Clawhammer Banjo Recording Wish List

Someone sent an email to the Banjo-L list asking for suggestions for a CD Christmas present wish list of clawhammer recordings. This got so many great responses that I decided to post some of the selections here, as well as on-line sources (where I could find them). If you want to use this as a gift wish list, you can refer folks to this page and give them the number of the recording you want (one selection for the mother-in-law, one for the kids, three for the significant-other...).

Oh yeah: Stan Werbin wrote to say: "...I can't resist pointing out that Elderly carries (probably at much better prices) (almost) every CD on the page." If you don't know what "Elderly" is, click on it -- they're good folks.

Disclaimer: I'm not making any money here. I have no association with any of the below listed companies. I've included pictures of CD's where available and have quoted from catalog descriptions. Wherever possible I have attempted to supply a link directly to the CD maker or the original artist. Many of these CD's may be available through retailers and other sources. I assume that the information provided is accurate, but don't guarantee it. Please report dead links, bad service or whatever else to me at


Choice #1. Available from Folk Legacy

An important new release from Folk-Legacy Records FRANK PROFFITT of Reese, NC. Traditional Songs and Ballads of Appalachia CD-1 The great traditional singer and banjo player from the mountains of North Carolina in a program of authentic folk songs and ballads drawn from his rich family and regional heritage. Frank accompanied himself on his home-made fretless banjo and sang in a warm, unpretentious style that is extremely listenable. Included here is his own version of "Tom Dooley," the original source for the Kingston Trio hit of the late 1950s.


Choice #2. Available from Rounder Records

Way Down In North Carolina is an engaging collection of southern mountain songs and tunes played on banjo, gourd banjo, guitar, fiddle, dulcimer, autoharp, harmonica and trump (jew's harp). Paul Brown and Mike Seeger have played and collected traditional music since their childhoods. Here these outstanding performers present duets and solos including fiddle tunes, early blues and unique arrangements of familiar songs.


Choice #3. Available from Rounder Records

E.C. Ball, Gaither Carlton, Frank Proffitt, Wade Ward & others:
High Atmosphere: Ballads and Banjo Tunes from Virginia and North Carolina Collected by John Cohen in November of 1965, Released 1975

"High Atmosphere" celebrates the particular riches of the Appalachian musical tradition. What began as a document of mountain banjo tunings quickly blossomed as memories were stirred and melodies recollected. Originally released in 1975, this album is essential material for any Old-time music library and is reissued here for a new generation of musicians and listeners, with almost a half hour of additional recordings from the original sessions.


Choice #4. Available from Rounder Records

Editor's note: If you can't find Kyle Creed anywhere else, you'll find him playing The Lost Indian here...

The North Carolina Banjo Collection, Released 1998

"North Carolina is banjo country. No other area has done more to nurture and preserve banjo traditions; no other area has had greater influence on banjo innovations. The colorful history of America's favorite folk instrument is very nearly synonymous with the history of banjoists and the banjo in the Tar Heel state." --C.P. Heaton From Charlie Poole to Earl Scruggs, North Carolinians have played a pivotal role in the development of banjo playing in America in the 20th century. On this marvelously comprehensive 2-CD compilation, musician/historian Bob Carlin has brought together performances by white and black players from all parts of the state to explore the myriad of North Carolina banjo styles that culminated in Scruggs' three-finger bluegrass style. The artists featured include some of the most acclaimed traditional musicians of the 20th century -- people such as Poole, Doc Watson, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Elizabeth Cotton, Ola Belle Reed, Scotty Wiseman, and Tommy Jarrell; as well as oft-overlooked practitioners of the black banjo tradition, like Odell Thompson, Dink Roberts, and John Snipes.


Choice #5. Available from Smithsonian/Folkways

Editor's Note: Reportedly, Boggs never played true "clawhammer" but some 3 finger picking and up-brush stroke. He's included here because he has many fans in the clawhammer crowd.

Dock Boggs recorded only 12 songs in the 1920s, but his raw, powerful singing and distinctive banjo-playing caused Harry Smith to include him in his Anthology of American Folk Music (SFW 40090) and Mike Seeger to search for him in the hills of Kentucky in 1963. A new series of recording sessions captured the 50 blues, instrumentals, regional and religious songs included in this two-CD set. Originally released to high acclaim on three Folkways Records LPs in the 1960s, they have influenced musicians ever since. Extensive notes by Mike Seeger and Barry O'Connell. Total running time 2 hours and 22 minutes.


Choice #6. Available from Mary Cox

Actually, any of Mary Cox's CD's would be a treat to receive. Here's what she says about this one:

Greasy Coat, Snowdrop, Westphalia Waltz, Pig ankle Rag, Julie Ann Johsnon, Southwind, Duck River, Rachael, Walkin' that Pretty Girl Home, Blackberry Blossom, Old Tobacco Hills, Old Yeller Dog, Icy Mountain,, Seven Hills, Squirrel Heads and Gravy, Hunchback Liza, Last Chance

Notice the lack of glowing adjectives? Mary is humble. Go to her website, listen to some cuts from the CD's and then buy them all. For purposes of gift giving, Walkin' Than Banjo Home is Choice #6, while

is Choice #7. Available from Mary Cox


Choice #8. Available from eFolkMusic

The Boys From North Carolina
Bob is the man when it comes to the clawhammer banjo- he knows the subject completely, respects the history, plays great and loves the music. This new release is an excellent listen for Old-time fans and tunemongers alike. It has about the most interesting collection of tunes and songs you're apt to run across, like "You're Bound to Look Like a Monkey" and "God Gave Noah the Rainbow Sign". Bob plays them like the consummate straight man, and lets the humor of the songs get the laughs >>






Choice #9. Available from eFolkMusic

Editor's Note: You really have to listen to Roscoe Holcomb. You have to hunker down and pay attention. This isn't the CD to introduce the kids to Old-Time, either. Heck, play it too loud on a Saturday morning and you might even scare the neighbors and make the dog howl. It may not even --exactly -- be clawhammer. However, listen closely and you'll hear something amazing... This is The legendary Roscoe Holcomb performs 21 powerful songs shaped by the hard times and conflict between old and new that marked his life in the Kentucky mountains. A hard-hitting singer and banjo-player, he also performs unaccompanied ballads, banjo and harmonica solos, and with a guitar. These recordings from 1961, 1964, and 1974 were previously released on three different Folkways LP records and had a powerful influence on the folk music revival. Accompanied by extensive new notes and photographs by John Cohen.


Choice #10. Available from eFolkMusic

An Untamed Sense of Control
26 tracks from this unique, electrifying artist from Daisy, Kentucky, whose intense singing and powerful banjo- and guitar-playing typify the "high, lonesome sound!" Features his 1961 recording of "Man of Constant Sorrow."


Choice #11. Available from CD Baby

"My Friend is a Mule in the Mines" is the second release from Dark Holler. Subtitled "Old-Time Excursions," this CD is being praised for it's wonderfully original approach to old-time music. Fiddle tunes, old-time country, and blues are all handled with equal skill by Bob, a multi-instrumentalist from York County, Pennsylvania. The title cut is a song his Grandfather sang for the Bishop among others when he retired from the Methodist clergy. The CD also includes a nearly lost, traditional York County Fiddle tune, called "Unicorn". Bob appeared regularly in the region with the Contra Rebels, the house band for the York Folk Dance Association. Fellow band members, Reed Martin and Todd Clewell join Bob on this project which includes four banjo duets with Reed. Other guests include Bob Hess and Tim Renner.

For fans of old-time banjo, this CD is simply a must-have as it features two of clawhammer banjo's GREATEST living players, Reed Martin and Bob Buckingham himself...sometimes playing banjo duets. Amazing!


Choice #12. Available from Yazoo Records

As the Mississippi Delta is to blues, Kentucky is to fiddle music, banjo playing, and classic old ballads and songs. No other state comes close in both terms of amazing diversity of styles and just pure prodigious amounts of classic performances. This 7-CD box set contains 167 all-time great performances by some of the finest country musicians who ever lived — it is a treasure trove of Americana. Since all the recordings are from the 1920s and 1930s, it's as close to the ultimate sources as anything can be. Included in this box set is a 32 page 5" X 11" booklet containing stunning period photos of many of the musicians and copious background notes.


Choice #13. Available from County Sales

Fantastic old-time fiddle and banjo duets from two of the industries favorites. An essential part of any old-time collection.


Choice #14. Available from Amazon

Altamont: Black Stringband Music
Frazier/Patterson/Lusk Band

No notes on Amazon, but here's a review submitted by a buyer:

Fascinating and historically significant field recordings of African-American string band music. If you think that whites invented country music and bluegrass, check out these recordings, cut in the 1940's but representing a much earlier tradition, when black musicians liberated American fiddle playing from the sweet and melody-driven tunes of Europe, and introduced the concept of rhythm into the mountains. Actually, these 14 tracks, by two different string bands, are often impossible to tell apart from white groups unless you know what to listen for. Oh, and a little hint for the skeptical - just because the fiddle is screechy doesn't mean these aren't accomplished musicians. Docked one star for the miserable sound quality - it's not like it could sound any better than it does, but the intense lo-fi will probably alienate the uninitiated. Of course, I doubt if the uninitiated are interested anyway. Give it a shot!


Choice #15. Available from Smithsonian/Folkways

Black Banjo Songsters
of North Carolina and Virginia
Smithsonian Folkways 40079

The sounds and social history of African American banjo playing--32 superb instrumentals and vocals, recorded between 1974 and 1997. Extensively annotated with performer's life histories, tunings, lyrics, bibliography, and discography. The banjo's gourd ancestors came to the Americas with enslaved Africans, forging the link between West African griots and performers of 20th-century blues and string-band music. 64 minutes.


Choice #(Sorry). Available at Zepp Country Music

Ask all you will, Zepp is too busy keeping the world supplied with great instruments and teaching banjo to cut a CD. This is our loss. However, you can listen to Zepp play (and you should) by going to his site and finding the Sound File Index link on his home page. These are quick recordings made to demonstrate instruments and other things, but well worth hearing for the marvelous technique. Some of us would be willing to fly to North Carolina, hangout and help mind the store, cook, clean and do general chores while Zepp made us a full blown solo CD, but hope seems slim. So, be content with the link above!


Choice #16. Available from Zepp Country Music

Editor's Note: The aforementioned Zepp (see above) sent me off to sample a cut from the above CD at the website of Arnie Naiman and Chris Coole. Great stuff! There are three CD's in all, so visit the site and check them out (low-fi Realplayer samples).

"5 Strings Attached With No Backing". is a collection of both traditional and original tunes capturing the beautiful sound of the old time clawhammer and finger-picking style of the 5 string banjo with guitar accompaniment. Unique versions of old time songs are included along with a variety of instrumentals, which makes for great listening from start to finish. Banjo tunings and keys are documented for the banjo playing enthusiast.

More to come!


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