"Banjo music is a part of my life. I love to play it, teach it, hear it, and learn it. Now that I'm retired, I have the time to do all of those things. "
Reed's Early Influences
The first day I met Barbara in 1978, 1 sat down with the banjo and "Barbara's Tune" composed itself. Six months later we were married, and I've been playing this tune ever since.
Peter Hoover learned "Twin Sisters" from Sydna and Fulton Myers. Hemet them on one of his collecting trips to southern Virginia. Peter Hoover is a great banjo player who came to Bloomington when I was 19 years old. I met him and he took me over to his apartment, put on his Ampex tape recorder, and said, Here, I made you a reel of old-time banjo tunes." He sat there, drank beer, and ate donuts for about 3 hours; that was the first time I had seen any clawhammer banjo player move his thumb to different strings.
He played tunes that he had collected for years, either at fiddlers conventions or at people's houses. Peter Hoover was the first person I knew who had gone out to find rural musicians. He was about 7 feet tall so when he knocked on your door, you took him seriously. He is an incredibly smooth,
melodic banjo player and was a tremendous influence on me. At that time, I was just absorbing old-time banjo tunes visually; I could watch somebody play a tune and it would be in my head. It didn't matter whether I brought it back 5 minutes later or 2 years later. The night of watching him play banjo was so influential that the stuff I couldn't under, stand technically stayed in my head. I remember driving down the Pennsylvania Turnpike 2 years later and suddenly having a big rush of banjo tunes from that night. I pulled over at a rest area and figured out three or four tunes that I had seen him play. I had been carrying the tunes in my head for years but unable to play them and suddenly came back. When Peter made that tape, I didn't even have a tape recorder to play it back on, but I carried it around for a long time and still have the tape 30 years later.
Leonard was a musician who lived in southern Virginia. One day this tune came to him while he was out in his tater patch. His friend Charlie Lowe learned "Tater Patch," and Tommy Jarrell learned it from him. Tommy gave Ray Alden a tape of the two of them, Charlie Lowe and Tommy Jarrell, playing the tune. Ray played the tape for me and I think I am the guy who first started playing it among the younger musicians.
I went down a country road and came upon a little store; I went in and asked the grayhaired man behind the counter, "When you were a kid, who played the banjo here in Aberdeen?" (This is Aberdeen Military Proving Grounds country-the last place you would expect to find somebody playing clawhammer banjo.) He told me, "Pearl Walls was the banjo player when I was a kid here." I asked him, "Where is she now?"
And he said, "Go down that driveway right there and that's her house. She lives by herself down that little lane." So my sister and I went to her house and knocked on the door and this lovely lady came to the door and invited us in. We said, "It's Christmas Day .. we were just driving around and found out that you used to play banjo." She said, "I've got nobody here, so come on in; we can have Christmas afternoon together." We spent the afternoon with Pearl Walls. She was originally from Banner Elk, North Carolina, Doc Watson country. She had a fretless banjo with no strings on it; she liked my banjo because it had frets. We were treated to some of the tunes from her childhood.
One of the tunes was "Johnson Boys" and she said, "That's probably my favorite fretless banjo tune. Mel Bay Publications once asked my sister to send them interesting photos which she had taken while living in Kentucky from 1967 to 1970. They were not very interested in identification; they just wanted rural photos. One of the photos my sister sent them was a picture of Pearl Walls playing my banjo with her Christmas tree in the background. It's the full page photo you see on page 92 of Frailing: an Instrumental Manual by Eric Muller and Barbara Koehler.
Around the Washington, D.C. area when I learned it. it could have been from Sam Rizzetta playing it on the hammered dulcimer, or maybe Mike Rivers brought it back from one of his travels to music festivals. After hearing Howie Bursen playing at the Red Fox a couple of times, I tried to add more pulloff notes and jazz up the original "Rosetree" tune a bit.
Pete Steele was a great Kentucky musician who moved to Hamilton, Ohio, in the '30s. He came to Bloomington periodically to visit a friend, Paul Pell. Paul liked to build banjos and he tried to keep Pete supplied with a good instrument so he could stay in shape. I would get a call and go over and listen to Mr. Steele whenever he came to town. He sang words to "Last Payday at Coal Creek," but since I don't sing, I sped it up a little to make it more of a banjo instrumental. Mr. Steele had played for many years with another transplanted Kentucky banjo player, Andy Whitaker. Mr. Whitaker was older than Mr. Steele and lived some, where east of Indianapolis. During all the years he played music with Mr. Steele, nobody had ever gone to meet him. I drove many miles looking for Mr. Whitaker, but with no luck. He was the source for many of the great tunes which Mr, Steele played, including the "Coal Creek March" and "Last Payday at Coal Creek."