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Banjo Party!

September 12, 2012

This banjo can do things that the guitar can’t do. You can get these needle points of time, needle points like a star in the sky. And here’s what a banjo does with a melody. You know there’s thousands of stars out there, but you can pick out a constellation among them. So here you’re hearing a lot of notes but somehow there’s a melody to them. -Pete Seeger

As some of you may know, I’ve recently taken up playing the banjo. I’m not very good, but I can tell you, playing an instrument is just about the funnest thing you can do. It is painful at first, learning and discovering that it’s not as easy as the masters make it look, but once you can the hang of it, and when you gain the confidence to play with other people you are in for some soul-shaking good times.

I wanted this week to share a few of my current favorite banjo tunes.

First is from a band called Squirrel Butter. I have no idea what their name means, but I got to see them playing in the Pike Place Market on a visit to Seattle and I was amazed. I bought their CD right there. They are a duo, Charlie Beck and Charmaine Slaven. Charlie plays the banjo and Charmaine plays the guitar. They share the singing. Their harmonies are beautiful and their arrangements are beautifully simplistic. Something that sets them apart from other acts is that Charmaine dances on a board, clicking heel and toe in rhythm with the music, thus the name of their second album “Banjo Clog”. The song here “Honey, Won’t You Allow Me One More Chance” is a cover of a very old song that Bob Dylan cribbed from for his song of the same name on “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”. I think Squirrel Butter’s version blows Bob Dylan’s out of the water and I must’ve listened to it about a hundred times in the last couple of months. If you like it please visit their website and buy an album (or two, as Charlie told me when I bought their album, “Two is better than one.”)

Next is The Mammals. I don’t know very much about them. Their website says they are “in hibernation” so I have never had a chance to see them live. I discovered them through Wikipedia while reading about Pete Seeger. One of their members, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger is his grandson. I visited their website and listened to streaming music there about three times in a row. Of course, I ended up buying their albums. They are a collection of consummate professionals who have not forgotten to have fun and it shines through in their music. The song I picked here is an old traditional tune that they rock called “Fall On My Knees”. It’s sure to have you tapping your feet or maybe even dancing, if you let yourself.

Last is a song sung by Pete Seeger who inspired me to pick up the banjo in the first place. He is a legend and a fine musician and from what I can tell a genuinely good person. There is a documentary called “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song” that is quite good and shows this gentle soul in a very personal light. He has spent his life sharing music and hope with the world. I can only hope to be so brave and influential. The song is called “Viva La Quince Brigada”.  It is just him, a banjo, his stomping foot and a sympathetic crowd. It is beautiful.

Hope you enjoy!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 25, 2012 6:09 pm

    Great stuff. Particularly like the Squirrel Butter version of Dylan´s song from Freewheelin´. The Mammals tune is lovely too. Actually all three are great. 🙂 Keep up your banjo playing!

    • September 26, 2012 9:08 pm

      Glad you liked it! Thanks for the encouragement. You should check out the original version of “Honey, Won’t You Allow Me One More Chance”:

      • September 26, 2012 11:16 pm

        Nice one. Just listening to it now. Didn´t realise it existed. I might do a Song of the Week about it one of these days. I knew Dylan lifted a lot of his early stuff from folk standards.

      • September 26, 2012 11:56 pm

        I didn’t either until I was writing this post and doing a bit of research. That’s one of the reasons I like doing this blog, learning new things every time.

      • September 27, 2012 2:32 pm

        Yep, same here with the Song of the Week thing. It gives me a reason to write something each week, and I pick up a lot of new things as I´m writing them. Well, I´ll be back to your site too. Seeya around…

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