Ben Eldridge with Randy Barrett
The photographs in this book are outstanding, telling their own story that supports Eldridge's recollections all the way through.
Book: On Banjo: Recollections, Licks, and Solos
Author: Ben Eldridge with Randy Barrett
Publisher: Barcroft Books
Publisher Website: www.barcroftbooks.com
If you're a Bluegrass fan, or a fan of The Seldom Scene, or a banjoist, On Banjo: Recollections, Licks, and Solos needs to be not only on your dusty bookshelf but in your hands. I have always enjoyed the work of banjoist Ben Eldridge with the highly influential group The Seldom Scene. So many legends were formed in that band or passed through it that it might be easy to overlook its influence and impact on Bluegrass music, expanding it to new audiences with its unique sound.
Eldridge's stories and anecdotes about his long tenure with the band are a fascinating read. Not only Eldridge but the legendary likes of John Starling, Mike Auldridge, and my goodness, the powerhouse John Duffey, and others were established by this long-lived band, playing almost exclusively locally in the Washington, D.C., area. The luminaries who played with the band when they were nearby or merely turned out to hear them in person reads like a Who's Who of Country and Bluegrass: Linda Ronstadt, Emmy Lou Harris, John Prine, Leon Russell, Vince Gill, Steve Goodman, etc. Senators, Congressmen, and Supreme Court justices were in regular attendance at The Birchmere or The Red Fox venues where The Seldom Scene had regular weekly nights. Eldridge recounts Bluegrass radio deejay Katy Daley, saying that The Seldom Scene was “The gateway drug to Bluegrass.” That was true for thousands of now loyal Bluegrass fans.
The book is filled with tablature of Eldridge's banjo licks and tunes. The tab did not interest me very much since I've never used tab, but a lot of folks do. I expect this music, apparently tabbed out by Eldrige himself, gives you the real stuff, unlike some music tabbed by third parties.
The photographs in this book are outstanding, telling their own story that supports Eldridge's recollections all the way through. One Eldridge anecdote and one Eldridge quote should be forever ingrained into the collective Bluegrass memory.
Eldridge tells us more than once about John Duffey's fondness for Johnny Carson and the opening monologue on The Tonight Show, something Duffey refused to miss, apparently for any reason. One night, Bob Dylan, who was playing across town at Washington, D.C.'s Constitution Hall, called Birchmere owner Gary Oelze and asked if the band could delay their second set so he could come and hear them. Duffey, not interested in missing a single minute of Carson, declined to do so. Dylan didn't get to make the Birchmere scene that night, but Duffey got his daily Carson dose. Now THAT'S about as cool a thing as I have ever heard. I'd have delayed my second set for an hour, a day, a WEEK so Dylan could come, but not Duffey. He was, one might say, unimpressed.
And, to all you banjoists, this is about the greatest quote I've ever heard about one of the idiosyncrasies of banjo players, who seem unable to stop monkeying around with their banjos since banjos bolt together and they think that the mechanic work, which is not necessarily luthiery, is easy. Take this to heart, if you can:
If your banjo is sounding good to you, leave it alone.
That is nearly impossible for any banjoist, but something that time and experience teach all but the most hard-headed.
Eldridge's work with Jimmy Martin is not to be overlooked, particularly on Martin's recording of the great banjo instrumental, “Theme Time.” Eldridge was a known banjo entity to us all, but to get to know him a bit better through this auto-biograph was more than welcome. The biographical and historical recollections in On Banjo: Recollections, Licks, and Solos are superb; the tablature is a bonus. It may be the other way around for you, but either way, you win!
It was all refreshing to me. I enjoyed every word.
Mississippi Chris Sharp 09/21/23