Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn are modern day banjo royalty. When we recently caught up with them during a tour stop in Chicago they treated us to a performance of one of their tunes, along with an explanation on the development of two major banjo-picking schools. While our cameras were rolling, the husband-and-wife team also gave us a set of recommendations on key records you can grab if you're interested in understanding the origins and nuances of several different styles of banjo-based music.
Abigail pointed to Georgia Sea Island Songs as a great illustration of where banjo might fit into the fife and drum tradition, and points to Fred Cockerham and Tommy Jarrell along with Roscoe Holcomb, and Dock Boggs as key examples of how clawhammer banjo music developed. Another useful entrance into the old-time banjo music more broadly comes from Mike Seeger, who dabbled in all sorts of styles and sub-genres.
Coming from a more three-finger, bluegrass perspective, Béla rightfully cites the moment when Flatt and Scruggs joined up with Bill Monroe as the spark for the bluegrass style. There are endless Flatt and Scruggs records and compilations floating around Reverb LP, many of which are essential buys for anyone even remotely interested in bluegrass music. Things evolved further with the likes of the Osborne Brothers and Jim & Jesse, who added drums to the mix and were able to get their tunes on country radio. Later, the so-called New Grass era got underway with acts like The Country Gentlemen and eventually Sam Bush and his New Grass Revival.
Watch the video above for more picks from Abigail and Béla, and grab some essential banjo records via the links below.