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:
- 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.
- 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".
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
More by this Author
Thanks for reading and hope this helps some for this type of problem. Worked for me but took some experimenting to get it right.