Hooked on Bluegrass

Dan "BanjerDan" Mazer

My brother got a banjo for his 13th birthday, in December 1973. "Dueling Banjos" was a radio hit, and Josh had been bugging my parents for a banjo through the summer and fall. Along with the banjo came three LPs: the "Deliverance" soundtrack album, "The Fabulous Sound of Flatt & Scruggs," and "Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits."

At some point during the following year, Josh was practicing the banjo, and a group of neighborhood kids had gathered to check it out. Among that group were girls, and a switch was tripped in my 14 year-old brain! Soon I was "borrowing" the banjo, splitting lessons, and out-practicing Josh, who moved on to the guitar. Armed with Earl Scruggs' book, the great music on WAMU and a couple of records, I became a bluegrass fanatic, with a special emphasis on Scruggs-style banjo playing!

For my 15th birthday the next October, my parents took me to the Sir Walter Raleigh Inn in Bethesda, MD. I told the hostess I was a beginning banjo player, and she sat us next to Ben Eldridge, who was having a meal before the Seldom Scene's regular gig at the Red Fox Inn, just a few blocks away. Ben invited us to the show, and a week later, I heard Seldom Scene for the first time. Between Ben's banjo and Mike Auldridge's dobro, I was hooked! The Seldom Scene became my favorite band of all time (followed closely by Eddie & Martha Adcock, the Country Gentlemen, and later, New Grass Revival).

Soon enough I came to understand that heart of bluegrass isn't the hot picking, but in the songs and vocal harmonies. Now I feel influenced as much or more by John Duffey (for his daring emcee work as well as his incredible voice) as by Ben Eldridge, or anyone else!

(posted 4/3/2006)

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