Incredible clawhammer banjo playing
March 22, 2019 8:06 AM   Subscribe

I just started taking clawhammer banjo classes, and I'm looking for inspiration. Please send me your favorite clawhammer jams! Any era, any genre, whether technically proficient or paired with a catchy song or in an unusual genre, whatever. I want all the exposure I can get!

I know some similar questions have been asked in the past, so recent stuff is especially welcome!
posted by showbiz_liz to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Saw Jake Blount open for Rhiannon Giddens a while back and was seriously impressed.

Also and obviously: Rhiannon Giddens, whether solo (e.g., "Following the North Star" - clawhammer and bones!) or from the Carolina Chocolate Drops years (e.g., Trouble in Your Mind). Here she is doing her song "Julie" with Dirk Powell, who's no slouch on clawhammer banjo, either (e.g., "Waterbound").

Anything from the Freight Hoppers will be energizing.

There's a banjo competition at the Galax Fiddler's Convention every year, and you can find tons of footage from various years on Youtube that feature some really amazing amateur playing.

Clifton Hicks does some good stuff, and he's been adding to his Youtube channel quite a bit (including some slowed-down and close-up right hand/left hand explainers).

The Lonesome Ace Stringband: "Red Mountain Wine."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:38 AM on March 22, 2019

Not sure it counts as incredible, but my favourite clawhammer tune is West Virginia Gals (it also has words).
posted by offog at 10:43 AM on March 22, 2019


Adam Hurt is very good.

Arnie Naiman and Chris Coole made a couple of records with traditional tunes plus originals - really tasteful playing.

Bob Carlin isn't featured as a soloist on John Hartford's later old-time records (like Wild Hog in the Red Brush) but his playing is integral.

This clawhammer arrangement of the 1st movement of J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 is very nicely done.

Finally, a little further down the clawhammer rabbit hole you'll find "stroke style" playing, which goes back to the banjo's appropriation and rise to popularity in the early-mid 1800s. Mechanically it's identical to clawhammer (everything is played with the thumb and back of the index or middle finger) but there's a lot more rhythmic variation, and though there's definitely some cross-over with modern clawhammer playing, the repertoire is quite different on the whole.* Check out Tim Twiss playing a medley of stroke style tunes on a modern fretted banjo, then check out his hundreds of other clips of banjo music from banjo tutor books from 1855 and on, played on period-style fretless, lower-tuned instruments.

*...and inextricably intertwined with the instrument's legacy in virulently racist minstrel shows. People playing this music tend to be pretty conscientious about that. See Greg Adams' video introduction to
posted by usonian at 12:40 PM on March 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn are well worth checking out if you haven't already...
posted by TwoStride at 4:40 PM on March 22, 2019

Ken Perlman is pretty much my inspiration for learning clawhammer. I'm actually teaching myself with his book and DVD. I find his arrangements of fiddle tunes (1, 2) for the banjo really inspiring.

I also like Zoe Mulford's version of "1952 Vincent Black Lightning."
posted by MrBadExample at 8:04 PM on March 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Steve Martin's The Great Remember.
posted by KwaiChangCaine at 8:11 PM on March 22, 2019

Looks like most of the folks I'd recommend got covered, but there's also: Seconding stroke style as an interesting source of clawhammer style. It's played by a remarkable variety of people, including serious bluegrassers like Bill Evans.
posted by scruss at 8:09 AM on March 23, 2019

The Instagram tag #banjototw is well worth digging into. It's a whole bunch of folks who all work out arrangements of a single tune each week, and will give you a laundry list of tunes and great players of extremely varied style to explore!
posted by TheCoug at 8:31 AM on March 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also, this Dwight Diller tab book is a goldmine!
posted by TheCoug at 8:33 AM on March 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

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