Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Life With The Banjo

Back in 1978, before I started playing professionally, I decided to learn to play the 5 string banjo.  I sent away for one through a friend of a friend, it was a Gold Star, paid $900 for it.  I guess it was maybe a year later when... it got stolen.  So, sent away for another one - same guy, same banjo, but this one was $50 more - it was ok, I was happy with it.  Well, about a month or so later, I got the old one back - found it in a pawn shop - had to buy it back for $100, but again, it was ok.  Sold the new one, so I was back where I started.  I took a couple of lessons, just to get the basics, then kinda figured the rest out on my own.  Speed and clarity seemed to come easy, and I played it every night with my band - about 3 or 4 times a night, 7 nights a week.  In about 92, I started playing Hawaiian music, there was no need for the banjo, so it stayed in its case for years.  Backtracking a little, the thing kept getting the headstock snapped - first a girl came on the stage and got her foot caught in the strap - brought it down on its face, and caarraaack - and that was only the beginning - I would get it repaired, then anywhere from a week to a few months later, something would happen and it would snap again.  Took it to Nashville with me in 91, baggage handlers broke that and everything else I had on that plane.  Had it shipped to England through the military - same - broke that and everything else I had shipped there.  All in all, the thing got broken a good twenty times or so.  I finally decided to sell it after getting it repaired that last time - I usually don't believe in jinxes and other cosmic stuff like that, but damn.  Anyway, I got on the internet and looked around for a banjo.  After months of looking at all the stupidly expensive Gibsons, Stellings, and Deerings, and a few others, and being bored with all of them, I finally found a Wildwood - this was in 2002.  It was beautiful, with all that figured maple, beautiful inlay, and the guy who was dealing in them swore by 'em - he even had a video of him playing one, and I thought it sounded great.  I ordered one, $1600, including the 5th string capo, a nice strap, and a nice hardshell case.  It looked, played, and sounded every bit as good as I thought it would, if not better.  The dealer said three weeks, ended up taking three months, but it finally arrived, and wouldn't you know it, the damn headstock had been snapped - in the exact same place as my Gold Star - couldn't believe my eyes.  I tried contacting the dealer, who put me off for about six months. At that point, I repaired it myself, and amazingly, it has held up.  I guess it might have something to do with the fact that I wasn't taking it to live shows anymore, and wasn't playing it much at home either - in fact, I hardly played it at all.  Well, about two years ago, after not playing a banjo (except for occasionally playing with it for a few minutes at a time) for about 20 years, I decided to try to sharpen up my banjo playing, so I started to spend some time with it.  I noticed that my playing was very sloppy, and my speed was completely gone.  After a few months, I got up to a fair speed, but was still sloppy, even after hours and hours and hours for months - it didn't take me near that long when I first started playing back in 79.  I've spend countless hours with it over the past two years, and over the past few months, my playing has gotten worse, not better.  It's to the point where I can't even call me a banjo player.  I managed to make a video of me playing it about a year ago, my playing was almost ok at that time, but today, I can't even get close to what I did even then.  I'm sure it's some kind of mental block - seems I have a few of those these days.  I finally decided to give it a rest, try to get my head together before I pick the thing up again.  I continue with my recording projects, but no banjo.  Just in case anybody might want to see my little video, it's here:

I wonder if my banjo misses me.

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