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No one cries when you cut up a banjo
November 23, 2006 6:52 AM   Subscribe

Ask yourself: Do you play banjo when you are alone? Have you played banjo first thing in the morning? Are you the butt of a million jokes? If you answered yes to any of these questions you may have a serious problem. Fortunately there's help: Banjo Players Anonymous. via
posted by Turtles all the way down (52 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I recently posted an ad on Craigslist offering to barter my iPod shuffle for a banjo. All I can say is, thank the Benevolent Gods of Attempted Cross-Genre Barters that the trade didn’t go through. I had no idea banjo players were held in such disdain.
posted by Milkman Dan at 8:04 AM on November 23, 2006


Ukuleles are love.
posted by Drexen at 8:25 AM on November 23, 2006


I've known two banjo players, and a good way to piss them off is to ask them to play "Dueling Banjos" from Deliverance.
posted by I Am Not a Lobster at 8:26 AM on November 23, 2006


Just don't let them drink coffee first, or it'll lead to a nervous breakdown.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:34 AM on November 23, 2006


Hey, Dueling Banjos is a good tune. Only problem is I can never find a guitar player who can keep up.

I left my banjo in the car once, actually, just sitting in the back set. Wasn't gone for more than maybe an hour, but when I came back the window was broken, and someone had shoved three more banjo in there.
posted by cortex at 8:46 AM on November 23, 2006 [5 favorites]


lol cortex.
posted by dozo at 8:54 AM on November 23, 2006


What's the difference between a banjo player and a harmonica player? A harmonica player only sucks on half the notes.
posted by DonnieSticks at 9:00 AM on November 23, 2006


You just can't sing a depressing song when you're playing the banjo. You just can't go, [banjo] "Oh death and grief and sorrow and murder." When you're playing the banjo everything's ok. [banjo] "Hey Steve! Your house is burning down!" [banjo] I always thought the banjo was the one thing that coulda saved Nixon. If he went on television at just the right time and went, [banjo] "Hi! Everything's great!" I think it would have been great if he'd been traveling around the country and got off the plane and said, "I'd like to talk about politics, but first a little Foggy Mountain Breakdown!" [banjo]
posted by carsonb at 9:01 AM on November 23, 2006


I really want a banjo, and also I listen to too much Béla Fleck.
posted by danb at 9:06 AM on November 23, 2006


how can you tell when the stage is level?
posted by mwhybark at 9:09 AM on November 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


how long does it take to tune a banjo?
posted by mwhybark at 9:11 AM on November 23, 2006


what's the best way to tune a banjo?
posted by mwhybark at 9:11 AM on November 23, 2006


Banjo players rock!*



*compared to accordian players.
posted by leftcoastbob at 9:13 AM on November 23, 2006


Q: If you throw a banjo player and a ukelele player out of a 7th storey window, who will hit the ground first?

A: Who gives a fuck?

(And, strangely enough)
posted by Jofus at 9:15 AM on November 23, 2006


Warning: sincere banjo discussion follows:

That Steve Martin bit is classic, and beautifully done, and kind of sums up everything wrong with the pervasiveness of the perception of Scruggs-style banjo rolls as What Banjo Is.

Earl Scruggs was and is a monster player: more than a trendsetter, he's a genre-definer. But the way he tears up a banjo is only one way of playing, and it's pretty much the only way of playing that Joe Public is aware of. Which is frustrating, because Scruggs-style light-speed rolls are such a small part of the (much maligned) range and beauty of the instrument's sound.

This is not Earl's fault, nor is he himself some contrained bluegrass-roll android. But in popular conception, the banjo is simply that funny instrument that makes the sound of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" (if people even know the name of the tune).

You've got Bela Fleck doing completely different, complete wonderfu stuff; thousands of jazz banjo players; countless jackass kids like me play all kinds of strange stuff on it: and yet the banjo is just Foggy Mountain and Dueling Banjos. It'd be like associating piano solely with honky tonk, or guitar solely with delta blues, or, well, accordian solely with polka.

I don't know what the solution is, or if there really is one. The banjo is an odd duck&mdsah;much less approachable in a lot of respects than the guitar, but in part because you've got so many fewer people approaching it and learning and passing on the skillsets. Maybe it'll become the new hotness in the post-hipster Grass-House wave a decade from now, but probably not.
posted by cortex at 9:20 AM on November 23, 2006 [3 favorites]


Cortex: Word. And check out the ubiquitous Sufjan Stevens for unaffected, shambolic, joyous banj-age banjoadge banjo playing.
posted by Jofus at 9:26 AM on November 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


For a dose of good banjo, pick up "Re-inventions" by Sandy Bull and give it a listen. There's a version of Carmina Burana played on banjo, and a take on the standard Little Maggie... outstanding!
posted by breakfast_yeti at 9:42 AM on November 23, 2006


What Jofus said. As something of a banjophile, I may not be entirely objective, but anybody who can listen to Alvin Youngblood Hart's rendition of "Deep Blue Sea" without being moved is an automaton.
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:43 AM on November 23, 2006


Bela Fleck is pretty cool. He even played with DMB.
posted by mike3k at 9:47 AM on November 23, 2006


Hey, do Foggy Mountain.
posted by DonnieSticks at 9:55 AM on November 23, 2006


Harold was the one who really sold me on the banjo.

Maybe it'll become the new hotness in the post-hipster Grass-House wave a decade from now, but probably not.

It's been cropping up here and there [large mp3] as that, uh, freak folk (?) set expands. A good thing, I think.
posted by carsonb at 9:58 AM on November 23, 2006


This is your brain.
This is your brain on banjo. (huge img)
posted by YoBananaBoy at 10:01 AM on November 23, 2006


I can't believe I'm doing this...

Metafilter: The new hotness in the post-hipster Grass-House wave a decade from now, but probably not.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:03 AM on November 23, 2006


I had no idea banjo players were held in such disdain.

Not by everyone.
posted by scody at 10:12 AM on November 23, 2006


It'd be like associating piano solely with honky tonk, or guitar solely with delta blues, or, well, accordian solely with polka.

Wait, are you saying that I can play more than Stairway to Heaven on my guitar?

The Mummers Parade string bands are a good example of the versatility of the banjo. Great place to be on New Year's Day.
posted by peeedro at 10:17 AM on November 23, 2006


hey, carsonb, this might not be depressing, just really melancholic, but it's a great and different use of a banjo, and it was done by a Mefite, check it out.
posted by micayetoca at 10:25 AM on November 23, 2006


Excellent, thank you.
posted by carsonb at 10:34 AM on November 23, 2006


Freebird!
posted by blue_beetle at 10:37 AM on November 23, 2006


Earl Scruggs was and is a monster player: more than a trendsetter, he's a genre-definer.

Scruggs did to Banjo what Bach did to the Fugue -- he so completely and utterly mastered it that everyone just went "Well, not much more to say there, let's work on something else." When you played for twenty years and still couldn't run Foggy Mountain Breakdown like Scruggs did, it grated on you. When you realized Scruggs could frell, finger, or flatpick better than you, it really sucked. Everyone remembers Scruggs for the flashy three-picking, but he truly mastered the instrument in all of its forms.

Indeed, the reason Flatt & Scruggs broke up was that Lester Flatt was very much a traditionalist who played both kinds of music, Country and Western Bluegrass and Old-Time, while Scruggs wanted to experiment more. The first banjo player to do a duet with a Sax wasn't Fleck, it was Earl Scruggs, playing with King Curtis. Who electrified bluegrass? Earl Scruggs, with his sons Gary, Randy and Steve.

The fact that Béla Fleck has seen a great deal of success isn't surprising. Earl Scruggs saw a great deal of success doing the same thing -- pushing an instrument that defined a musical style into new realms -- despite the fact that he was the person who had made that definition in the first place.
posted by eriko at 10:56 AM on November 23, 2006


Banjo keep cropping up on Music, actually, though (a) too much of that list is me and (b) I'm pretty sure there are banjo-laden tracks not bearing the tag.
posted by cortex at 11:02 AM on November 23, 2006


I think you'd have to pry my Bob Carlin Special out of my cold, dead hands to make me stop playing banjo. Always found Scruggs-style playing too showy, too technical to be enjoyable. I'm happy with Ashley, Coole, Hammons, Macon & Stampfel.

Of course, we all know the death of the banjo started in Chicago in the 1970s ...
posted by scruss at 12:27 PM on November 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


Natalie Maines goes on the record about banjos, stereotypes and Prada, on NPR. context
posted by signal at 12:39 PM on November 23, 2006


Interestingly enough, the banjo was considered a respectable instrument, one suitable for a young miss to play in the parlor if she was well-brought-up, in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The death-knell for the banjo was World War Two, when many banjos were given to the war effort for scrap. This is why the older banjos are held in such reverence; they are rare holdovers from the Golden Age of the Banjo. I play the banjo and I'm proud.

Oh, and...
What did the banjo player get on his SAT?
Drool.
posted by lekvar at 1:22 PM on November 23, 2006


lekvar: Thank you for justifying my cunning use of the "drool" tag.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 1:24 PM on November 23, 2006


Just saw Primus the other night and Larry "Ler" LaLonde came out with a banjo for a couple songs.
posted by Balisong at 1:32 PM on November 23, 2006


Damnit! I found a site devoted to pics of banjo pickin' women a while ago, but google is being no help. It must be the drool all over my keyboard. You'll just have to trust me when I say that girls who play banjo are hott.
posted by lekvar at 1:44 PM on November 23, 2006


cortex - Olga from The Toy Dolls could keep up. Here's their version of "Duelling Banjos".
posted by Zack_Replica at 1:53 PM on November 23, 2006


Zack_Replica: That was awesome. Especially the end.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 2:19 PM on November 23, 2006


Zack_Replica: faboo. (And it was more of a tit-for-tat dig at armchair guitarists, anyway.)
posted by cortex at 2:38 PM on November 23, 2006


How can it be anonymous, when there are only three banjo players alive?

I know gnat, and Bela fleck, who is the third?
posted by lundman at 4:13 PM on November 23, 2006


Turtles, cortex - yah, The Toy Dolls kick butt and are heaps 'o fun - apparently Olga is self-taught, too.

Steve Martin. How much more can I like this guy? He's an amazing comedian, a banjo player, a collector of some really nice artworks, and in that Letterman clip before the applause really kicks in, he makes a point of mentioning everyone on stage by name. I find it rare to see that sort of self-effacing attitude in entertainment. WTG Steve.
posted by Zack_Replica at 4:03 AM on November 24, 2006


If you don't stop picking that thing, it'll never heal.
posted by OneOliveShort at 4:37 AM on November 24, 2006


I love my banjo, though it's more of a banjo mandolin.

My favorite song is a 20 second song I heard the Electric Bonsai Band do in Seattle.

I don't care what ma says
I don't care what pa says
I do't care what god says
   there's nothing wrong with the banjo

posted by jessamyn at 7:33 AM on November 24, 2006


the banjolin combines the outstanding weaknesses of both instruments.

(says the man with six mandolins and two banjos.)

My main playing parnter greg has an amazing ukejolin: dual courses like a mando, skin head like a banjo, neck-length and tuning like a uke. I've had policemen charge me with an unnatural act when whanging on it in public.

For non-banjoists out there, it should be noted that banjo jokes are all in good fun, an ancient tradition, and the traditional-music translation of rock-music's drummer jokes. That "How do you tell if the stage is level?" joke I started up there is answered thusly:

"When the banjo player's drooling out of both sides of his mouth."

The drummer joke version is as follows:

"When the drummer's drooling out of both sides of his mouth."
posted by mwhybark at 2:12 PM on November 24, 2006


oh, and I should clarify:

No-one knows
.

Wirecutters.
posted by mwhybark at 2:18 PM on November 24, 2006


Finally: Banjo Women. A PDF with pics by the same folks. Audio recorded by the researchers in the field (scroll down).
posted by mwhybark at 2:33 PM on November 24, 2006


From the main link:

Banjer face is indeed a sad symptom of advanced banjo addiction, an indication that there is no turning back. Usually, when a banjo player has Banjer Face nothing moves except his or her fingers. The guitar player winces. The bass player bobs up and down to the beat of music. But the banjo addict just stands there with that distant stare that you describe.


I just watched the Steve Martin bit and it seems to me we see several excellent examples of Banjer Face--correct me if I'm wrong.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 4:14 PM on November 24, 2006


BTW, there's a really nice banjo part in the intro to Gomez's "See the World". (Scroll to the bottom for Real Player and WMV links to the equally cool video.)
posted by Turtles all the way down at 4:30 PM on November 24, 2006


Wrong Wrong Wrong! It's How We Operate that has the banjo part. Sorry! But the See the World video is still worth seeing!

I go now.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 4:32 PM on November 24, 2006


jessamyn, when are you gonna put something up on MuFi? I'd love to hear your banjolin!
posted by snsranch at 7:10 PM on November 24, 2006


hey, mwhybark, the OTH link is bloody great. Im glad I came back to the thread and found it.
posted by micayetoca at 3:05 PM on November 26, 2006


So... what does it mean if you make your own banjo?
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:26 AM on November 27, 2006


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