his back, just more laid back. :)

      As for the other queries and commentary, I can't say. I don't even know what a clip-on tuner is. Too bad country music is now just a big soft-rock jingoistic smarm-a-thon, with fiddles. I like the old stuff though. You know Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. Four vinyls (or is it more--yes--it's six albums) of weird, dark, funny tunes, from black and white artists, some celebrated, others pretty much unknowns. A vast compilation. You'd dig it if you haven't dug it already.

      I've always found the following aspect to be interesting in addition to the music:

      "Smith also edited and directed the design of the Anthology. He created the liner notes himself, and these notes are almost as famous as the music, using an unusual fragmented, collage method that presaged some postmodern artwork. Smith also penned short synopses of the songs in the collection, which read like newspaper headlines—for the song "King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O" by Chubby Parker, a song about a mouse marrying a frog, Smith notes: "Zoologic Miscegeny Achieved Mouse Frog nuptials, Relatives Approve."

      Each of the three two-record sets carried the same cover art, a Theodore de Bry etching of an instrument Smith referred to as the "Celestial Monochord," taken from a mystical treatise by scientist/alchemist Robert Fludd. This etching was printed over against a different color background for each volume of the set: green, blue, and red. Smith had incorporated both the music and the art into his own unusual cosmology, and each of these colors was considered by Smith to correspond to an alchemical classical element: Water, Fire, and Air, respectively."

  5. Forgotted the linkerooble.

  6. Thanks for that recommendation, D. I've listened to lots of the Folkways, but don't think I've heard that one. Samples are here. My birthday approaches...

  7. Actually, <a href=">this is probably a better place for samples</a>. Plus an audio story about the recordings.

    (But seriously, NPR, .ram files? ... uggg)

  8. And if you can access these through your local library: Smithsonian Global Sound and American Song

    That second link is especially good for listening to radio-type feeds.

    (Lemme know if you're not sure how to access these. I'm happy to help you figure these out.)

  9. I'll look into those links at some point, tho' not to stoked on the .rams! I amember way back when when I loved RA. Oh the times have changed. Also, Lomax was a fascinating idividual, as was Smith. Ethnomusicology has at least two patron saints strong of will, voracious in ther "catholic" interests and slightly eecentric in character....dare I say marching to the beat of a different drummer? woh woh woh wahhh! But cereal, ladles ond germs, all you good forks out there.... OK, simmah dahn naw, Daurade. What I mean to say is that somewhere out there Dr. Jensen has a cassette of folk music from the globe which has chain gangs, post office stamp cancellation jams (ka-thunk! ka-thunk!) and a host of beautiful music. I'd love to het a copy of that.


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