Guitar Chris & Mando Norman
What was it that first got you interested in playing the guitar, mandolin or banjo?
In high school my best friend John Taylor started playing bass fiddle for a Bluegrass band with his father, the Encampment River Boys. The Encampment river runs into Lake Superior twenty miles north of Duluth, Mn., they have a cabin there. John, because of his dad, showed me this fantastic genre. The Seldom Scene, John Hartford, Old and In the Way and more were on the turntable constantly. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s double album, Will the Circle be Unbroken came out, mid 1970s exhibiting a dozen more artists.
College at the University of Minnesota, I volunteered at the Whole Coffee House, in the Student Union. I designed newspaper ads and press releases for the upcoming shows many were Bluegrass or Folk. I would usher and help the Whole set up and clean up. It was the early 1980s and many roots musicians came through, including Doc Watson with his son Merle, Hot Rize and a few others. I even Doc Watson back then.
How long have you been playing and what’s your motivation to play?
I met a great teacher when I was starting out at age 40, Jody Stecher. He sat me down. He clearly showed me very important and simple adjustments; how to hold the pick; sit up straight; pay attention! If I was to be his student, I was to practice twice every day. At a minimum 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes before going to bed. At first he would play a fiddle tune and record it on a cassette tape which I brought him. He made sure I got through it, pick direction and all. He recorded it slow, then at speed, then send me home. If I did not learn the tune by next lesson, he would take my $40 (what a deal!) and send me home until I learned it. I never let that happen. No way!
Our family moved back to Minneapolis, my home town, in 2009. I kept active at playing and still have all my cassette lessons from Jody Stecker. In 2013, I signed up for the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association (MBOTMA) Flatpicking Contest at the Minnesota State Fair and won the age 50+ category, trophy and all. It’s never too late to start this journey.
What’s your favorite lesson on Ben’s site and how has it helped you improve?
Mostly I am building my repertoire of Old Time Fiddle tunes. I have three Banjo Ben lessons I am working through right now: Cherokee Shuffle, Bill Cheatum and his tab for Gold Rush. As for a favorite Lesson, I don’t have one. The site is so useful to me, that I’ll open it up and hear the latest lesson or I’ll dig into another older one. It is laid out very nicely.
What’s your goal when playing?
At this point I intend to build my repertoire. I am very comfortable playing fiddle tunes because they are scripted. I learn them note for note and that’s fine. What I really am trying to learn is extemporaneous soloing. First as, Ben points out, follow the melody which is always acceptable. The next part of soloing on the fly. That is where I am heading. Any suggestions, Ben?
Are there any other instruments or genres of music that you enjoy playing?
I am an adult learner and I am so glad I play guitar. Music has always been in me. I’m a music omnivore. As for playing, it’s Bluegrass, Old Time and some rock and roll.
How long have you been a Gold Pick member?
Not sure, five years? I spent a year wasting money on 90 day sign ups. It is best just to sign up as a (Lifetime) Gold Pick member right away.
Do you have a favorite technique? What is it?
Flatpicking…UP Down Up Down…
If you could play in anyone’s band, who would it be and why?
Hot Rize. I don’t think Bryan Sutton has much to worry about. It would be fun to play with Peter Rowan too. Often my old teacher Jody will play Mandolin for him.
What type of gear or accessories have you found that work best for you?
For guitars I have two: a Martin 000-18 from about 2001 and a base model Larrivee D-1 bought used in San Francisco. I switch between these for months at a time. Of course, it’s fun to shop Banjo Ben store. A nice addition to the site. I have a capo Ben recommended that works great. For picks I have recently come upon ‘Sculpted Flectra’ Picks by Dunlap, 1.3. They are a bit longer and have a gripping material, which helps in our dry Minnesota winters. I like a stiff pick.
If money was no object, what would be your dream instrument(s)?
I am due for a Collings Dreadnought. Any old Martin D-18 would work too.
If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
How did you find out about Banjo Ben?
Ben’s Youtube Lessons
Anything else you’d like to add? Can we share this or is this private feedback?
I would really like to meet other Banjo Ben players near me, to either work on tunes together or build a band. How would one facilitate that?
Thank you for letting me be a voice on your site. I am grateful to you Ben, and your staff.