CLAWHAMMER BANJO: TUNES, TIPS & JAMMING—BY WAYNE ERBSEN—Native Ground, No Number. Spiralbound, 120 pp., two CDs and mp3, $24.95. (Native Ground Books & Music, 109 Bell Rd., Asheville, NC 28805, www.nativeground.com.)
There is an awful lot to love about this book. If you’ve ever used one of Erbsen’s books, this one is a must have. He digs deeply into the real repertory of old-time music and teaches ways to really get into the music. The songs included read like a greatest hits of old-time and include Ola Belle Reed’s “I’ve Endured,” and the classics “Raleigh And Spencer,” “Old Plank Road,” “Rock The Cradle Lucy,” “Lazy John,” “Boll Weevil,” and many more.
Keeping with his high standards, the book is full of great photographs of old-time musicians that decorate the pages loaded with tips on playing banjo and suggestions and tips for catching tunes on the fly. He also covers aspects of jamming and the dos and don’ts, along with faking it or the art of making it sound like you know what you’re doing when, perhaps, you really don’t. In this volume, he includes the theory necessary to make intelligent decisions regarding faking it and learning on the fly. With a relatively limited knowledge of scales and chords, one can imagine what they’re hearing and learn to hear with their eyes while watching and see with their ears while listening to others.
The introduction does sound a bit like he’s talking to old folks, so if you aren’t old, don’t take it too seriously. There are several banjo jokes spread throughout the book, but one must only realize they aren’t really jokes, they are all true. There are five banjo tunings covered in this book in the course of forty songs and tunes. While they are not transcriptions of how the old-timer may have played the piece, it is a recipe that captures the essence of the piece. Advanced banjo players are really not the audience for this book, but there are some gems they would find interesting in this volume.
If you’re playing clawhammer banjo or want to play clawhammer banjo, there’s a lot of very useful information here. This is one of the finest books from Wayne Erbsen so far.RCB