Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Jeff Harding from Alpharetta, Georgia

What was it that first got you interested in playing the guitar, mandolin or banjo?
Um… I wanted to pick up chicks?
Just kidding. Kind of.
The better story is that music is just in my blood. I'm from the Nashville, TN area, and I'm pretty sure there's something in the water there. One of my uncles is a professional songwriter who has had a number of country hits, including a number one single. Another uncle played for a while on the Grand Ole Opry and was in a touring gospel group for a few years. It goes back much further than that, though. My mom's dad could play a number of instruments, and was apparently an incredible pedal steel guitar player. He passed away before I ever knew or saw any of that, though. I knew my dad's dad much better and longer and knew that he had throughout his life played the guitar, the fiddle, the mandolin, the upright bass, and apparently the banjo. He was sort of a one-man bluegrass band you could say. Of course, by the time I took any interest in it, arthritis and time had robbed him of his abilities. My great-grandfather was also a church song leader. Who knows if it goes back further than that, but I wouldn't doubt it. And it seems like everyone in my extended family knows how to play something or can sing.

How long have you been playing and what's your motivation to play?
I think I got my first Harmony guitar from the Sears or JC Penny's catalog one Christmas when I was in elementary school, but I never really did anything with it. It was as much a toy as it was a guitar. I later played baritone and trombone in middle school, so I learned some things about reading music and elements of rhythm and timing and tone. In all, I'd say I have been playing guitar off and on since I was in high school. So technically that's nearly 25 years. Truthfully, though, the various instruments I have owned during that time have spent the majority of that time in cases in closets and under my bed. It's only been since I found the Banjo Ben website around November of 2018 that I have finally truly committed to practicing and learning to play correctly. As far as my current motivation to play bluegrass goes, it relates mostly to my dad's dad. I only ever saw shadows and heard stories of his musical abilities. But when he died a few years ago, I saw some old photos of him playing upright bass in his army uniform. And then this past Christmas, my mom gave me an old letter he wrote to his sister in April of 1945 when he was at Fort Bragg, NC. This was just before he got shipped overseas to Germany as part of the occupational forces. In the letter, he told his sister, "I am the leader of a hill billy band here in camp." When I read those lines in the handwriting of my then-19-year-old grandfather, I knew I had to carry on the family tradition. I had already bought a Recording King RK-35 banjo from the Banjo Ben General Store, but I knew that to carry on the family tradition and truly follow in my grandfather's footsteps I would need to learn to play bluegrass on banjo, guitar, and mandolin. So I called up Jake at the General Store and ordered an Eastman dreadnaught and an Eastman F style mandolin. Amazingly, I am still married after spending all that money!

What’s your favorite lesson on Ben’s site and how has it helped you improve?
Since I ordered my banjo right before Christmas, I thought it would be cool to learn a few Christmas songs and surprise my family when I went back home. The first song I tried was Jingle Bells. It was an intermediate lesson and I was a complete banjo beginner. Since I have played music off and on for a few decades, though, I figured I would pick it up pretty quickly. That turned out not to be the case entirely, but I got good enough that folks could recognize it. It was a great feeling being able to play a song right out of the gate, and I think it's been my favorite lesson ever since. Sadly, Jingle Bells is not something you can play for people year-round without getting strange looks.

What's your goal when playing?
As a young musician, I always settled for "close enough" when it came to learning songs. To this day, I still know about 55% of a wide range of songs. Now, my main focus is twofold: 1) Learn the song completely and 2) Learn to play it cleanly. Once I feel like I have a decent library of songs at my disposal, I hope to start going to some jams and learning to "Play well with others." Ultimately, I'd like to get to where I can improvise and embellish while playing traditional songs. It would also be great to write my own fiddle tune one day.

Are there any other instruments or genres of music that you enjoy playing?
For a while I took bass lessons from Victor Wooten's brother Reggie. He's an incredible musician. We mostly focused on old school Motown R&B, Funk, and jazz stuff. I don't play much bass any more, but that doesn't mean I don't have a couple under the bed still. Of course, high school for me was in the 1990s, so I'll always play those alternative rock songs from the glory days.

If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
I am an academic. I'm always finding articles and books that I want to read. There's just stacks of them (digitally speaking), and I'll never have time to get to 1/10 of them. Still, every time I see another interesting one, I go ahead and download it anyway. If I didn't have to sleep, I'd start plowing my way through those.

How long have you been a Gold Pick member?
About 3-4 months

Do you have a favorite technique? What is it?
I really love palm muting. Whether it's guitar, bass, mandolin, or banjo, I've always been drawn to the more percussive sounds an instruments can produce.

What artist(s) most inspire you?
This may be a strange answer, but I'm a member of a Bluegrass Guitar group on Facebook where there are always people posting videos of themselves playing fiddle tunes and various licks. It's incredibly inspiring for me because while a few of these people are professionals, most of them are just average folks who play in their spare time. Seeing what those people can accomplish, how good they can sound even though it isn't their full-time job, it helps motivate me to put in the time in the woodshed to get to that level.

What would be the most amazing adventure to go on?
I'm not a very "adventurous" person. I do keep talking to my wife, though, about going on an Alaskan cruise. I'd also like to see Hawaii and Australia. A part of me wishes I were the kind of person who would through-hike the Appalachian Trail. There's just something very appealing about that idea. Still, I hate sleeping outdoors, so I guess that's a deal-breaker.

How did you find out about Banjo Ben?
YouTube. I had just borrowed my aunt's old banjo and was looking for some free tutorials. His were well-placed in the search results.

Who are your favorite pickin’ heroes (bluegrass and country artists)?
In college I got into Chris Thile and Nickel Creek. My expanded search into Bluegrass led me to Tony Rice and Ricky Skaggs. I know that's probably backwards, but hey. That's how it happened. I also have really gotten into David Grier and Sierra Hull recently.


Great to get to know you! I think Jingle Bells is always in season. Especially on a banjo.

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Welcome! You look dangerous with that pipe wrench lol. You definitely have a great musical background! Hope to see you around the forum

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Very interesting story, Thanks! Appears that your work (like mine) often throws a “wrench” into your practice-time. :laughing:

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Congrats on being gpotw, and welcome! Loved reading your answers, and wow what a musical family you are from! I still have a trombone under the bed too. All the best on your musical adventures!
Mark Cory

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Hey Jeff! Congrats on being GPotW! So cool to be part of a musical family.

On a separate note, your picture made me this of this old video. :slight_smile:

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“I always settled for “close enough” when it came to learning songs”. There is a lot of wisdom in that sentence. I don’t know if it is a universal truth, but I can sure relate. Sometimes I will celebrate “close enough”.

Congrats on being picked this week. Nice wrench. Looks like a real banjo killer.


I’ve had the same issue about learning pieces of songs in the past. Since becoming a member here I have done much better. Great to meet you!