What was it that first got you interested in playing the guitar, mandolin, or banjo?
I’ve enjoyed the sound and the speed of the banjo since I was a little kid. I used to watch Hee-Haw, and I was always in awe, watching and listening to Roy Clark, Buck Trent, String Bean, Grandpa Jones, and Roni Stoneman as they played the banjo. I also enjoyed watching Doug Dillard play the banjo on The Andy Griffith Show and Flatt and Scruggs on The Beverly Hillbillies.
For many years I thought about trying to learn how to play the banjo, but I was always intimidated by the short 5th string.
In 2014, my wife and I traveled to Georgia to visit her family. We were in an antiques store in Statham, near Athens, and I came across a Hohner banjo. I picked it up and started plucking it. Luckily, it was in tune. My eyes lit up, and I thought, “I can do this.” And so began my banjo adventures.
How long have you been playing and what’s your motivation to play?
I’ve been playing the banjo for a little more than 4 years now. I get really motivated when I see myself improve. A lot of times, I’ll hit a plateau and stay there for a while, but I keep working at it, and it’s fun when I finally get it down—whether it’s a lick or a song or timing or whatever.
What’s your favorite lesson on Ben’s site and how has it helped you improve?
That’s a tough one because I learn something from almost every lesson. But most of my favorite lessons revolve around theory and getting around the fret board—for example, the Fret Board Geography and Way Points lessons. Those lessons have helped me with improvising.
What’s your goal when playing?
My goal is to achieve the three T’s—to play in time, with taste, and with good tone, consistently—and maybe someday to play a tune just like Earl, with that amazing tone, syncopation, and tasteful lick-based back-up.
Are there any other instruments or genres of music that you enjoy playing?
I play some guitar and a little mandolin, but really no other genres—I like to stick to bluegrass. When I was a teenager, I started classical guitar lessons, but I really wanted to play rock-n-roll. So I quit classical and tried to teach myself rock-n-roll, but that didn’t work out. I could play a bunch of songs, but I didn’t really know what I was doing or how to improvise. But the finger style of the classical has helped me with the banjo.
If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
I’d like to spend more quality time with my wife, and I’d also like to concentrate more on playing music, maybe putting more time into guitar picking and mandolin chopping. And also maybe finish a lot of those unfinished projects around the house.
How long have you been a Gold Pick member?
Since June 2015, so almost 4 years
Do you have a favorite technique? What is it?
Not really. I mostly like playing three-finger Scruggs’ style, but lately I’ve also been working on Reno’s single-string and brush techniques because I like a lot of his instrumentals.
What do you do for a living?
I’m a railroader. I’ve been a conductor for 22 years now.
What would be the most amazing adventure to go on?
Going back in time and getting to see the pioneers of bluegrass in their heyday—people like Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers, and Reno & Smiley.
In real life, I think it’d be really great to be able to travel around the country. There’s so much to see and do, but so little time.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Last but not least, I love what Earl Scruggs said when asked about what advice he would give beginning banjo players: “Don’t give up. Most folks start off trying to play too fast or too hard a song. Then they get frustrated when they can’t make it sound right or they can’t play it as fast as they think they should. Then they quit. You should start out with easy songs. Take it slow and be patient. You’ll get better in time if you keep at it.”