I am excited to join the ranks of No Depression. I like the idea of being a member of a community that appreciates and pursues roots music, that values music that is perhaps less manufactured as a commercial product, and thus retains more grit and gristle.
For me, the ultimate American roots music comes before the guitar. It is the music of the banjo, born in West Africa, percolated in the Caribbean, to arrive wet and weary in the new world.
The banjo had been calling to me long before I turned to pick it up and sound it a little over 30 years ago. I have been grappling with it ever since, first in Ohio and West Virginia, and later in Virginia, North Carolina, Illinois, all before I took up residence in Florida a decade ago. The banjo, this mongrel, soaked in blood and tears, yet infused with laughter and defiance, off the plantations, through the bowery and parlor, has gleefully lead me from the beaten path, into festival fields up until dawn, across rutted roads and streams into rural homes to meet elders eager to share, and into communities of good humor and passion for the well placed phrase, the unexpected turn, and the skip of the beat. Through it, an assortment of of colorful characters, eccentrics, and peculiar geniuses have sauntered into my life. What seemed odd then feels like old home now.
A series of unlikely and intersecting events led me in Gambia in July 2007 to learn the music of the Jola akonting (ekonting), a West African 3-stringed banjo ancestor. With Daniel Jatta as my guide, Remi and Ekona Jatta as my patient instructors, I held and then played the instrument at once both familiar and incomprehensible. I returned in 2008 for my second glimpse of the great unknown, and finding myself in Senegal on southern shore of the Cassamance river, in Kanjunka, the birthplace of the ekonting according to the Jola of Mlomp.
The music here comes from Scratching and Clawing, Red Dog Records 000, and Banjourneys, Red Dog Records 001. The first features me, David Forbes, Mike Eberle and Bill Dudley, and was recorded and produced by Bill. The second features me, David Forbes, and Mike Eberle, and was recorded and produced by Bob Carlin.