What was it that first got you interested in playing the guitar, mandolin or banjo?
I first started playing mandolin in 6th grade. I thought it sounded great in different songs I had heard. The subtle background melodies, the chop, and the ripping solo leads were intriguing. I also was interested in playing drums. I earned money for my first mandolin by parking cars at a classical music venue in my hometown of Norfolk, Connecticut. One evening The Band came to town. I was able to get in for free (after all the cars were parked). When I saw Levon Helm strumming on a mandolin, playing drums, and singing at the same time I knew I had picked the right instrument.
How long have you been playing and what’s your motivation to play?
I have been playing mandolin for 30 years. A big motivator to play better is the teenage folk band I lead at the high school I teach at in England. We cover classics from John Denver and other artists, as well as experimenting with bluegrass covers of songs by the likes of Dylan and The Allman Brothers. We have come across a lot of new original material that is really fun as well. As of now, we have not written any of our own songs, but perhaps in the future. Each year around 10 students sign up for the band and we practice two times a week. The whole student body is involved in two concerts we put on each year, and our Folk Band usually performs 6 or 7 songs. In addition to the concerts, I try and schedule in a handful of events at local venues just to give the students practice and more confidence playing together in public. For some of them, it’s the first time performing, and a few have even learned a new instrument our band was in need of.
What’s your favorite lesson on Ben’s site and how has it helped you improve?
The first solo I tackled from Banjo Ben was all three parts of Will The Circle Be Unbroken. Until then I had only played backup chords and harmony. The site is very valuable for me because I can use the material for the students in my band. Last year we used the banjo, guitar, and mandolin lessons for Man Of Constant Sorrow, Unclouded Day, and Go Tell It On The Mountain. They sounded great together. We have done that with a few other songs as well. We plan on working up some of the solos using the fiddle tune lessons over the summer, like East Tennessee Blues.
What’s your goal when playing?
One goal of playing is to become a better player. But above that is the shear fun of playing, especially with other musicians.
If you could play in anyone’s band, who would it be and why?
There are so many great bands out there. I would have to settle on Old Crow Medicine Show. They have so much great energy and skill and they put their all into a live show, which puts a smile on everyone’s face.
If money was no object, what would be your dream instrument(s)?
I recently came across a video that featured The Sorensen FX mandolin. Man it sounded good and looks fantastic! A very special instrument which I could never afford. Currently I play a TKD F5 Falcon, which is a blast.
If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
Well, my wife Janice and I have four children, I teach Biology, Earth Science, and Algebra, and I have multiple hobbies, which include bike repair believe it or not. So there is not enough time in the day.
How did you find out about Banjo Ben?
When I was looking for solo work/tutorials for songs our band was working up.