What was it that first got you interested in playing the guitar, mandolin or banjo?
I hadn’t played my electric guitar in 21 years (more than once a year or less). I thought if I bought an acoustic guitar it would make me more inclined to play it. There was a really cheap banjo sitting next to that guitar though. I left the store and went home. That night I couldn’t sleep, tossing and turning thinking about that banjo. The next morning I was at that music store before it opened and bought the banjo and all of the instruction books on it.
How long have you been playing and what’s your motivation to play?
I’ve been playing music for most of my life. In 2007, I learned how to play the bagpipes and started playing with UPB until 2013. I served as their Pipe Sergeant teaching and acting as Pipe Major for grade 5 from 2010 until 2013. In 2015, I discovered the banjo and have sadly let the bagpipes go unplayed. I’ve found that two instruments that can move you emotionally and that you can feel the music resonating throughout your body are the bagpipes and the banjo. Nothing beats spending an hour after you get off work playing the banjo.
What’s your favorite lesson on Ben’s site and how has it helped you improve?
My favorite lesson isn’t on his site anymore. It was removed for copyright reasons. But it was Foggy Mountain Breakdown. When Ben came out dressed as a hillbilly and goofed off for the first part of the video, I absolutely loved it. Banjo players should be less serious than other musicians and just have fun and that’s what I loved about Ben’s style. I wish he could just post the hillbilly portions of those videos on his site and leave the copyrighted material out.
What’s your goal when playing?
It depends on the day. Some days I just want to explore new territory. Learn skills I’ve never had before, learn new songs, practice new techniques and delve deep into how to become a better player. Other days I just want to relax and stagnate playing what I’ve always played before. Most of the time I work on areas I know need improvement like not tapping the banjo head with my picks as I’m plucking at strings. When I attended college, I graduated by teaching upper division courses (which helped pay for my courses). I was a young kid with no college degree teaching people who were graduating with their bachelors degrees. This caused me to approach learning in a different way. I’ve always felt that if you can learn something to where you can teach it to others you will have learned it more deeply yourself. I’ve taken this same approach to playing the banjo. I’ve spent over a thousand hours putting together a simple course that only teaches 11 hours of material. I’ve put the same dedication into playing and practicing. If you can’t play a song slowly and have it sound good, it won’t matter how fast you play it. It still won’t sound good. If there’s a single part of the song that doesn’t sound good, quit playing the entire song and just focus on that one bad part until it becomes perfect (you’re already perfect at the other 99% of the song). If you master the simple things, the harder things become so much easier to do.
Are there any other instruments or genres of music that you enjoy playing?
Bagpipes, Native American Flute, Mountain Dulcimer, Mandolin, Guitar, Dobro, Fiddle, but nothing beats that good ole’ banjo. In my teens, I used to love to play lead guitar for all of the Heavy Metal and Hard Rock songs of the 80’s. Back then, I had no idea I’d fall in love with the banjo.
How long have you been a Gold Pick member?
In November of 2017, I purchased a 1 month Gold Pick membership to get a better idea for my students if it was worth their money. In December of 2018, I decided to become a Lifetime Gold Pick member.
Do you have a favorite technique? What is it?
If you could play in anyone’s band, who would it be and why?
Until I started playing the Banjo, the only bluegrass music I had heard was on The Dukes of Hazzard, Beverly Hillbillies, Hee-Haw, and the Andy Griffith show. I still love those car chases with the banjo music playing in the background. Can’t do that now a days. Imagine having Guardians of the Galaxy in the middle of a space scene being chased by hoards of aliens with the banjo playing in the background - that would be awesome.
What type of gear or accessories have you found that work best for you?
The Deering Goodtime Two banjo plays just as nicely as some of the $5,000 banjos I’ve sampled in stores. It’s the one I keep going back to.
If money was no object, what would be your dream instrument(s)?
I think I already have it. Although, maybe a fancier banjo.
If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
I’ve got a lot of things I enjoy doing when I’m not playing the banjo or teaching it; Going Hiking, Camping, Deep Sea Fishing, Photography, Airbrushing, Oil Painting (Bob Ross style), Face Painting, Leatherwork, Painting Leather Belts, Woodburning, Rock Climbing, Mentoring, Teaching, Scoutmaster in the Boys Scouts (This year, I started up a new Troop in the Boy Scouts of America, now called Scouts BSA).
My time is already extremely full of everything I love to do. I rarely watch TV, so that frees up hours every day for more exciting activities. We spend a lot of time together as a family and do lots of activities together. So, when I’m not with them I’m usually on the banjo or doing one of the above.
How did you find out about Banjo Ben?
It was actually searching the Internet for a specific question I had on the Banjo. I stumbled across him yelling for I think it was Wilma Jean, dressed like a hillbilly with crooked teeth, and acting goofy. Then he’d come out and amaze you with his ability on the banjo. I loved it.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I had a neighbor that played the banjo and sang. I always thought Jim was pretty amazing on the Banjo. After I owned a banjo for a month, I took it to his house and asked him to give me some pointers. I showed him what I had learned. He told me that in one month I had learned more than he had in 9 years of playing. He set his banjo down, picked up his guitar, and we started to play together. We then found Ed, a mandolin player and we played at some local churches and some assisted living facilities. After we lost our mandolin player, I soon found a girl Andrea that wanted to learn to play the guitar and her sister Nicole (who hadn’t played the violin in a year and a half). I had Nicole try a simple tune and then I played the banjo with her. For the next hour and a half we went through as many tunes as she could do. Andrea decided against the guitar and picked up the cello. That made for a really fun band when you could switch from plucking a cello to a long drawn out string on a note… Within 6 months of picking up the Banjo, I was teaching others how to play. In the fall of 2017, I approached a local college about teaching a six week beginners course on How to play the Banjo and a 1 day course on How to Maintain Your Banjo in their continuing education department. To date, I’ve taught 56 people how to play the banjo. After that first time of teaching, I found Ben’s website and became a gold pick member for a month to evaluate it. He has a very similar teaching style. Since then, every course I’ve taught has recommended his site as one to visit after the class to continue with their learning. The banjo is an interesting instrument in that people don’t realize how much of a demand there is for learning it. When I started letting people know that I was learning it, I found 4 people within my own neighborhood that also owned them and all wanted to learn how to play.