On The Fly…Banjo, really ?

My First Banjo by JOtwell Perspectives

Banjo was the first string instrument I got my eager hands on, when I was  nine or so. There was an upright piano in our house, at which I was already flailing away , but the first whispers of skiffle were being heard, and guitars were starting to appear on TV, along with banjos, so I was primed…

My elder cousin, Pauline, was dating a fellow who was already playing in local string bands, and was in possession of a long-neck, four string tenor banjo, which was often to be found at Pauline’s house. Many a Sunday, my folks would park me there while they and the other  relatives would repair to a local pub for afternoon libations, which gave me a couple of hours with the banjo, flying blind, but figuring bits and pieces out , the way one does when there is strong interest. I also did a swap of some comics with a lad in our street who had a tacky plastic ukulele, but that banjo was a bona fide grown-up instrument, and consequently of more importance  to me than a toy-town uke.

When I got my first acoustic guitar at age eleven,  banjo retreated to the far periphery of my musical interest for many years. Electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards and bass in various forms became the tools of my professional trade, which didn’t have much need for the old plink plonk.

When I moved to Nashville in 1973, I became aware of the locally favored 5-string banjo and the high-octane stylists who had followed in the wake of Earl Scruggs’ ground-breaking  innovations – scared me to death, to be honest. However, when my father-in-law passed I inherited a vintage open-backed Savoy short-neck tenor banjo from him, which had a lovely old-timey sound to it, so I began to plink and plonk again, just for fun.

Interestingly enough, tenor banjo (played with a pick) had remained in fashion in traditional Celtic music circles, and the upsurge in interest that occurred in that form of music  from the ’80’s on gave Irish-style tenor banjo a new lease on life. Being first generation Irish myself, I’d become re-interested in the form and the great young (and not so young) artists who were producing thrilling neo-traditional records on both sides of the big pond, and for the next few years I immersed myself in it, aligning  with practitioners in both live and recording situations. I really enjoyed that period, becoming adept at bodhran and getting the chops up on cittern and Irish bouzouki as well as the trusty old tenor banjo.

During that time my dear globe-trotting pal Bob Saporiti found the magnificent closed-back Concertone tenor banjo that was featured in the blog, and kindly gifted it to me. I now have it strung with nylon banjo strings, which give it quite a different tone, while I keep the Savoy steel strung .

Although I’d never consider myself to be a bona-fide banjoist, it’s been my pleasure to plink and plonk away on quite a few albums that needed the flavor of the old-time plectrum tenor…grand fun always !

Check out these other Banjo entries- they are fan favorites: http://wp.me/p2W71Q-dy and http://wp.me/p2W71Q-hG

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The Dogs in the Street: Part 1 of 2

The Dogs in the Street

I go up the headland when I’m in the mood
To a pub that’s renowned for its high altitude
With the harbour below and a graveyard in sight
The craic in the backroom on Saturday night

But noontime is my time, it’s quiet and it’s calm
With a couple of old fellas bending the arm
A half of the Guinness, a short on the side
Talkin’ it over and watching the tide

Bar conversation with memories to burn
When a stranger comes in every head seems to turn
“How is it now sir? You look like a man
Who’se traveled you share to come back to this land…
Tell me the homeplace where you lay your head
Where you raised your children, where you make your bed”

I live in the Southland … Far Tennessee
But Liverpool town is the place that claims me
“Ah, Liverpool is it? I know it so well
A Large part of heaven, a small piece of hell

The dogs in the street all knew me in Liverpool
Barkin’ beside me and nippin’ my heels
Here’s to the town at the mouth of The Mersey
Here’s to the scousers, so have one on me.”

The Dogs in the Street: Part 2 of 2

Creative Commons Photo Credits:

Nadia Prigoda-Lee, Thrift at the Cliff Paul Holloway, St. George’s Hall |IrishFireside, Loop Head |Andrew_D_Hurley, Malin Head, County Donegal |InkHong, Stray Dogs |SeeMidTN.com (aka Brent, 1960s aerial view of the Capitol – Post Card |Quole Pejorian, Irish Castle Graveyard |exacta2a, Old Liverpool Housing |Helena.40proof, Leed Liverpool Canal |kyezitri, Guiness en 568 ml. |Steve r Watson, Just a Half |TheJimmyLittle, Happy Fake Irishman Day |claireonline, Irish road |Duncan Harris, Liverpool from the Mersey #1