Message modified by board administrator March 10, 2011, 10:36 am
Hey BanjoDan - nice to hear from you!
I've seen pictures of Mike Kirkland with a Pete Seeger model, but I don't know if he ever actually played it or not. Coulda been a Vega promotion - or coulda been the fact that pretty much every banjo-totin' folk group of the day had to have a Pete Seeger model at one time or another. It just wasn't folk music if you couldn't bash the guy on your left with your tuning pegs! (Of course Nick Reynolds had a height advantage, standing only up to the arm-pits of both Guard and Stewart.)
I do know that the Brothers Four has employed quite a variety of instrumentation over the years. At one time, Dick Foley's main ax was ride cymbal played with brushes. Then he played Nick Reynolds-style tenor guitar for awhile. And for the most part I'm pretty sure that Mike mostly played a tenor or plectrum banjo tuned to guitar tuning.
When I joined the group we went through an experimental phase, sending Dick to the piano and electronic keyboard for a number of tunes. Tom Coe was our bass player during that period and he played Fender bass, not upright. John Paine stuck with his vintage "Green Fields" D-28, while I played all kinds of stuff. On one tour to Japan I remember carting along a pedal steel, 12-string, 6-string, banjo and mandolin. (What was I thinking???!!!)
To answer your specific questions:
"Did Mark ( and later you) attempt to duplicate Mike's tenor style or did you both immediately switch to a 5 string style?"
Mark Pearson and I both learned to play plectrum banjo in Spokane, Washington under the tutelage of plectrum banjo guru, Dutch Groshoff. It turns out that Mark and I were actually in Dutch's Banjo Band together at one time, although we didn't know each other too well, since we lived on opposite sides of town. I don't know how Mark learned to play 5-string, but Dutch rarely taught it and I wasn't interested in 5-string at age 10 anyway. Folk music came into my life a couple years later, and I pretty much taught myself some unconventional style of 5-string playing. I tried to copy stuff I heard on records (Shane was easy to duplicate, but that wasn't 5-string.)
As for imitating the Brothers Four's original arrangements, to be honest, I never listened in detail to the instrumentation on the original recordings until much later in life. Our main focus at the time was on vocals, which we did try to recreate based on the original arrangements. (Well that was easy, since I was the only non-original member.) But the instrumental part was just whatever came out pretty much. On banjo tunes, I mostly played 5-string, but both Mark and I have had a segment in the show where we get to show off our plectrum backgrounds with a medley of flashy flailing.
You asked: "What kind of banjo did you play with TBF?"
That's tough to remember. I know at various times I carried my Vega plectrum out with me. Oh yeah, and I had a great old Whyte Laydie open back that I had wired for sound. I liked that banjo - it was very simple and basic, but it had great action and it was easy and fun to play. I had a magnetic pick-up in it and it had a very interesting sound when amplified.
Then for awhile I owned a beautiful 1926 Vega Gryffon (sp?) Tub-a-fone 5-string (open back). It was inlaid with mother-of-pearl like my plectrum and it had a similar carved heal. I really hated to part with that one - it was a beauty. I also have a vague recollection of owning an Aida 5-string at one time, but I probably shouldn't have brought that up in the same paragraph with Vega banjos.
Next question: "It appears to me that you prefer Tenor over 5 string as your one man band exemplifies, and several YouTube videos show you on 4 string ( including one as a guest with TBF )."
I actually don't play much tenor banjo at all. I own one, but I've never really learned tenor tuning. I play plectrum style and yes, I do prefer playing plectrum to playing 5-string, I'd have to say. My self-taught 5-string style is pretty lame up against most any bluegrass picker, so I like to stick to the style that I really do know how to play. I play a few tunes with the 5-string in each show just to give people the impression that I can do both. But don't ask me to impress you with "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." My fingers just don't move that fast playing Scruggs.
Now, my one-man band is a whole 'nother story. The banjo I use for that act is a custom Deering 7-string (my own invention - see photo at http://www.bobhaworth.com/photo5.html.) The 7th string functions as a drone string, ala the 5th string on a regular banjo, however, it runs all the way down to the head stock. I had Rick Shubb extrude an extra-long 5th-string capo for me that extends from the nut clear up to the 15th fret. Normally I tune this banjo like a guitar, plus the 7th string, but I also have the capability (thanks to Rick Shubb's individual string mutes) to mute the 7th, 6th and 5th strings, giving me the option of a 4-string, 5-string, 6-string or 7-string banjo. It's quite cool!
I have a great story about the original proto-type(s) of this banjo, but I'll save that for the book.
You ask: "What did you play with The Kingston Trio on the three banjo tunes?"
With the Trio, I mostly switched with George and played his banjo. I only played banjo on "To Morrow", and "New York Gals". On occasion, when we'd play Nevada for like a week at a time, I'd bring my Vega plectrum along. That's when George and I started doing "Worried Man" with two banjos like the original recording. We had so much fun with that, that I finally bought a little travel banjo to carry on the plane. And that whole concept eventually grew into our 4-banjo extravaganza rendition in Cripple Creek on Father's Day, 2004. George (Deering long-neck), Bill (I forget what he played - a Fender, I think) and I played my plectrum. Then I also brought along my home-made bass banjo for Paul to play. He hated that!
"And finally, what are you preferred brands of Banjos?"
I think you can sense my bias for vintage Vegas. But Greg Deering builds a very fine instrument too, and in fact, he's now the owner of the Vega brand. But what's my current giggin' ax? An Aria 5-string with a Shubb 5th string capo and a Shubb 5th string mute, so I can play plectrum style on it too. Josh Fuller hates it. Matt Cartsonis likes it. I'd rather play a Vega, but I can't afford the one I want. Anyhow, musical instruments are simply tools of the trade. Most audiences can't discern a decent banjo from a cigar box one, and besides that, I don't take my best instruments on a gig for the most part. (Not to dis my Mossman guitar, but even though it sounds as good as my D-28, I only paid $400 for it, so I leave the Martin at home.)
Well, there ya go - hope that entertained and enlightened you a bit. I LOVE to talk banjos!