Monday, November 22, 2010

Clawhammer Mike & his Chuck Lee Banjo

As a kid growing up I would stay up until 1 AM on the weekends eating pizza in bars while my stepfather played in Bluegrass bands and my mom did sound. To rebel I went off and did punk rock and electronic music as a teenager, but eventually found my way back home to old-time music. As a youngster I remember borrowing old Roscoe Holcomb and Dock Boggs records from my teacher and being mesmerized. It’s the people music – you have to play it from the heart because you are not going to get rich off it. Although playing festivals is a lot of fun- nothing beats getting together on Sunday in the living room and playing tunes for nobody but each other.

I like busking because it breaks down the barrier between you and your audience and gives unsuspecting people access to old songs. A couple of weeks ago I was playing and this young African American, who was blasting hip-hop in his headphones, got up in my face and shouted “That’s some of the Dopiest s__t I have ever heard”. Made me feel good.

I got my Chuck Lee #291 used on Ebay and I instantly fell in love with it. My Chuck Lee is everyone's favorite banjo who plays it. The sound, playability and look are perfect for what I want in an old-time banjo. One of my students was so jealous of mine that he had to get one too and his is #270.

Clawhammer Tune Of The Day is my new blog where I try to present simple tunes with a little bit of historical context. Hopefully it will be a good resource for those who are looking to increase repertoire. Plus I get to praise a bunch of dead fiddlers who should not be forgotten.

Clawhammer Mike, Temporary Stringband

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Custom Chuck Lee Banjo for Dan Coates

Dan ordered this custom banjo with Mermaid Inlay--it was a pleasure to build. Dan graciously allowed us to keep his completed instrument some extra time to coincide with a visit from Garden & Gun magazine--they came to the shop to do a photo shoot and article to be published some time this fall.

After receiving his banjo, Dan sent us a picture and the following comments:

"I've had (my new banjo) for several weeks now and am really enjoying it. The tone is sweet with the ebony tone ring. I've enjoyed the process from the start. You've been great to work with and I appreciate all the time you took with me over the phone to talk through the details of the project. Also, I appreciate the detailed emails from you documenting all of our decisions and agreements."

We really enjoy customers like Dan!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kristi Dunks & Mountain Moongrass

Kristi Dunks of Mountain Moongrass plays two Chuck Lee banjos- one with frets and one without. Being a good banjo mother, she said that she “loves them both equally and makes sure to give them equivalent attention” in her playing. Kristi’s favorite banjo sounds are frailing and blues, and she said, “Both banjos do a stellar job. To tell you the truth, these two banjos satisfy my every banjo need!

Kristi plays banjo in Mountain Moongrass, a 6-piece string band from Butte, Montana. Their sound is an eclectic blend of country and bluegrass tunes, as well as a fun mix of originals. They enjoy playing both the old and the new, and reinterpreting songs as they see fit. Mountain Moongrass is a big fan of audience participation at their shows so you may find the crowd dancing, laughing, clapping, or singing. Featuring 33 strings and six voices, the players are Renee Bruce-fiddle, Jim Constantine-mandolin, Kristi Dunks-banjo, Timothy Mason-guitar, Maggie Lou Perkes-bass, and Mike Tierney-guitar/harmonica.
Check out these links to the band on Facebook, Twitter and their Website.

Kristi has a new Chuck Lee and commented as follows:
“Chuck’s banjos are an amazing combination of beautiful sound and exquisite artistry.Chuck isn’t too bad of a fellow either!”
Customers like Kristi are what banjo building is all about.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

John Les is Frailing in Great Britain & Beyond

John Les is a recent Chuck Lee owner. He lives in North Wales and plays with a duo called "Highly Strung". We enjoyed his comments:

"I am very pleased with bass end and tremendous volume of this banjo which I play with Elixir strings. I am equally delighted that I can frail and/or play with finger picks and the quality of the tone is undiminished. It's my banjo of choice which will accompany us all summer as we tour and play at the British festivals, with up and coming visits to France, Czech Republic and Ireland."

Les went on to tell us about his duo's 1999 tour in the US. "... we were privileged to enjoy a ten day tour with banjo player Tony Ellis and The Musicians of Braeburn starting in Columbus Music Hall, Ohio. Then a gig in Circleville Ohio, and onto Balsam Mountain Inn near Asheville, where we sang for our supper with Singer Songwriters Guild of Nashville. Traveling on to Lebanon County Cedar Park where we were made very welcome by Buddy Ingrams, eventually enjoying the highlight of visit we were honoured to spent a magical afternoon with much missed John Hartford."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Southern String Band

Wade Smith is one of nine experienced musicians in the Southern String Band. He has recently purchased a Chuck Lee Chautauqua from Zepp Country Music in North Carolina. We were proud to hear that his whole band approved of his purchase, and that the "feel and even the smell" of the instrument was an instant band hit. Wade owns a number of banjos but he says, "this one has the clearest and cleanest sound I have heard." We're so proud!

Check out Wade and company at the band website, We wish they were closer to Texas!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Georgia Crackers, Chip Corbitt & a Chuck Lee Banjo

Chip Corbitt of the Georgia Crackers plays a Chuck Lee Banjo. He told us " I Love the dynamics of My Lone Star Deluxe (#51) - it's soft enough to play the sweetheart songs and big enough to bark a mean tone for the rowdy Georgia tunes."

More about the Georgia Crackers, from Atlanta, Georgia:
Take a trip back in time to the early era of Country Music with the Georgia Crackers. Before Hank Williams or Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys, Georgia musicians such as Fiddlin’ John Carson, Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers, and many others pioneered the golden age of “Hillbilly Stringbands”. The Georgia Crackers faithfully re-create the vintage sound of the 1920’s, while keeping alive the spirit of spontaneity and improvisation. Their irreverent stage banter is always a crowd pleaser as is the buck dancing of Ms. Edmonstone. An original member of the world famous Green Grass Cloggers, Andy Edmonstone also plays the stand-up bass. Along with old time singer, Kenneth Johnson (Pea Ridge Ramblers) on guitar and Chip Corbitt on clawhammer banjo, this rhythm section holds it down for Fiddlin’ Mick Kinney. Kinney has a unique but authentic fiddle style. When asked for his secret, Mick says, “steal licks from the best” and “keep it hot and greasy, but take it easy”. Listen to the Georgia Crackers as they reach back for that old time feel and surge forward in a rush so entertaining it’s mesmerizing.

On Youtube: Cottin Bagin' and Buckin' Mule

Here's their Facebook Page

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Carolina Chocolate Drops' Justin Robinson

Musician Justin Robinson, of the "Carolina Chocolate Drops", purchased a Chuck Lee from Zepp Country Music. This popular group is traveling the country (& the world) with an amazing sound. They are one of Chuck's favorite Old Time bands. This month they were even featured on NPR. Here are some of Justin's links:

The Band:

His solo project:

And Justin's words: "I'm loving playing my new banjo. I've been composing new songs and learning old ones since I've had it."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

111+ Year Record for Snow & Dakota the Newfoundland

Well 13+ inches of snow isn't much for most places but it was a 111 year record (that's when they started keeping records) for a 24 hour period here in North Texas. Oh and What's a snow plow? the Power went out and many folks are still out after several days.

Here's a picture of Dakota the velcro dog (aka Kota Bear) saying "Dad, I am so excited, can I jump up and put my paws on your shoulders?" Of course Dad said yes and we had a great big Newfy hug in the snow.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chuck, Would you build me a banjo?

When we received a call from Dennis Moore for a custom banjo project, we didn't know that a delightful family was involved.

Dennis ordered his Custom Chuck Lee, choosing all the features, woods, scoop style, tuners and more, just as he wanted them. We were thrilled when he could pick it up in person a few months later...bringing this photo-op with him!

Chuck really enjoys knowing where his banjos are going and making special "one-off" projects made to order. Making each banjo as unique as the musician who plays it.

Dennis Moore, shown above in our shop with his wife Sara, son Reed, and sister-in-law JoAnn.