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Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity

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Mark Clark 14 Jul 03 - 04:00 PM
GUEST,Martin Gibson 14 Jul 03 - 02:38 PM
Rick Fielding 14 Jul 03 - 02:18 PM
Peter T. 14 Jul 03 - 02:10 PM
Frankham 14 Jul 03 - 01:29 PM
JedMarum 14 Jul 03 - 01:19 PM
Jeri 13 Jul 03 - 02:55 PM
Dani 12 Jul 03 - 09:38 PM
Deckman 12 Jul 03 - 04:47 PM
EBarnacle1 12 Jul 03 - 04:17 PM
Rick Fielding 12 Jul 03 - 03:36 PM
GUEST,sorefingers 12 Jul 03 - 01:11 PM
JenEllen 12 Jul 03 - 01:06 PM
Peter T. 12 Jul 03 - 11:27 AM
Rick Fielding 12 Jul 03 - 11:05 AM
Steve Latimer 12 Jul 03 - 11:02 AM
Frankham 11 Jul 03 - 07:38 PM
Rick Fielding 11 Jul 03 - 05:44 PM
John Hindsill 11 Jul 03 - 04:59 PM
Peter T. 11 Jul 03 - 03:29 PM
Lane 11 Jul 03 - 02:12 PM
fretless 11 Jul 03 - 01:10 PM
Deckman 11 Jul 03 - 12:50 PM
DADGBE 11 Jul 03 - 12:43 PM
fretless 11 Jul 03 - 12:36 PM
Deckman 11 Jul 03 - 12:23 PM
M.Ted 11 Jul 03 - 11:53 AM
Mark Clark 11 Jul 03 - 11:29 AM
JedMarum 11 Jul 03 - 11:23 AM
banjoman 11 Jul 03 - 11:06 AM
GUEST,Martin Gibson 11 Jul 03 - 10:25 AM
Deckman 11 Jul 03 - 10:13 AM
Rick Fielding 11 Jul 03 - 10:02 AM
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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Mark Clark
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 04:00 PM

I don't mean to diminish Dave Guard's significant influence but as I recall, Pete was selling millions of records with The Weavers before Dave Guard could even spell banjo. Today, I think of the banjo primarily as a bluegrass instrument but if it hadn't been for Pete and the people he influenced, I'd never have gotten far enough out of my city kid mode to even hear a five-string banjo.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: GUEST,Martin Gibson
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 02:38 PM

As banjo players go, Pete Seeger had impact, but mostly on old folkies. Earl Scruggs took the banjo to a whole new culture and will long be remembered as the true master.

Three finger picking Scruggs style will long be played and remembered than bum-diddy.

I am not discounting Seeger's playing or his ability. If anything, Dave Guard probably exposed more people to folk banjo playing and had greater impact than Seeger. It was his playing on those old Kingston albums that made people take notice of the banjo. Seeger never sold millions of records like they did.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 02:18 PM

And a wonderful tune it is Frank. Where'd ya get the "Dirty ragged pants" verse from? NOBODY sings it. Did Jimy sing it? Did you get a lyric sheet or learn it from the horse's mouth?

Final question. For 40 years I was never sure if you (my album copy came from a used store and the notes were gone) sang "Figurine" or the more rural sounding "Finger ring" on "My Home's Across the Smokey Mtns."

Boy that's one damn fine album, and I'll bet there were very few re-takes!

Thanks

Rick


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Peter T.
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 02:10 PM

Thanks Frank, that is amazing! What on earth is the album called, I would love to hear it (is Nonesuch the name, or is that the record company label?). Who is "our" at that point? yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Frankham
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 01:29 PM

Hi Peter T.

Pete did extensive "African roots" searching. On our our "Nonesuch" album for Folkways we did a Pete transcription of a tune from the Ituri forest Pygmys. It was done on Mbiras and Pete transcribed it for two banjos.


Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: JedMarum
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 01:19 PM

... so I ordered Pete's "American Favourite Ballads Vol 2."


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Jeri
Date: 13 Jul 03 - 02:55 PM

Dani, there's a tape that goes with the book. I don't know if it would be of help, but at least you can hear what the stuff in the book's supposed to sound like.

Another good thing (maybe) that came out of this thread: I got my banjo out and put new strings on it. Now, I shall go through Pete's book with it. One thing about Pete: he not only is a wonderful player, but he's also great at explaining how to play. Teaching ability is, I think, a much rarer skill, but one mostly unvalued by those who aren't trying to learn.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Dani
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 09:38 PM

I have "How to play 5 string banjo" and will be happy to share with anyone who wants. I've accepted that I won't learn from a book, much as I'd like to.

Pete inspired me to so many things, but especially he has made me LOVE the banjo. I acquired and had rebuilt a beautiful old heirloom ('nother story) but have not learned to play (though I've tried your excellent tips, Rick) because I need someone with me to help and encourage, and in these parts the only banjos ringing are playing old-time, and only that. I've told several people who offered to teach me that I want to play "the way Pete can play". Did that blow it for me?! They ran scared!

Dani


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Deckman
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 04:47 PM

Rick ... I'm not at all surprised that you've received 20 solid posters here. Why not: you've got a solid subject involving an ICON, and the person that started this thread is also an ICON. CHEERS, Bob


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: EBarnacle1
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 04:17 PM

If you would like to hear Pete playing Pete. He participates in Stone Soup's new album, River of Life. David Bernz (1/3 of the group) was brought up around him and, when they play together, it sounds like Pete playing a duet with himself.

After listening to this album, I told David that I would have actually paid for it. It's that good.

I tried to make a clicky for their web site but when I tested it, I got the infamous "This page cannot be displayed." It may be that the link is under construction, so try http://stonesoupfolk.com/. Perhaps it will work for you.
The link seemed to work fine, so I blickified it. --JoeClone


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 03:36 PM

Huh?


Pete broght Mwanga Jean Bosco to our attention, and certainly don't forget "Here's to the Couple" from the Political folksinger Josef Marais.

It just occured to me that this actual MUSICAL thread has gotten over twenty responses!

Rick


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: GUEST,sorefingers
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 01:11 PM

The lame praising the dead!


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: JenEllen
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 01:06 PM

Searching for what, exactly?
I seem to recall he spent a lot of time and money working with and supporting the Xhosa Organization in SA, and also recall he took part in a PBS musicology series --wonderful thing-- playing African instruments (even tried Tuvan throat singing, but that's another continent entirely). And didn't he also write Abiyoyo? I think the white boy is sufficiently sure of his roots.

Thanks for the information, everyone, this has been a fascinating read.
~JE


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Peter T.
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 11:27 AM

Anyone know if Pete ever did any "African roots" searching? (NOT WIMOWEH). It seems like the sort of thing he would do. I have been reading some of what one critic calls "the big books of claims" about the links between Malian/Senegalese ngongi instruments and griot singers, and the banjo (Samuel Charters, Eric Charry, Banning Eyre), and while it is all murky, it does seem like the sort of thing Pete might have an interest in.

yours,

Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 11:05 AM

Thanks to Frank for filling in a lot of the other players surrounding the epicenture. A great transitional player was Bill Keith who transcribed Scruggs Playing in the sixties, A LOT of Northerners got the style from that. This incredible book almost didn't happen.....Louise's lawyers had to settle a lawsuit on the courthouse steps, rewarding Keith for all the work he'd put into it! Glad they did!

Rick


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Steve Latimer
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 11:02 AM

I hadn't heard much Pete Seeger and what I had heard relly didn't do much for me. It was mostly the "Where Have All The Flowers Gone" type of stuff. But one day I was listening to the Folk show on CJRT and they played Pete doing a live version of East Virginia Blues. I thought it was magnificent. I still haven't heard much more Seeger, I am more of a Bluegrass fan and most of my listening is Earl or Ralph Stanley.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Frankham
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 07:38 PM

Hi y'all.

What needs to be mentioned here is that Pete Seeger introduced the Scruggs style to a lot of city kids when they didn't know about Scruggs. Kids like Roger Sprung, Erik Darling, Dave Guard and others. Tom Paley introduced Hobart Smith to New Yorker folkies but Pete showed us city kids about Scruggs.

My friend Erik Darling and I concluded that no one is able to do the basic Pete Seeger strum as well as Pete himself which consists of a lead with the index finger up picking and a brush down with the middle and ring fingers. He makes it dance and come alive. Pete also introduced something that no five-string banjo player had done before him. That is, counter lines in the accompaniment of a song that represented bass lines in counterpoint to the melody. The old timers always picked the melody tune they were singing. His accompaniments were so innovative that they spawned a raft of similar banjo pickers such as Dave Guard,Bob Gibson,Bill Faer so and many others. He also developed the "whamming" style of banjo playing which was suitable for song leading.

Pete used to play with finger picks and he created an exciting banjo sound that audiences responded to with contagion. He could really rev a crowd up with that. He certainly did in the early days of the Henry Wallace campaign in which he and the Almanacs put so-called "protest" music on the map.

Scruggs turned the banjo into a virtuoso solo instrument but Pete was the first master of song accompaniment. Three influences would be the first banjo player he ever heard, Aunt Semantha Baumgartner at the Ashville Folk Festival, Bascom Lamarr Lunsford who was the entrepenuer of the Ashville Folk Festival and another banjo player and retired coal miner from Hamilton, Ohio by the name of Pete Steele who played banjo up-picking style like Pete. His sister Peggy picked up Pete's style as well and could play beautiful five-string accompaniments to songs. Pete and his half-sister brought a level of musicianship to the banjo which it didn't have before. This banjo sound spawned the sounds of all those folk groups from the Revival from Limelighters, Kingston Trio, Highwaymen etc. etc.

Scruggs may have influenced a lot of pickers from the South but Pete did it in the North. Actually Earl was one of the main known influences but Don Reno deserves an equal footing with Scruggs but because he was in the army he didn't get the same publicity.

Earl is still fabulous though and what a nice guy!

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 05:44 PM

Thanks for the feedback.

Hmmmmm Earl Scruggs and Pete eh, Martin Gibson? I'd have to differ with you on that. Pete started playing College concerts in the forties and continued right up til a very few years ago. I don't think Louise Scruggs booked the band into Vanterbilt til wayy into the sixties. I'd have to think that Pete influenced ten or twenty times as many players as Earl did. Earl is the most exciting player I ever heard and I was lucky enough to see him (in Montreal) just before the band broke up. Many serious players had written him off by then because of his personal problems (terrible wreck) and some timing problems, but I was in Heaven. I had to put up with the Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat junction shit but Lester had simply refused to sing the Dylan songs that Louise was trying to force him to do cause they were "folky".

Also the styles and instruments are soooo different. A Granada and a Tubaphone with a long neck couldn't be more dis-similar. It would be like adding the lightning fast brilliance of Harry Reser on his Orpheum Plectrum. They were ALL the best in their styles.

Pete learned to play after hearing Bascom Lunsford in 1939. Prior to that he played pop songs on a tenor.

My fave Seeger 'accompaniement'? "Come all ye fair and tender ladies". One take.....some mistakes...wonderful.

Have to agree with Fretless. He always used two picks and a ring finger 'frailer' pick.

"The Bitter and the Sweet". Played that a thousand times. Mike is NOT a better player....he's a different player...but damn good!

Jed Marum has a very unusual style of playing....works great.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: John Hindsill
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 04:59 PM

While review my posting to the 100 Best Folk Blues Album which was resurrected here earlier this week, I noticed that my favorite (of 10 listed) was The Goofing Off Suite.

On one of his albums, perhaps the Bitter & the Sweet, Seeger credits his brother, Mike, as being the better banjoist. Well, maybe.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Peter T.
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 03:29 PM

Does anyone know why/how he started on banjo? (I am sure it is in his autobiography, but I don't have a copy). yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Lane
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 02:12 PM

Thanks for making me think back to Pete, Rick. My hero, as well. I've seen him a few times and met him once...what a fine man and musician.   I tried to learn his frailing style from the "How to Play the 5 String Banjo" years ago and failed - wish I still hand the book, and a banjo! His 12 string work was good too.. I just heard Kotke do his "Living in the Country" the other day.... I'd like to learn that one.

Cant tell you much about Pete's banjo - except what is always written on the head, as of course you know: "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender"   And so it does.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: fretless
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 01:10 PM

Regarding Pete's use of finger picks, there's a section in his How to Play the 5 String Banjo that implies (or perhaps says outright -- the book is at home and I'm currently not) that he used them for the index, middle, and ring fingers on his right hand. Nothing on the thumb or pinkie fingers, though.

He used a variant of traditional frailing as well as the up-pick bum-diddy, but when he frailed he used the back of the nail on his middle finger rather than the index finger.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Deckman
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 12:50 PM

As I recall, his "bum diddy" strum has been called "Mountain Picking." I remember that, early on, Bob Gibson got this down solid and used it as his basic song accompaniment. Bob


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: DADGBE
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 12:43 PM

He developed his 'bum-diddy' sound without resorting to the usual frailing style. His right hand movement is an up stroke with the index finger then an index finger downward stroke on the back of the nail followed by a thumb stroke.

I've never seen him use fingerpicks or found anyone who could adapt Seeger style to work with picks.

On "The Goofing Off Suite" he sometimes used a three finger technique closer to his guitar style.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: fretless
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 12:36 PM

Rick is right. Pete was a superb banjo player in his prime, although I've always preferred his Darlin'Corey to the Goofing Off Suite. Fortunately, we no longer have to chose between the two since they have been reissued by Smithsonian Folkways as a combined CD: http://www.folkways.si.edu/40018.htm. As to Pete vs. Earl, that's an apples and oranges sort of comparison that speaks more to the variability of the banjo (yeah, yeah...we know the joke: the full range from a to b) than it does of the comparable influence of these two musicians.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Deckman
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 12:23 PM

I'll tell a very funny story (to me anyway) about Pete's banjo. I met him about 57. During his stay here, he told me try his banjo on. And "try it on" was the perfect phrase, as it was enormouse and very heavy. And with that extended neck, all I could do was laugh and say how foolish I felt. My arms were spread so far apart I felt like a scarecrow. And true to his gentle nature, he was very encouraging. After he left, I did get a small banjo, but I've never felt competent with it! CHEERS, Bob


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: M.Ted
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 11:53 AM

Back during the 50's and 60's, the prevailing technique for   banjo pickers was "Seeger" style(but mostly for accompanying)--early on,many of the "Hootenanny" generation of banjo pickers hadn't even heard of Earl, and later on a lot of the "protest" generation associated him with the "Beverly Hillbillies"--Tastes changed--and now "Scruggs style" is the only banjo picking that a lot of people have heard--


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Mark Clark
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 11:29 AM

Couldn't agree more. I used to wear out the grooves on those same records. It was just unbelievable. And I think Pete's adding those three frets at the headstock was at least as innovative as Scruggs' invention of the "D" tuners. The extra frets made it much easier to play in B, E and F.

Being a city kid in a family where country and hillbilly music wasn't highly regarded, I heard Pete's banjo playing long before I ever heard Earl's. Pete was my ideal of the way a banjo should be approached. It took many years of exposure to learn to value Scruggs style as highly.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: JedMarum
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 11:23 AM

RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity? I've never heard much of Pete... I guess I'll need to correct that. I've always liked Pete and what I have heard of his music, but I've listened only from "afar." As a "would be" banjo player myself, I really need to correct that, don't I?

I've said before on Mudcat, what a surprise it is to me, a guitarplayer - to learn about the banjo. It is a beautiful instrument - with some damnable shortcomings, but it is capabale of some amazing subtleties ... listening to Chris Coole and Arnie Namenson carefully, as I have - and other banjo greats in passing - I've really begun to understand what a wonderful instrument it is.

I've only cracked the surface, as a player - but am enjoying it immensely! I'll find Pete Seeger's American Favourite ballads Vol 2, as you mention, Rick - and listen with care. Thanks for the comments.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: banjoman
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 11:06 AM

Agreed - probably one of the best although his method, according to Pete, was something you either got in five minutes or twenty years.
Difficult to analyse individual playing styles as I've come across so many. If you try to slow them down or pick them apart, you lose the style anyway.
Once met Pete at a fog bound airport (early sixties) entertaining the delayed passengers - but thats another story.
Keep picking


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: GUEST,Martin Gibson
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 10:25 AM

From '49 to '59 this guy was simply the best?

I think Earl Scruggs was in his prime also and influenced way more players.


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Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Deckman
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 10:13 AM

Rick ... His "Goofing Off Suite" is simply superb. It's Pete at his best. I'm going to PM you about it. CHEERS, Bob


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Subject: Pete Seeger's Banjo virtuosity
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 10:02 AM

I've been playing "pete Seeger's American Favourite ballads Vol 2" (from Smithonian Folkways) lately and I'm one again struck by how well he plays the banjo. These cuts are from the fifties when he was still at the top of his game and I'm wondering has anyone else done any deconstruction on his style?

Naturally his political situation (and songs) have taken almost all the notice away from his picking skills, but boy, even though he insisted on only one take per song, the sublty, taste and occasional flash just to keep your eyebrow's raised are there.

His accompaniement to "House of the Rising Sun" is superb (although a friend of mine...supposedly musical... said "That's pretty awful isn't it? (!!)

His even earlier album "Goofing Off Suite" (from perhaps 1952) was simply stunning (remember the two part Beethoven?) and in sheer skill rivaled anything anyone else has done since.......but I guess when your America's favourite Commie Subversive folksinger nobody notices a finger busting three minute tremolo.

I saw him first in the mid sixties and he'd already started to lose the subtleties but boy, from '49 to 59' this guy was simply the best.

Like many others I idolize Pete, he's my all-time hero, but does anyone wanna talk about the nuts and bolts of his style?

Cheers

Rick


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