What old-timey music should I listen to?
October 22, 2014 1:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm a fledgling clawhammer banjo player running into a bit of a problem: finding new music to play. Can you suggest "old-timey" folk musicians?

A lot of the music I've been listening to is drawn from compilations or soundtracks - GOOD FOR WHAT AILS YOU, WORK HARD PLAY HARD PLAY HARD, the Cold Mountain soundtrack, the Country Records Clawhammer series, the Kossoy Sisters - but I feel like, since I'm only hearing one or two tracks from each artist, I'm missing out on a lot. I'd love suggestions on artists whose discographies I should search out.
I'm really interested in cruder, weirder stuff, murder ballads, old English folksongs. Thank you in advance!
posted by 235w103 to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I suppose the soundtrack to "O Brother Where Art Thou" is too obvious, right?

If you're at all interested in modern old-timey, I cannot recommend Pokey Lafarge enough.
posted by jbickers at 1:19 PM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you don't listen to Willie Watson, you need to start! His clawhammer is top notch. Check out his rendition of Mexican Cowboy and Dry Bones.

2nding Pokey Lafarge. Spirit Family Reunion is also pretty fun for a modern band playing old-timey stuff.
posted by Arbac at 1:27 PM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you're not familiar with The Anthology of American Folk Music, get your hands on it yesterday. And yes, it is a compilation... BUT! There's also this truly incredible blog, The Old Weird America, which "uses the Folkways Anthology as a roadmap to explore American folk music. I'll use texts, images, music and videos gathered from my personal collection and from the web to make this work-in-progress enjoyable and educational the best I can." So if you like one track, you can find the post for it on this site and listen to more by the same artist.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:30 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pressed post too soon! You should check out Chris Coole as well. Particularly Wild Bill Jones and his version of Willie Duncan with Ivan Rosenberg on dobro.
posted by Arbac at 1:33 PM on October 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Have you tried Pandora? I typed in Allen Brothers and it started off with Ralph Stanley. I used the "Add Variety" option under the station name and typed in Carolina Tar Heels and it recognized them as well. I've had very good luck discovering new artists with Pandora.
posted by Beti at 1:34 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Anything by Stringbean should work for you as well. Stringbean was one of the last big clawhammer players before Scruggs style 3-finger rolls really took over. Clawhammer is the best!
posted by Arbac at 1:40 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

This thread might help: Old Time Banjo
posted by scruss at 1:52 PM on October 22, 2014

cruder, weirder stuff, murder ballads, old English folksongs

Sam Amidon
posted by mr vino at 1:57 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Any of the wonderful old-time albums John Hartford released in the 1990s through his death in 2001, with Bob Carlin on banjo: Wild Hog in the Red Brush, The Speed of the Old Long Bow, Hamilton Ironworks (this last is great but bittersweet, as it was recorded as an "album of memories" when he was in declining health.) I think there were a couple of others, too.

For clawhammer with a more modern twist, check out The Duhks.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are also doing their own thing that's rooted in/inspired by old-timey music but they're kind of doing their own thing too.

Also, check out Adam Hurt.
posted by usonian at 2:17 PM on October 22, 2014

Oh - and Songs From The Mountain by Tim O'Brien, Dirk Powell, and John Herrmann is a good one too.

RE: Old/weird stuff you may also be interested in minstrel style banjo, which had its heyday during the middle third of the 19th century. It's a complicated subject to explore in a modern context because of its patently racist legacy, but it's tremendously significant in terms of American popular culture, and musically it's a wonderful style - the mechanics of the older "stroke style" are basically the same as clawhammer, but the music tends to have a lot more rhythmic variation and syncopation than old-timey stuff. And nothing sounds cooler than fretless gut strung banjo and bones. Check out minstrelbanjo.ning.com and/or memail me if you get interested. (You don't need a fretless banjo to try it out; you can get modern reprints of some of the early tutor books with include tablature which will map to a modern banjo just fine once you tune the 4th string down to C.)
posted by usonian at 2:37 PM on October 22, 2014

Boy, have I got a treat for YOU.
Our local community radio station (eclectic shows, volunteer DJ's, funded by listeners) has a GREAT Old Time music show every Saturday morning.

Here's the show's page at the website.

If you look on the right, you can see a player where you can listen to the most recent show.
Also on the right is a pulldown where you can see playlists for every show, along with links to CD's for purchase.

Best of luck in your musical journey!
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 3:07 PM on October 22, 2014

Pick up Joel Mabus's Pepper's Ghost. You will not be disappoint.
posted by drlith at 3:36 PM on October 22, 2014

Abigail Washburn is the freaking QUEEN of clawhammer and since she combines banjo with Chinese traditional music on the regular, it definitely falls under the category of 'weird' sometimes. I'll also recommend my banjo teacher, Brad Kolodner.
posted by youcancallmeal at 3:44 PM on October 22, 2014

Walt Koken - he has a really unique style of banjo playing, and he was a part of the great Highwoods String Band.

Another great classic clawhammer player is Charlie Poole. I listened to him a lot when I was starting with the banjo.
posted by amelliferae at 4:00 PM on October 22, 2014

You should spend some time browsing the Banjo Hangout forums, specifically "Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles". Lots of good stuff in there.
posted by doctord at 4:06 PM on October 22, 2014

Check out the Internet Archive's 241 item Clawhammer audio collection. And the 98 item Clawhammer video collection.. I am especially fond of Special Ed and the Short Bus and Deadwood Revival..
posted by goml at 6:16 PM on October 22, 2014

Foghorn string band.

Also, forgive me for straying, but with the hope of opening up some internet rabbit holes, there is amazing old timey fiddle playing in Brazil, and cousins to the banjo in West Africa.
posted by umbĂș at 7:14 PM on October 22, 2014

The soundtrack to Black Snake Moan.
posted by book 'em dano at 9:14 AM on October 23, 2014

You might like some of the stuff on John Peel's Peelennium.
posted by the big lizard at 3:54 PM on October 23, 2014

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