Herewith, the introductory post I made to BANJO-L, 27 June, 1996:
(with some very minor editing)

OK, as a new subscriber, I hereby submit my introductory post: I started playing guitar in 1958 when I received a Silvertone (Sears) flat-top as a present, but had no real direction or sense of just what it was that I had hoped to do. I did find someone who showed me how to tune it, and I figured out that some strings played together sounded better than others.

A year or so later, I met a kid who knew some of these note combinations, and who pointed out to me that a) they were called chords, b) they had names, and c) one could purchase books showing these things!

At about this time, I decided that I was going to be the Kingston Trio, and formed a 4-person group (math was never my strong suit) with my high school buddies in which we emulated the K3, the Limelighters, and the Weavers. I decided that the banjo playing of Dave GUARD (of the K3) sounded really cool, so I asked for--and received a 5-string banjo for Christmas in 1961.

This was a top-of-the-line Harmony Roy SMECK model, complete with ebonized fingerboard and bakelite drum. After thumping along on this for a few months I found Pete SEEGER'S "How to Play the 5-String Banjo" book, and off I went trying to be Pete SEEGER (can you say "basic strum?").

There came a night when I heard the Greenbriar boys playing at the 2nd Fret coffee house in Philadelphia, and I vowed then and there to learn to play bluegrass.

Off I went to Rutgers University, with the goal of learning how to play SCRUGGS style. This I accomplished at the expense of going to classes, taking exams, etc., so I was promptly heaved out of RU after one year.

I started playing the local coffee house circuit, both with my own group, the Swannanoa Grovemont Roadrunners, and with various pickup bands. To pay the bills, I had a job as a carpenter.

One day in 1964, I was rained out of work, and I stopped in a local music store to buy some strings. I had been teaching guitar and banjo to friends of friends for a couple of years by this time, and I casually inquired of the sales droid if the store might be interested in hiring me as a "folk" guitar and banjo teacher. He advised me to hang around and to ask the owner when he came back from wherever he was at the time.

He did, and I had, and much to my surprise, he hired me. I began teaching a couple of nights a week, and soon filled my schedule. I then quit the carpenting job, and taught every night and all day Saturday. I soon had more students than any teacher of any instrument had ever had there.

One of those early students was--as he has already told you--your friendly neighborhood BANJO-L list owner, Sean BARRY. I was thrilled to find a post of his on alt.banjo, and he and I have been sharing stories of the intervening 30-odd years. I hope to see him on one of my trips west, but I suspect he'll no longer look like the 15-year old kid who was taking lessons from me! I continued to play coffee house jobs, but the other SGRR had not flunked out and, subsequently, had real lives, so we gradually drifted apart as a group, and the one thing I've never been is a solo act.

After teaching for seven years I had finally gotten myself through undergraduate school, and set off to grad school and my first love: entomology. After having made my living with an instrument for what seemed then to have been forever, I slid the cases under the bed, and was musically inactive from 1971-1976, while in pursuit of my Ph.D.

Upon taking a faculty position at Cornell University, I met a bunch of grad students who made music, and was asked to join their band. In my first day with the band, I met another new member, a guitar-, bass-, and banjo-playing singess named Kathy. She became my wife. During my time with this band (Press on Regardless), I played less and less bluegrass style, and more and more clawhammer. Nowadays, I play virtually no 3-finger stuff.

When I took a job in the agricultural chemical industry in 1982, I moved and became relatively musically inactive again, although much less so than before, having married a musician 8-).

A move to France in 1989 led to our meeting a man who is a wonderful blues guitarist ( Please see comments below), and he rekindled our desire to play publicly, so Kathy and I began to do concerts, etc. in France. A move back to the States brought a flurry of local playing here in the Raleigh, NC area, but we are both busy enough with jobs, travel, etc., that we never tried to hook up with a band. We played together often for our own pleasure and entertainment, though.

Influences? Pete SEEGER got me started. SCRUGGS, Bill KEITH, and Bob YELLIN formed the basis for my 3-finger style. I met a man named Dove MENKES who showed me clawhammer and got me going there. Later, from time to time, I played with--and stole from--Howie "Triplet" BURSEN in Ithaca. I know this is a banjo list, but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the influences of Mississippi John HURT and Doc WATSON on my guitar playing back in the late '60s.

For the record, I play a 1908-9 Fairbanks and my 1964 Ode. I have a bunch of other banjos, including my Great Grandfather's S.S. Stewart, and I play a 1965 D35 or my 1991 L'Arrivee cut-away. I also have a bunch of other guitars, too, as well as a couple of mandolins, a bass, hammered dulcimer, etc., etc.

So, I'll lurk about here for a while (OK, so I lied about that. dz Dec. 97), see what's going on, and continue to enjoy playing old-timey banjo in my living room.


My reference in the above post to the "wonderful blues guitarist" I met in France was to Jean CLAVERIE, who is the most gifted artist and musician it has been my pleasure to meet. He and his wife, Michelle NIKLY, are primarily authors and illustrators of books for children, but are also teachers, translators, gourmet cooks, and the very best friends I could ever ask for. dbz 19 April 1998