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Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity

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chip a 17 Jul 03 - 01:51 PM
Mark Clark 17 Jul 03 - 01:31 PM
GUEST,Pete Peterson 17 Jul 03 - 01:24 PM
Deckman 17 Jul 03 - 01:16 PM
Amos 17 Jul 03 - 12:46 PM
Art Thieme 17 Jul 03 - 12:26 PM
Art Thieme 17 Jul 03 - 12:22 PM
GUEST,Martin Gibson 17 Jul 03 - 11:52 AM
chip a 17 Jul 03 - 10:39 AM
Art Thieme 17 Jul 03 - 01:40 AM
GUEST,Pete Peterson 16 Jul 03 - 06:55 PM
Rick Fielding 16 Jul 03 - 11:31 AM
JedMarum 16 Jul 03 - 10:32 AM
Amos 16 Jul 03 - 12:17 AM
GUEST,Martin Gibson 15 Jul 03 - 09:22 PM
Peter T. 15 Jul 03 - 07:58 PM
Frankham 15 Jul 03 - 07:36 PM
Rick Fielding 15 Jul 03 - 07:12 PM
Mark Clark 15 Jul 03 - 06:54 PM
chip a 15 Jul 03 - 03:28 PM
greg stephens 15 Jul 03 - 03:10 PM
Deckman 15 Jul 03 - 03:00 PM
Amos 15 Jul 03 - 02:43 PM
Peter T. 15 Jul 03 - 02:42 PM
GUEST,Martin Gibson 15 Jul 03 - 02:30 PM
GUEST 15 Jul 03 - 02:05 PM
Candyman(inactive) 15 Jul 03 - 01:50 PM
clueless don 15 Jul 03 - 01:42 PM
kendall 15 Jul 03 - 01:17 PM
Amos 15 Jul 03 - 12:52 PM
Uncle_DaveO 15 Jul 03 - 12:12 PM
Jeri 15 Jul 03 - 12:02 PM
JedMarum 15 Jul 03 - 11:02 AM
chip a 15 Jul 03 - 10:44 AM
EBarnacle1 15 Jul 03 - 01:40 AM
GUEST,Martin Gibson 15 Jul 03 - 12:01 AM
JedMarum 14 Jul 03 - 08:47 PM
McGrath of Harlow 14 Jul 03 - 08:20 PM
kendall 14 Jul 03 - 07:24 PM
Peter T. 14 Jul 03 - 07:02 PM
Deckman 14 Jul 03 - 06:37 PM
Frankham 14 Jul 03 - 05:58 PM
JedMarum 14 Jul 03 - 05:42 PM
GUEST,Martin Gibson 14 Jul 03 - 05:36 PM
GUEST,Martin Gibson 14 Jul 03 - 05:23 PM
Rick Fielding 14 Jul 03 - 05:21 PM
PoppaGator 14 Jul 03 - 05:21 PM
Deckman 14 Jul 03 - 05:08 PM
GUEST,Martin Gibson 14 Jul 03 - 05:00 PM
kendall 14 Jul 03 - 04:12 PM
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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: chip a
Date: 17 Jul 03 - 01:51 PM

Pete P,
I heard a quote attributed to Pete Seeger in which he said that while it was true that many old timers did in fact only use three chords, the best of them got by with two!
Yup, we'll be at Clifftop.

Chip


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Mark Clark
Date: 17 Jul 03 - 01:31 PM

Martin, Speaking for myself, I don't mean to say the KT wasn't a fun group. I still enjoy their music as I do other pop groups of the era: the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, etc. The point is that although they drew some of their material from folk sources, they were a pop music band. You can draw a pop music timeline right through the KT to show where they came from and where the music went and none of it has much to do with folk or traditional music. It didn't have to be folk music, there's lots of nice mucic that isn't folk music.

But while we're on the subject of virtuosity, we ought to include a mention of Art Thieme's virtuosity. I've never forgotten the first time I saw Art on stage. At a time when a lot of acts were KT/PP&M/Limelighters knockoffs Art actually played his guitar and his banjo. His fingerpicked accompaniments were intricate and tasteful and complemented his singing in a way very few other performers achieved. Art seemed to use his considerable talent and ability to showcase the song rather than use the song as a vehicle for showcasing himself. It's hard to express how much I admired that.

Oh, and Martin… Art made a really cogent observation—well, two cogent observations actually—about an hour ago.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: GUEST,Pete Peterson
Date: 17 Jul 03 - 01:24 PM

Thanks for kind words, Chip! (Are you coming to Clifftop?)

I haven't listened to some of those Pete Seeger records in years (lost ability to play vinyl too many years ago; gotta do something about that) but can remember the way he managed to fit the accompaniment to the song better than anybody else I know or know of. (And the other people I think of as really good accompanists almost always cite Pete S as somebody they look up to musically)

   Back to the Darling Corey record (that 10" Folkways) -- I remember being disappointed in his arrangement of the title song-- then realized (much later) it was one of Seeger's few attempts to play something just the same way his source played it (B.F. Shelton) --

Staying out of the whole Kingston Trio discussion except to admit that as for so many other people, they were my first experience with "folk music"; went from there to the Weavers, to Pete Seeger solo and to people HE recommended, and then to the New Lost City Ramblers and the Anthology, and it was all downhill from there. But I admit where it started. . .

BTW, Art, what's so bad about three chords? It was good enough for the Carter Family!


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Deckman
Date: 17 Jul 03 - 01:16 PM

I've got a suggestion here. Let's stop to compare Pete Seeger's banjo virtuosity to the Kingston Trio. The Kingston Trio was an extremely successfull group of entertainers. I certainly recognise their value and the high standards they set, as entertainers. Pete Segger is also an entertainer. But, when it comes to "folk music," he is much more than an "entertainer." By the way, can anyone fill me in on his current health. I would welcome a private note if you feel it's more appropriate. CHEERS, Bob


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Amos
Date: 17 Jul 03 - 12:46 PM

I just listened inadvertently to another rich example of the laundered-folk style of performance which swept the country during the folk scar eof the 60's -Green, Green, being sung by The New Christy Minstrels (Today & Ramblin'). They were having a great deal of fun stomping and twanging in a nicely polished way. They were doing a nice job of entertaining.

But the cogntiive dissonance of the style in which they were singin -- a sort of Whiffenpoof faux-finish style -- and what they were saying about being a rambling man was enough to maske me roll on the floor snorting. This is why "Mighty Wind" was such a successful parody with side-splitting songs like "I Never Did No Rambling". These guys aren't even trying to feel what they are saying, and it leaves a dissonance wide enough to drive a record company through.

Sorry for the thread drift. I'd rather listen to Art Thieme, who at least has walked the walk and rubbed elbows with those whose whole lives were spent that way. The New Christy Mistrels and the KT as well, by comparison, are just a picture from life's other side, where the tide of life is a laundry detergent.


A


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Art Thieme
Date: 17 Jul 03 - 12:26 PM

And so is George Bush.

Art


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Art Thieme
Date: 17 Jul 03 - 12:22 PM

Martin,

You are full of shit.

Art ((Big Smile))


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: GUEST,Martin Gibson
Date: 17 Jul 03 - 11:52 AM

Art

Your rip of the Kingston Trio's folk legacy is probably the best reason why I and others haven't had the desire to see you perform in Chicago.

There are people out there who enjoy folk music and have played it for years in a group style. We like rousing banjos, smooth harmonies, fun songs, trading solos, and even stripe shirts. It's as American folk music as anything you do.

Though I do not attend their shows any longer since Nick Reynolds retired for good, don't you find it amazing that they still fill concert venues at $40.00 a seat? Same, if not more for Pter, Paul, and Mary.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: chip a
Date: 17 Jul 03 - 10:39 AM

I gave my Weavers album another listen last night. I can agree with all the good things said so far about Seeger's playing.
I've said many times that playing "just like" someone else is good. But where the genius lies is in originating the arrangements so copied by others. Pete always did that although I suspect he could have played them "just like" anyone he chose to copy.
Pete P., We played a few together in the barn at Mt. Airy this year and I'm still inspired by the sounds we made. You may, as you said, be a "Charlie Poole freak" but like Pete S. what comes through you is definately your own. By the way, I also tried the basic strum for a while when I was first starting. It was a wrong direction for me as well. I went back to my two-finger up picking and worked on that.
One more thought. In this time when so many are playing, listening to and otherwise enjoying this old music, pete Seeger stands there reminding us that there were and still are many ways to approach a song. His vision has been wide and in the end that may be his greatest gift for us.

Chip Arnold


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Art Thieme
Date: 17 Jul 03 - 01:40 AM

I've started writing a polemic for this thread several times tonight. I've deleted them all.

All I can say is that Pete Seeger has been a bright beacon for me, musically and socially, over all the years. Following his leads has made me a much better human being. In all that time, he has never ever developed the proverbial feet of clay. The Kingston Trio has, on the other hand, has given me nothing except a true realization of how I NEVER want to present American folk songs and ballads. The only positive thing they showed me was that wearing vertical stripes is more slimming than wearing horizontal ones). For that I take this opportunity to thank them heartily. Pete's banjo style is one I emulated and sought to make a bit more old-timey over those same decades. It was perfect for the big story songs I loved so much. Now that I can't pick worth a steaming turd any more, the good old open-G tuning and Pete's basic strum keep me keeping on albeit with a diminished spinal cord (or chord).

I can now see that I got past the K.T. the moment I leared to play my fourth chord. Pete is simply the best--pure taste--never lost the story to the glitz. His GOOFING OFF SUITE showed my I could actually try to fool around and try off-the-wall things like San Antonio Rose, The Theme From Tammy And The Bachelor, The Bells Of St. Mary's, Lazy Bones, and As Time Goes By on my banjo. When Frank Hamilton and Pete did their fine NONESUCH LP of duets, Frank taught the song "Singin' In The Country" (later became "Living In The Country") to the class I was in and gave me permission to play beyond the third fret for the first time. (Frank, thanks !!! That's still the only music lesson I ever had. You left Chicago to join the Weavers after that lesson on a Saturday afternoon at the North Avenue O.T.School.)

I've said more than I planned to say---but there is no way I can ever thank Pete Seeger enough for all I learned from him about playing the banjo, hopefully, maybe half as tastefully as he did.

Time to end.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: GUEST,Pete Peterson
Date: 16 Jul 03 - 06:55 PM

I almost wish I had left this thread alone so that Rick's praise of Frank H (with which I totally agree!) could stand alone, but I gotta spend some time agreeing with those who praise Pete S.

1) He could do bum-titty better than ANYBODY else I know, and used that strum to back up an astonishingly large number of songs. Very well.
1a) the only other person I know who REALLY got into the bum-titty strum was the late Peter Colby of Brockton MA, who used it to back up contradance fiddle (and accordion).

2) he could play any number of other styles very well: frailing, up-picking, various three-finger styles; about the only thing I've never heard him do is Charlie Poole's style (as a Poole freak, I listen for it) and had a gift for finding exactly the right style to express what he wanted to.
2a) somebody pointed out that accompaniment to "come all ye fair & tender ladies" from Darling Corey-- agreed. WOW.
2b) some of his experiments on Goofing Off Suite-- just thinking of them in the first place was a wonderment, then DOING them. . .
2c) on the various American Favorite Ballads (didn't it get up to volume 4?)-- the accompaniment ALWAYS fit the song being sung. WOW.
2d) and he had a gift for making OTHER people sound wonderful, as has been pointed out already

3) Where I disagree with Rick: he cites "number of keys used" as a point in Pete's favor-- not sure this is relevant. With a long neck banjo in G tuning you can play in any key from E up to C; in C tuning from A to F; you pitch the song where it suits your voice once you've learned this is a good idea.
3a) but Pete COULD play well in any number of tunings; can't even count all the tunings he used on Goofing Off Suite alone!

4) I wonder if anybody else of my generation (tried to learn banjo from the YELLOW edition of "How to Play. . . " starting in 1960) had the same experience I did: the "basic strum" bum-titty was one I found to be a musical dead end! I played basic strum for about two years anhd had a great deal of trouble unlearning it when I learned to frail-- IMHO you can do everything with frailing that you can with bum-tty and it's a lot more versatile once you get into double-thumbing and moving the thumb off the 5th string. And the 2nd edition's description os Scruggs style-- ouch! (by the time the 3rd edition and its red cover arrived-- MUCH better!)

5) to summarize: a wonderful musician and, not unmindful of Earl Scruggs and Don Reno, probably the best banjo player of his generation. Not a bad guitar player (6 and 12 string!) or mandolin player either! ANd I will always be grateful to Seeger for that little squib in that book I just complained about mentioning the late Paul Cadwell, classical banjo player who I was sure had three hands, until I actually met him.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 16 Jul 03 - 11:31 AM

By the way folks, there's another guy who picks pretty good and can make other folk sound better.

Frank Hamilton.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: JedMarum
Date: 16 Jul 03 - 10:32 AM

Frank - I love your comment that Pete has the "ability to make other performers sound great." This is one of the marks of a great musician and it is one I truy respect.

A few weeks ago I met a very talented woman who plays string bass. I saw her playing with some pretty good local fellows and they were trying to play a song the trio didn't really know - well bass wasn't a very important part of this song, but when she saw the other two struggling, she changed her style of play, provided a very strong structure for them and never dropped her vocal harmonies. The audience never noticed - and she carried them right through. Graceful and powerful as you please. The mark of a fine musician.

I've seen the trait before and I am not surprised that you see it Pete. Thanks for the insights.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Amos
Date: 16 Jul 03 - 12:17 AM

There's no question about the numbers, for sure. Sorry for being a bit sharp. We're talking about two entirely different qualities, of course -- and they won't compare easily, natrurally, like apples and oranges again. I am still a little perplexed at this concept of statements growing dated, though. If the facts haven't changed, what the hell diference does it make when something was said? Consider the songs of David, for example. That is the primary virtue of many folk songs. But let's drop that side of it. Its probably a dated argument.

A


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: GUEST,Martin Gibson
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 09:22 PM

Some of what has been written I do agree with, don't get me wrong, but a tin ear I do not have, Amos. Personally, I would say all who can stand to listen to Bob Dylan sing have tin ears, but not ones who enjoy smooth harmonies or like their folk music served without offensive, authentic body odors direct from Appalachia.

As for John Cohen's fighting, I also say give it up, and be glad the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul, and Mary and such sold MILLIONS of records that turned on many to American folk music and bluegrass music so that people just might realize there was a bigger world out there. The dissing of the folk scare groups is such a tired, old, outdated arguement.

My arguement was not against Pete Seeger and all he has done, but that quite frankly, more people heard Dave Guard play the MTA and that he in turn exposed much more people to the banjo.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Peter T.
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 07:58 PM

Thanks Frank. A privilege to share electrons with you. yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Frankham
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 07:36 PM

Hi Bob,

Agreed! Earl Scruggs himself has great admiration for Pete and his playing. It's a problem usually of a 'tude creeping into the music. One musician assumes a god-like proportion when this is not necessary.

Hi Peter T.

The music of the Ituri forest is quite suited to contrapuntal banjo.
The time signatures are probably a form of 12/8 which is consistent because of it's potential for counter rhythm. My part was quite simple. It was a series of three eighth-note intervals of fifths played with an emphasis of 3/4 time. Pete played the contrapuntal lead part over it.


Re: The Kingston Trio

The Kingston Trio were popular music stars and they were entertaining.
It has to be categorically stated however that if it weren't for Pete Seeger, they would have never existed. Just like Dizzy Gillespie said about Louis Armstrong, "No Louis, no me." They operated in a different world of aesthetic values. It's not fair to compare apples and oranges. But everyone is entitled to their preference.

The most significant aspect of Pete's musicality is that he is a superb accompanist and his playing highlights any song he undertakes to perform. Not many banjo players can do this. It's almost like a classical guitar accompaniment for art songs. Every Seeger note is in place and significant as part of a larger picture of instrument and voice. One of the classic examples of this is the early 10" record of Darling Corey. These accompaniments are gems of musicianship. Sure, some are simple but that's the art. He plays the right notes all the time.

There is another side to Pete Seeger. His ability to make other performers sound great. Check his backup for Big Bill, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, his work with the Weavers behind Ronnie Gilbert and Lee Hays, his early work with the Almanac Singers, Arlo Guthrie and the recordings (limited) that he made with Jean Carignan. I've played with a lot of folk musicians in my time and I can say that jamming with Pete is one of the most satisfying musical experiences that I've had for the above reasons.

My only regret about Pete is that he didn't make more recordings of just him alone doing his arrangements sans audience participation.

Also, if you want to hear a good banjo accompaniment in the Seeger style to folk music, there is the album "True Religion" by Erik Darling. It should be re-released on CD and I'm not sure that it has been. Of all the Pete followers, IMHO, I think Erik's banjo captures it best.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 07:12 PM

I AM SO IMPRESSED!! Jeez, 65 posts on a TECHNICAL thread about Pete Seeger's pickin'! And all we had to do was add a little sex and violence! Ha ha!

Anyway, back to my original point, I have to agree with CBS (the network, way before the blacklist and the record company,) when they called Pete Seeger the World's greatest Banjo player in their newspaper adds.

My opinion was based on his

VARIETY
SUBTLETY
BREADTH OF REPERTOIRE (Classical to pop)
NUMBER OF KEYS USED
....and my own enjoyment of the album "Goofin' Off Suite".....plus being able to play eighty percent of this stuff, along with Scruggs style, and knowing how damn hard it is! (I knew by 16 there were Seeger and Scruggs licks I'd simply never have the sppeed for)

Anyway, who cares, but thanks for the arguement.....better than anything on Dubya's IQ.

P.S. My views on people who are forced to play when they're way beyong their prime are well known around here....that Damn Nashville network has done it before, and so has PBS with SOME of their nostalgis stuff. So sorry Martin, yer probably right but we'll have to agree to disagree on that one.

Cheers
to
All

Rick


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Mark Clark
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 06:54 PM

Peter, Thanks, I found the archive…
October 21, 2001: Old interview on WBAI with John Cohen (New Lost City Ramblers) by Estelle Wade
and you're right, the KT version is truly offensive. The sequence you referenced starts at about minute 20. Now I'll have to go back to hear other Secret Museum of the Air archives.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: chip a
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 03:28 PM

Well put Greg!

"I love this song and I'd like you to hear it so that you can love it too. And while you're at it, love the people who made it up, too". Well, that's what he says to me, anyway.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: greg stephens
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 03:10 PM

Great to hear people appreciating Pete Seeger's banjo playing.And there's nothing wrong with bum-titty, it is THE world rhythm as far as my experience goes, and it is astonishing how many different takes there are on it.
   You can't really compare Pete Seeger and Earl Scruggs. They are just too different. Hear a Scruggs record, and you hear banjo-playing. Why not, that's his thing and he's a master. Hear Pete Seeger, and I dont think you hear banjo-playing. i don't you really hear singing either. you hear Pete Seeger's world philosophy and sense of history. And the main thing he expresses that with is his love of music. he doesnt say "hear how well I play and sing this song". He says "I love this song and I'd like you to hear it so that you can love it too. And while you're at it, love the people who made it up, too". Well, that's what he says to me, anyway.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Deckman
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 03:00 PM

SHEEUH! I thought this thread was about Pete's banjo playing! Bob


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Amos
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 02:43 PM

Okay, Martin. Guess it depends on what you are looking for in your entertainment. Puff the Magic Dragon as the ultimate folk song never rocked my boat, and I personally prefer folk music that at least captures some of the effort and emotion of those who lived the tale. In my view, that's what it is for -- the remembrance of human life at its most memorable. Purèeing it for mass consumption just somehow takes all the fiber out. This may be dated point of view, but it isjn't a jaded one; I don't see why that should make it any less real -- it is certainly real to me. Your expression of "braying and bleating" just tells me you have an ear of tin. What the Kingston Trio is missing, since I didn't make it clear, is the authority of the songs they sing. I grant you this is a higyly subjective sense. Rick Fielding, Art Thieme, Seeger, Woody, even the hotshot Bobby Dylan, manage to construct reality with their voices that resonates with experiential authority. To my ear, the KT failed to do this.

But I don't mind if we disagree -- let's just agree to disagree.

A


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Peter T.
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 02:42 PM

If any of you are interested in the tired argument over the Kingston Trio, there is a wonderful interview on the Secret Museum of the Air (find it on google) with John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers, towards the end of which he takes a Charlie Poole song and plays subsequent versions of it, all the way up to a Kingston Trio travesty. He deadpans after: that is everything we were fighting against.

yours,

Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: GUEST,Martin Gibson
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 02:30 PM

Amos

You sell the Kingston Trio short and your arguement reads like something out of a 1961 issue of Sing Out. I'd say, get over it, already. You never do mention what they are missing. What's wrong with showmanship? What's wrong with entertainment? What's wrong with technical proficiency or good harmonies? I'd say it moves everything up a notch.

I'll take all of that and "smooth, slick, neat, harmonious, and vacuous" over so called authentic folksingers who bray and bleat in the name of authentic and die in poverty and obscurity. Personally, I'd say Frank Warner should have got a new agent.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: GUEST
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 02:05 PM

Here's a recent picture of Pete:

http://www.woodyguthrie.com/Okemah_London_House.htm


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Candyman(inactive)
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 01:50 PM

Clueless Don,

It's a Big Bill Broonzy song called "Black, Brown and White."

Pete Seeger's recording of it is included on "Songs For Political Action," a 6-CD boxed set on Bear Family Records.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: clueless don
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 01:42 PM

Not adding much to the thread, but I wanted to throw in a memory. I saw Pete (as if I know him well enough to call him by his first name!) play at the University of Maryland back in the late sixties. He did a song that I assume is called "Get Back" (has the chorus "If you're white, it's all right, and if you're brown, stick around, but if you're black, oh brother - get back! get back! get back!") He introduced the song by claiming that he was not a "good blues picker", but he then proceeded to play some banjo that sounded mighty good to me! It also made me wonder who WERE the "good blues pickers" on the banjo.

Did he ever record that song?


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: kendall
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 01:17 PM

I don't remember if that was the U of M in Orono performance, could be
though.
As far as Gordon's "career" goes, he has worked AGAINST being famous. He just wants to share what he has without being too noticeable. Fame and fortune doesn't interest him.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Amos
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 12:52 PM

Martin,

You are mistaken on the subject of quality. While the Kingston Trio had a fine polish and a good dollop of showmanlike veneer, and even technical proficiency, they missed on the more important elements that make live folk music worth listening to. Listneing to them perform "Tom Dooley" and listening to the perform "Scotch and Soda" was six of one and half-a-dozen of the other -- smooth, slick, neat, harmonious, and vacuous. That's just the way the KT did things.

Listen to Frank Warner play Tom Dooley. The difference is so resonant, so palpable, and so penetrating as to be inescapable to any but the tinnest of ears.

Regards,

A


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 12:12 PM

Chip said:
I do think Pete is a virtuoso in the technical sense but where he shines is in the "musical" sense.

Hear, hear! In listening to his various LPs those many long years ago, I was always forcibly struck by the man's wonderful taste and judgment in his music.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Jeri
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 12:02 PM

Chip, I find I have a lot to learn about Pete, so this thread is obviously doing what it's supposed to. Pete's virtuosity is also obviously overlooked if people only think of 'bum-titty' when they think of him. (Not ragging on anyone because I've been in the 'Pete=bum-titty' crowd myself.)

I'd heard other players and groups before Pete, but their music didn't grab my attention like his did. I didn't have a clue about playing then, and had no real idea how to appreciate skill. What I COULD appreciate was that he could do quite a few things well. I appreciated that he didn't care so much for 'flash' - he wanted to make the music sound good and he wanted other folks to love it. Still does. Anyway, it's probably because of the fact he didn't seem to care about being a virtuoso that people haven't seen him as one. It's something you have to listen for. You have to pay attention.

I can see a CD or two in my future...


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: JedMarum
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 11:02 AM

right on, Chip!


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: chip a
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 10:44 AM

Pete's playing is much more than the so called "Seeger style" of bum-ditty, bum-ditty with the hand suspended and the combination up picking and downward brushes. He can up pick in two and three finger styles and he can down pick in traditional styles as well. Listen to him play Coal Creek March if "lightning fast, hard as nails" banjo is your thing.
Virtuosity is defined as outstanding skill. I don't think virtuosity in a musician necessarily means a proliferation of flaming note runs or extreme technical ability. Technical skill is virtuosity of one kind and on an instrument, may or may not even be "musical".
I do think Pete is a virtuoso in the technical sense but where he shines is in the "musical" sense.
I feel the same about Earl. Just different styles from people with different backgrounds and different tastes.
The musician who can take a musical idea and turn it into sounds that convey that idea clearly to someone else is probably a virtuoso.
Just my two cents.
Chip


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: EBarnacle1
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 01:40 AM

"Pete had impact on many old folkies and that's why the Bluegrass movement took off in the North. I was around Washington Square in the early fifties and saw Pete promote Earl Scruggs in that community."

Pete's influence goes far beyond his virtuosity or its lack. Several times, when I was organizing festivals or concerts and I asked him for a showup, he demurred, suggesting one or another rising performer. Many of them became friends; I performed on several of their albums. While few of them have the stature that Pete has, many of them are still excellent performers who earm [almost] enough to live on.

Kendall, was that the concert in Orono where Gordon and Pete performed in 1969? I was in the audience that night. I wonder whether Gordon's career would have been as illustrious without Pete's quiet influence.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: GUEST,Martin Gibson
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 12:01 AM

Agree with most you said, Frank but excitement of who's picking and in what style is still reserved to individual taste.

Deckman, nice tap dance around your pomposity.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: JedMarum
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 08:47 PM

It seems obvious to me, virtuosity has no conection to market share - that ought to be especially obvious to the Mudcat crowd.

Of course I see the virtuosity of Scruggs - and respect his ability to win market share - but the discussion started out with comments on Pete's virtuosity. Nothing to take away from Scruggs or other masters -

Thanks Frank - for the historical context. I guess I am too young to remeber much of that from first hand experience - but my Mom always loved Pete Seeger - so I heard some of thos esongs growing up. I have tpo admit, when I thought of banjo as a kid, I always thought of Pete Seeger first - later, when the Beverly Hill Billies were on TV, I knew there was another kind of banjo - it looked different, and played like wildfire, always seemed to have some fast strumming guitar player and a manso player not too far away - wher Pete would skate on their on the song ice with just a banjo, and his head held high in song.

Didn't seem like the same instrument to me.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 08:20 PM

It always puzzles me why so often people seem to feel that admiring one person has to mean disparaging someone else, and admiring one style means despising another style.

Myself I'd always prefer to listen to Pete Seeger and musicians who've modelled their playing on him, but that's a matter of temperament more than anything.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: kendall
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 07:24 PM

I think it was Frank Profitt who said "I'd like to be able to play banjo like Earl Scruggs, then, not"


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Peter T.
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 07:02 PM

I wonder why Pete picked on the mbira to copy and not some of the ngongi music or kora music which are usually spoken of as the ancestor of the banjo. Still.

I have got to hear this album: mbira is unbelievably hard to play. What on earth were you using for time signatures, Frank?

yours,

Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Deckman
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 06:37 PM

Oh my GAWD ... my pomposity is showing. I just hate that when it happens! Frank, I'm really enjoying your input here. I think that one of the things that is happening is a speaking to the 'continum', or the sequence of events. And as you said so well, those that followed built on the skills, and teaching, of their predecessors. Bob


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Frankham
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 05:58 PM

Hi Peter,

Thanks for your interest. Nonesuch is the name of the recording by Folkways. It is Pete Seeger and I doing instrumental folk music.

Hi Rick,

Thanks for your kind words. I know that Pete learned it (Battle of New Orleans) directly from Jimmy. It probably didn't make it to the Johnny Horton version.

It would have to be "finger ring". Figurine is pretty good though. A nice mondegreen. :) "Where's that Mondegreen I gave you!"


Thanks so much for your nice comments about the album. It was pretty much a jam session. Only thing we sort of worked out was Meadowland and I don't think we played it the way we worked it out.

Martin, Pete had impact on many old folkies and that's why the Bluegrass movement took off in the North. I was around Washington Square in the early fifties and saw Pete promote Earl Scruggs in that community.

Actually, Scruggs got a lot of publicity but Don Reno was his equal in technique and in musicality. Reno never had the impact because during the crucial revival period, he was in the army.

You say,
" Earl Scruggs took the banjo to a whole new culture and will long be remembered as the true master."

The idea that Earl Scruggs will be remembered as a "true" master seems a bit pedantic to me. It seems that this is what is happening in the Bluegrass community these days. Bill MON-roe and Earl are lionized to the point of disregard as to where they may have picked up their artistry. The "true" masters have been consecutive, historically and one builds their technique on the shoulders of their antecedents.

Actually, bum-ditty has been the staple of many Appalachian style banjo pickers for years. It is being remembered right now with the artistry of clawhammer specialists who are as every bit as musical and exciting as bluegrass banjo pickers.

The Weavers may not have sold quite as many records as the KT but for their time, they might have sold proportionately the same. Remember that the music business was going through a down-turn in those days in general. The "crooners" were going out of business and the "rockers were just starting to come in. The Weavers popularized "On Top Of Old Smoky" and "Goodnight Irene" which in that time was as significant in terms of record sales as "Tom Dooley".

There is no one true master of the banjo. There was a time when Eddie Peabody was the crown prince of the banjo and many people knew him. He is still considered one of the "true masters" by the four-string banjo crowd. SAme goes for Perry Bechtel.

This isn't meant to denegrate Earl at all. He was one of the most consistent in his rhythm. If you slow his records down, his playing is metronomically precise on the beat. Not wobbly at all. He is sort of the innovator of the style but then there's Reno. BTW, the Stanleys were playing early on too. They were not marketed as well as Scruggs but they were and are wonderful.

History shows us that different banjo styles go through phases. Bluegrass is in now but some other style will eventually come along that changes the picture as did Fred Van Eps, Peabody, and others.
It may bet that people will be saying the same thing (True Master) about Fleck, Keith and others.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: JedMarum
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 05:42 PM

Got the Pete CD today and have been listening. I can see I'll be listening, and learnng s lot.

I see where Pete's virtuosity is, or was ... I suppose. I especially love Sally Ann - that may be where I start learning.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: GUEST,Martin Gibson
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 05:36 PM

Rick, you've twisted the discussion. Go back to where you started. You started it by saying Pete Seeger in his prime was the best. Now you're ripping Earl and Ralph as old men.   Earl Scruggs is an octogenerian and most have diminished skills at that stage, or at least a bad day. I think just to see him hold a banjo at this stage in his life is breathtaking. He just won a grammy award, and is on a cut on the new Marty Stuart album where he sounds just fine, and is on a new IMAX movie produced by Gary his son. Fact is, he is still quite visable and gets the respect he deserves for being so influential.

Where's Pete?


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: GUEST,Martin Gibson
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 05:23 PM

Deckman,

How typically pompous.

I see absolutely no lack of either. Your arguement is dated.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 05:21 PM

Well, you've made your point about the sheer numbers Martin, but don't forget that all those doddering ol' folkies were fresh-faced young 'would be socialists' when they first saw Pete at the early events in the early forties....ALSO.. there were THOUSANDS of banjos already out there abandoned from the first revival and ready for re-sale when Pete did his pied piper thing.

I'm of the opinion that although Earl directly sold banjos and his own instruction book, the REAL boom came in the seventies and then dipped off until Alison Krauss, and the Dixie Chicks turned it into a 'pop' thing.

BUT... I just thought of something, how many banjos do you think Ralph Stanley has sold through the "oh Brother' concerts?

I watched Ralph and Earl, two of my most revered heroes, on TV last year, and it was so sad I had to turn the set off. Why couldn't they just have interviews and clips from the fifties when they were white hot? Neither tuned their own instruments, and Earl's hand shook so badly he barely got through CRIPPLE CREEK(!!). They both looked very out of it. Earl played you are my flower but they gave him (GET THIS) some fucking el-cheapo Japanese Martin-copy that had obviously not been set up or even played. It was awful, and I wonder if anyone even noticed....just sat there dumbly and said duh, uh huh, yup that's Earl, that's great. Wanted to puke.

Yah, I care about details.

Cheers

Rick


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: PoppaGator
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 05:21 PM

Going back to the top and re-reading Rick's original post, one of the points he seemed to be making was that Pete's virtuosity, as well as his contribution to his instrument's populatiry, have both been largely under-appreciated.

The fact that larger numbers of listeners were first introduced to the banjo by other players does nothing to contradict that observation.

I've never been deeply involved with the banjo -- I bought one years ago and sold it within a year or less, recognizing that I had my hands full with one instrument, the guitar -- and I always regarded Pete Seeger primarily as a singer, scholar, and instigator, with no real appreciation of his skill and contribution as an instrumentalist. From now on I'll be listening much more closely, with a new perspective, thanks to this discussion.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Deckman
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 05:08 PM

While the trio reached more people in sheer numbers alone, as you say, numbers aren't the entire story. The words quality and integrity must also be considered. Bob


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: GUEST,Martin Gibson
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 05:00 PM

My educated guess is that the Weavers sold a fraction of what the Kingston Trio sold, as the trio were Capitol records second biggest act of all time, the Weavers were of the pre-baby boomer generation and their fans were dwarfed by the trio's fans in sheer numbers. More people heard Dave Guard and learned that Pete Seeger and the Weavers even existed because of those big Kingston Trio days. Just like Martin guitars was carried for years by the Trio, more people got turned on by the banjo and sought out people like Earl Scruggs because of the Kingston Trio, not Pete Seeger.

I am not saying that the Kingston trio were the greatest thing that ever happened and that a) no Weavers, no Kingston Trio, and b) no Pete Seeger, no Dave Guard, but the Kingston Trio touched much more people in sheer numbers alone, hence their more important influence in the popularity of the banjo.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: kendall
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 04:12 PM

Back in 1969 I had the pleasure of spending an evening with Pete Seeger and Gordon Bok. Pete gave me my first banjo lesson.
And, I first heard the Weavers when I was a teen ager,(hardly an old folkie) and they got me hooked on folk music. Buryl Ives got me interested, but the Weavers hooked me.


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