Weird but true: After my experience last week with simulated gut strings, I ordered a banjo set, figuring I’d restring my beautiful Deering with “nylgut” for an old-timey pre-bluegrass sound. But as soon as I tuned up, BANG! The head ripped in two.
I went upstairs and told my wife, “That’s weird — I’ve had that head on there for more than 20 years,” and she said, “That’s really weird — Earl Scruggs just died. Your banjo must be in mourning.”
Maybe. Or maybe Earl was just saying, “Don’t turn your back on bluegrass too fast, now, son.”
I’m not much of a player, though I’ve used the instrument a lot on Tom Waits records. I bring the Deering to sessions, but he always says, “Why don’t you play one of mine?” He has a couple of beat-to-hell early-20th-century open-backs with crusty old strings — a sound he describes as “death banjo.” Which is especially morbid given yesterday’s sad news.
Anyway, I learned as a kid from Scruggs’ 1968 instruction book. I still keep it on my shelf.