I have not always loved the banjo. To be honest, I didn’t always know it was there or that it was even an option. Shunned from country radio stations for its twang (a quality once embraced) and rejected from other genres because it was simply irrelevant, how could I have known? A beautiful, versatile sound can come from strings plucked over a pot held together by metal hoops and nuts?
The first time I remember hearing a banjo was on a track off Miss Tess’s album, Darling, Oh, Darling. Miss Tess’s instrumentation is unique in all of her songs, but "Awake” is a musical force unlike any other. Banjo and clarinet. And a couple other things, but primarily banjo and clarinet. The song is like an eerie lullaby — one that doesn’t let you sleep — with a lilting lick in the banjo that leads you through the song. It’s intoxicating. It’s haunting. It got me hooked, and I didn’t even know it yet. A couple more years of finding more folk bands using banjos, and taking a music history course on country music, only added to my appreciation of the instrument.
When I had the opportunity to purchase a banjo at a friend’s yard sale, I ignored the rusted tension hoop and the strange green discoloration of the tailpiece. I convinced myself that it didn’t matter if I had no clue what I was getting myself into with repair costs because it was a BANJO for the small amount of money I had in my wallet, and I’m graduating, damn it. Stress of a decade forced into four years of school, and I probably won’t get my diploma for another five months, so I might as well buy a banjo RIGHT NOW.
So I bought a banjo. And it’s beautiful.
Okay, so it’s still kind of dirty. But apparently that’s a desirable thing. It's old. It has a history. It has a soul.
I was afraid I would get tetanus removing the old, rusted strings, and once I put on the new ones, I realized I put them on in the wrong order because I’ve never looked at a banjo before. But I fixed it. And it’s beautiful. And it’s the start of a beautiful friendship.
More banjo interactions to follow. Possibly a recording of "Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” on banjo.