Hooked on Bluegrass

Steve Hall

I got hooked on banjo before I got hooked on Bluegrass, before I really knew there was a Bluegrass. About 1968 or so I heard Earl Scruggs play Foggy Mountain Breakdown, and it stopped me in my tracks. I was immediately obsessed. I had to know how he was doing it. I had to know how he could get so many notes off so fast. So I ordered a banjo from Sears, I didn't know if I needed a 4 string or a 5 string, but I figured if I was going to play like Earl, I needed all the strings I could get. Eventually I managed to find a couple of Flatt & Scruggs records, Greatest Hits (debatable) and the Carnegie Hall record, which only had 10 or so cuts on it then.

Those 2 records were my first real introduction to the music, and I was just blown away by Lester's vocals, the harmony singing, how all the instruments fit together. I hit upon the idea of playing the records at 16 speed, so I could sort of hear what was going on, and taught myself to play from that. I found out later that that's how many of us learned. Things were so isolated then, there were no teachers or learning material readily available here.

What with lack of new material and not being around people to jam with, I kind of hit a wall and didn't play any banjo for a long time. Then by chance, I happened to get together with Ken Reynolds, who had enough faith in me to take me on as his banjo player. It was Ken that gave me my real introduction to Bluegrass beyond Flatt & Scuggs, and for that I will be forever grateful.

Then I hit another wall and didn't play anymore at all until about 3 years ago. Then I had to start over again. Thanks to new technology, I didn't have to slow the records down this time. But my motto is still "Lester sang it, Earl picked it, and that settles it."

(posted 3/23/2008)

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