Banjos and Pop Music.

Don't Ignore The Power Of This Instrument.

Greetings everyone and so glad to be here.

Straight to the point: What influence does a banjo have with popular and memorable music?

I am a bluegrass 5-string banjo player and have been for many years. Over that time, I've been able to entertain with it as well as see its' potential to add a bit of spice to a recording if used properly. Most people associate this instrument within a certain genre of music that originates from the southeastern USA in states like Kentucky and Tennessee and for all intensive purposes, that's understandable.

However, let's take a quick look at some monster hits from the past that have featured this instrument made them hits to begin with:

  1. We all know the super group "The Eagles" and what would the song "Take It Easy" be without the banjo at the end of it? That was the playing of Bernie Leadon, an accomplished musician in his own right, and is considered a classic break. Try to imagine that song WITHOUT the banjo at the end -- granted, our minds have accepted the song as it is, but see if you can hum or think of it without the banjo.
  2. I also seem to recall a "Foo Fighters" song (not sure of the title) where at the beginning the player seems to have it tuned to a lower key like "D" or maybe an "E" -- a low, deep sound just to intro the piece, and not really featured. Nice beginning though and almost everyone has heard of the "Foo Fighters".
  3. From my Canadian point of view, there was a group called "The Stampeders" from Alberta who had a big hit with "Sweet City Woman" many years ago. It starts with a strummed banjo, in "G", going to "A-minor", a quick "D", and back to "G". Great strumming, great sound, and a perfect fit. Hopefully you'll recall this number as well.
  4. Another we all remember would be the immortal "Dueling Banjos" from the hit movie "Deliverance" (1972). This song stayed on the charts for weeks and is always asked for at house parties and gatherings where someone brings in a banjo.
  5. Maybe you are aware "Steve Martin"? This famous comedian is an accomplished 5-string banjo player and the banjo has been Martin's musical passion as well a faithful sidekick to his on-stage act (playing the banjo during standup comedy performances). Although not a huge fan of Mr. Martin, I always appreciated his banjo playing and he's a bona fide showbiz performer.
  6. For those of us who are a little older, there was the fabulously funny, immortal 60's comedy of "The Beverly Hillbillies". If you recall the opening of the show, it was pure 5-string banjo bluegrass music and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs would cameo on the show periodically. Classic TV comedy and the banjo effectively set the tone for the show.
  7. These days with a plethora of jazz, indie, and reggae sounds, you have the fabulous "Bela Fleck and the Flectones". The front man is the marvelous Bela Fleck, who for years was a monster within the bluegrass music industry and uses his modified banjo to anchor the sound of the group. Bela is an incredible musician and quite capable on the flat-picked guitar as well. His unique banjo style in his latest group evolved from his training from bluegrass as he was never afraid to step outside the confines of traditional picking and shows complete confidence and innovative playing when needed. If you have a chance, check him out for his early bluegrass and more recent tunes with the Flecktones. I am sure you'll be amazed at his abilities.
  8. And who can ever forget those constantly-partying and fun-loving "Irish Rovers" of the 70's and 80's? Will Millar played the banjo and while the banjo was mostly in the background and used for embellishment and support only, the boys from the Emerald Isle still managed to capture a massive following with hits on the radio and a TV show as well. Just so happened that they had a banjo in the group, strummed mostly and with that Irish feel.

I know there's more (even today's country music has a snippet of banjo in a lot of pieces) but I just wanted to highlight the past obvious examples and to encourage all inspiring musicians to at least experiment with this instrument in their work and see what happens!

Thanks all for reading and stay tuned!

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Comments 16 comments

Pop music 6 years ago

I just love Joan - and almost all what she sings, and One of Us is no exception :)


Jared 6 years ago

My votes -

- Leo Sayer, Long tall glasses/I can dance

- The grid, Swamp thing

- Kermit the frog, Rainbow connection


LokisGrief profile image

LokisGrief 6 years ago from Missouri, United Staes

It's so awesome to see someone else advocate the banjo! When I started playing, my electric guitar playing cookie cutter city musician friends looked at me like i was the biggest idiot theyve ever seen, but its just a much more happy and fun instrument than the guitar. I absolutely love the banjo, and its very versatile sound, and its just good to know im not alone. TA-TA-TWANG TWANG TWANG!


nuveau profile image

nuveau 6 years ago from Riverview, NB Author

Hi there Lokis and thank you for the nice comment. For sure, I've always been fascinated by the sound of a banjo and so happy that I was able to pick it up and learn how to play. That was a loooonnnng time ago but I'm firmly established in Scruggs-style picking and never venture to where I don't know what I'm doing! *s I just like the hard-driving sound and the versatility of this instrument. Thanks again, keep pickin', and stay in touch! Regards, Michael.


Big Bill Broonzy 6 years ago

Banjos are becoming downright common in the indie/pop/folk movement that's been coming up lately. A prominent example is the band "Mumford and Sons" which has blown up out of nowhere, and which feature banjo in maybe all of the songs on their debut album. Other artists I might lump into this category with prominent banjo in at least 1 song - Tegan and Sara, Sufjan Stevens, Builders and the Butchers, Andrew Bird. And those are just some of the really popular examples. There's a ton of them.

You can go to http://alternativebanjo.com/ if you're not familiar with any of these groups. They've got tabs and articles and good stuff and if you're mostly familiar with bluegrass and artists from 20 years ago, you'd be doing yourself a favor to check it out.


Emily 5 years ago

Well.

These songs are... old. I'm not old. I'm 13.

My friend and I play the banjo, and are looking for recent songs that include banjo to play at our upcoming concert. The only band I can think of is Mumford & Sons, but maybe you know some others?

Thanks.


Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

Steve Martin is really good! There's a vid somewhere on youtube where he's playing with Earl Scruggs too!


tim5365 5 years ago

I love this article about the banjo. However, I'm sure Bernie Leadon will dispute the fact that John McEuen played the banjo on "Take It Easy". Bernie is an accomplished banjo player and I believe in the credits for the album, he is listed as playing banjo the track. With that correction out of the way, does anyone know the name of the 1960's banjo featured instrumental that has the dixieland ending? Thanks, in advance for any answers to this question. T


tim5365 5 years ago

One more correction to nuveau's original comment above - The instrument played in the song, "Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter" is a muted electric guitar and is played by Keith Hopwood. Just like to keep it real, folks!! :) T


tim5365 5 years ago

Another correction to my friend, Nuveau's original comment above .... It's "Take It Easy" by the Eagles. Sorry, I couldn't help myself. I'm sure Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey would forgive you if they read it! ;) T


nuveau profile image

nuveau 5 years ago from Riverview, NB Author

Hey Tim! Just a note to say "Thanks" for setting this article straight. I did some "googling" to confirm and you appear to be right on with the editing(s). Sorry that I didn't research this enough and I'll learn from this. Still with Herman's Hermits, that darn muted guitar STILL reminds me of the 4-string banjo! hehe...my ears and mind just give me that sound. However, muted axe it is and we'll chalk up the song to history. Stay tuned!


Banjojohnny 5 years ago

Love your page and all the comments.


tim5365 5 years ago

Not a problem! There is controversy, however, concerning who played the muted electric on "Mrs. Brown". Peter Noone himself has stated that Jimmy Page played guitar on all the studio tracks while Keith Hopwood (the "Hermits" guitarist) played with the live band. It wouldn't surpirse me due to the fact that Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys), Terry Kirkman (The Association) and others used studio musicians to do all their studio tracks. It was the way they did things back then (minus the Stones, Animals, The Beatles, and such). Thanks for the reply on my posts!! Later..... T


tim5365 5 years ago

Still checking to see if anyone knows the name of the banjo instrumental back in the 60's which has the dixieland ending?? It had a funny name (possibly a "one word" name. Thanks, in advance! T


Heather 4 years ago

The Foo Fighters song you were thinking of the The Battle Of The Beaconsfield Miners


Chris_1530 2 years ago

Tim5365- the banjo song you are looking for is Washington Square by the Village Stompers........

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