After my pre-war Gibson banjo acquisition from Jim Mills, I needed to have 5th strings spikes installed so I contacted Ben and he referred me to Charlie Cushman in Nashville. Charlie Cushman? I asked. THE Charlie Cushman? Ben said yeah. I called Charlie and left a voicemail and he called back within the hour. I told him what I had and asked if he can install spikes for me and he said yeah. So we set up a time and the road ahead of me lead to Nashville to see Charlie and visit Ben (this is the 2nd post in a series of 3).
Charlie Cushman, IBMA Banjo Player of the Year, Nashville session artist for decades, Opryland USA house musician, band member of James Monroe and The Midnight Riders, Jimmy Martin and The Sunny Mountain Boys, Mel Tillis and The Statesiders, has shared the stage with and played banjo and guitar on albums of Tim O’Brien, Rhonda Vincent, Michael Cleveland, Vince Gil, Merle Haggard, Ricky Skaggs, Amy Grant, Marty Stuart, and many more over the years. Presently, Charlie channels Earl Scruggs in the IBMA and Grammy award winning “Earls Of Leicester”, a band formed in 2013 comprising Jerry Douglass, Shawn Camp, Barry Bales, Jeff White, and Johnny Warren (son of Paul Warren, an original Foggy Mountain Boy); all award winners and amazing artists in their own right. AND, Charlie is a luthier and has a love for and works on pre-war Gibson banjos.
I arrived at his shop and he welcomed me in, showed me around and we chatted for a while. He had a look at my banjo and within two seconds asked who made this neck. My confidence in Charlie went through the roof when he immediately knew that it was not a Frank Neat neck, which is probably the most common neck used on pre-war conversions. I told him it was a Bill Sullivan neck and he said “First Quality” referring to First Quality Music, founded by Bill. Charlie played it a little and seemed quite happy with it. He said “have a seat” and he began his work.
He regaled me with his own stories of old banjos and his experiences with the old guard as well as today’s top players who bring their banjos to him to be repaired and maintained. I learned about the origins of Dueling Banjos (Feudin’ Banjos), his restoration of Nellie, Don Reno’s 1935 Gibson RB3 Mastertone, and of course I kept nudging him to tell me more and he obliged and answered all my questions. A class act, a gentleman and a real sweetheart is he. The work took less than 30 minutes, but I was there for an hour and half. He signed my @BanjoBen hat and gave me his “Tradition” CD he did with Johnny Warren and before I left, I asked him if I could record him playing my banjo after he spiked it and he was happy to. Here it is.
As many of you know, I was supposed to attend Ben’s camp a couple weeks ago and I was going to hang out in Nashville for a few more days, but I got sick and couldn’t make the trip. I had a ticket to the Grand Ole Opry for April 2nd and The “Earls Of Leicester” were on the bill that night and I missed them. But, here I was with Charlie Cushman in person. Funny how things work out.
If you’re ever in the Nashville area and need work done on your banjo, it doesn’t have to be a Gibson, go see Charlie Cushman. His stories alone are worth the price of admission. As I drove away, I thought, what a sweetheart Charlie is. I felt like I made a new friend.