I wanted to review this excellent new instructional dvd by Hunter Robertson that teaches 10 banjo arrangements of fiddle tunes in the clawhammer style. There are not so many instructional dvds on the market that focus on old-time banjo styles (the greatest being the 3 Dvds “Southern Banjo Styles” by Mike Seeger) and this one is rather aimed at advanced players so rejoice, all of you banjo frailers! Hunter is a great banjo player who already recorded two discs (the last one i reviewed on this blog here) and he did a fantastic job on this lesson by choosing well-known and not so well-known fiddle tunes and came out with intricate and enjoyable arrangements that will challenge most players. The tunes are by legends of old-time fiddling like John Morgan Salyer, Tommy Jarrell, Emmett Lundy, William Stepp, Uncle Bunt Stephens, Hobart Smith… There are at least four different banjo tunings used and a full array of clawhammer techniques are displayed and explained. This is about the content of the lesson but the form is also really well made, with camera angles and slow motions allowing the viewer to see both hands at work and not missing a lick. It’s worth mentioning that Hunter uses a rather simple Harmony banjo that was turn to a fretless (but you still see the frets marks) to teach the lesson and proves that one doesn’t have to possess a fancy instrument to play great old-time mountain music. As a bonus, Hunter explain a bit about two and three-finger old-time picking styles, and you can see a clip of him playing and singing (Hunter has a powerful and raucus voice that reminds me a bit of australian rock singer Nick Cave) the great song “Raleigh and Spencer”. For me, the cherry on top of this great lesson is the pdf booklet that goes in lenght to cite the sources of the tunes, the tunings, the discography and many other details that are really invaluable informations for the player and listener. Well done, Hunter!
–Go here to buy the dvd (Hunter Robertson’s website)
-Here’s an excerpt of the video:
-As I said above, all of the arrangements on these dvd were inspired by old field recordings and 78rpm records of great fiddlers and most of these are available for free online thanks to the Digital Library of Appalachia (on the pdf booklet, you just have to click on the link to be directed to the exact page). Nevertheless, I compiled myself the 10 original fiddle tunes to help me learn them with Hunter’s banjo versions and you can download them as well for the same purpose and for your listening pleasure (just be warned that the recording quality on some of them is very bad…).
- Lonesome John-John Morgan Salyer
- Candy Girl– Uncle Bunt Stephens
- Boatin’Up Sandy-Wilson Douglas
- Cripple Creek-Hobart Smith
- Unfortunate Puppy -Elmo Newcomer
- Ducks on the millpond-Emmett W. Lundy
- Bonaparte’s Retreat-W.H. Stepp
- Leather Breeches-John Morgan Salyer
- Raleigh and Spencer-Tommy Jarrell
- Ft. Smith Breakdown-Luke Highnight’s Ozark Strutters