Hooked on Bluegrass

Allan French

When I first started listening to music on my own personal radio, my parents let me try different stations and different genres. Exactly why I gravitated toward country-western and folk music rather than the other styles, I'm not sure. Around the same time, in 4th grade in the mid 1970s, I had a teacher who played folk music on the classroom phonograph. I developed a taste for Pete Seeger, Woody and Arlo Guthrie, and Peter Paul and Mary. Somewhere along the way I got exposed to Johnny Cash -- and he became the first musician I ever saw perform live (excluding a few symphony orchestras I was forced to attend, but those don't count).

I read the Johnny Cash souvenir program from cover to cover, and thus I learned about the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. I soon learned about Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, and the Grand Ol Opry, too. Among the first LPs I bought as a kid was a two-disc collection called "Banjo Bonanza." One either likes it or loathes it; and I was fascinated with the sound of Scruggs' banjo. By this time I was HOOKED on roots music. In time, peers at school widened my musical tastes, but to this day, country-western, folk music, and related genres, are among my favorites.

I heard about the CBA Father's Day Festival from "The California Report" on public radio in June 2005. As a kid I loved attending summer camp and singing around a campfire. I thought it would be great fun to go camping and hear folk music played day-and-night. (The report included interviews with teenaged Annie Staninec and preteen Scott Gates; their assertion that this was "so cool" influenced my decision to visit.) I visited for a day in 2006 to check it out, and I joined the CBA right then.

I first attended the Good Old-Fashioned Festival in 2007. There I met Mark Varner and complimented him on the "Bluegrass Breakdown," which I had been reading diligently every month. A year later he asked me to write a column for the paper and I agreed. (As of mid-2012, I'm still doing it; please check it out.) I also met Frank Solivan Sr. He encouraged me to try out the instrument that I most enjoyed hearing -- the banjo. I've had hand/arm deformities since birth. Frank told me there are a number of excellent strings players with missing or damaged fingers, including Jerry Garcia, Django Reinhardt, Barry Abernathy, and Charlie Poole.

I played the French horn for a short time while in grade school, but I had not done anything musical since then. Now in my forties, I am learning to play banjo despite the challenges of age and disability. I am progressing slowly but I am enjoying it immensely.

A while back I was given a mountain dulcimer by my well-meaning father, who knew it would be easier to play than a heavy, loud, obnoxious resonator banjo. I really wasn't interested in the dulcimer initially, but I plunked on it once in a while. Over time, I came to enjoy it as my "change of pace" instrument. The dulcimer plays "second fiddle" to the banjo, but I am very happy to have become HOOKED on both ... and Hooked On Bluegrass.

(posted 7/22/2012)

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