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Thread: Mandolin and Clawhammer Banjo duos

  1. #1

    Default Mandolin and Clawhammer Banjo duos

    Old time, Appalachian mandolin music can be hard to find, and mandolin/banjo duo performances even harder!

    However, I feel the mandolin thrives in this setting. The two instruments complement each other much like the banjo and fiddle do and, in this smaller setting, the mandolin does not risk being drowned out as often occurs in larger string band situations.

    If there are any clawhammer banjo and mandolin(-family) recordings, videos, etc.. that are favorites, please share them here!

    I'll start with this video of Adrian Gross and Chris Coole playing Adrian's original tune "Harefoot's Retreat".

    Last edited by Mandolin Cafe; Aug-14-2022 at 12:30pm. Reason: correcting embed coding

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  3. #2
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin and Clawhammer Banjo duos

    A while ago Adam Steffey recorded a CD with his wife playing clawhammer banjo...

    https://www.bing.com/search?q=adam+s...955126893f4129
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin and Clawhammer Banjo duos

    When I lived in North Carolina, I knew a number of excellent clawhammer banjo players and always enjoyed a chance to play one on one with them. A favorite was "Valley Forge".
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin and Clawhammer Banjo duos

    There are a few posted on youtube, this stood out...

    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin and Clawhammer Banjo duos

    The problem with playing oldtime tunes/songs on mandolin is that too often it comes off as sounding bluegrassy.

    Mandolin can be played in a manner where it does sound oldtime, but it requires a different way of playing, either emulating clawhammer/frailing banjo or oldtime fiddling.

    The banjo approach is more of an alternative style of crosspicking. (At first I used flatpick only, but later switched to pick+middle finger which I think sounds better and smoother.) I had (still have) the Art Rosenberg "Old-Time Mountain Banjo" book on Oak and spent a lot of time adapting those tunes/tabs onto the mandolin, paying special attention to keeping notes on different strings (if that was how the banjo did it) and all the slurrings/slides/hammers/pulloffs. This was late 1970s and early 1980s when I was also putting Mississippi John Hurt fingerpicking, Clarence White solos, Richard Thompson guitar transcriptions onto the mandolin.

    The other approach was to try replicating the bowing and slurring of oldtime fiddle. My opinion was that if you wanted to bring mandolin into a genre where it was absent or minimally used, one needed to model your vocabulary and dynamics after the one or two dominant instruments of the genre. In oldtime, this would be fiddle and banjo; in Cajun, it's button accordion and fiddle; in Tex-Mex 2 or 3 row button accordion ala Flaco Jimenez. An if you wanted to rock on mando without sounding ridiculous, all the signature guitarists from Jimi to Garcia, BB, RT, Angus Young, Allman, etc.

    At the time the only other mandolin player I ran into doing oldtime banjo style stuff on mando was Larry Rice., with whom I did some playing/recording with in 81-82. He was on a similar track as me, but ahead on the banjo sound. I've occasionally run into some people that also played clawhammer banjo as well as mando who applied the banjo right hand technique, but that gives you something different than what Larry and I were doing. I should add that there's a substantial similarity to the across-the-strings mandolin and mandola playing of Andy Irvine on those Planxty albums.

    There are some "clawhammer mandolin" arrangements in The Mandola Sampler book. In Hot Solos For Bluegrass Mandolin, there is a clawhammer version (and clawhammer harmony) for "In The Pines" before it goes into the single-line solos. There have been a few clawhammer mando pieces in The Mandocrucian's Digest issues, as well a some Oldtime Fiddle on mando columns by Judy Hyman of the Horseflies.


    Niles H and Larry Rice, Crystal River, FL, 1982

    (This is a bit tangential to the thrust of the OP, but it's worth thinking about . Good for solo playing and accompaniment too)

    Niles H

    Mandocrucian tracks on SoundCloud

    CoMando Guest of the Week 2003 interview of Niles

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    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin and Clawhammer Banjo duos

    In Hot Solos For Bluegrass Mandolin, there is a clawhammer version (and clawhammer harmony) for "In The Pines" before it goes into the single-line solos.
    To correct an error in my previous post;

    Actually it is "Shady Grove" that gets some clawhammer treatment. ("In The Pines" drifts into SRV/Hendrix territory in the last couple of its solos.)

    In The Mandola Sampler, the clawhammer pieces are "Old Man At The Mill" (in the equivalent of GDAD tuning) and Larry's take on "The 8th of January" (in the equivalent of a GDGD tuning)

    NH

    I should mention that in the 80's Larry (Rice) played a lot with a banjoist from Crystal River named Mark Johnson, who has gone on to gain some fame for his "clawgrass" banjo style. But in those earlier days, Mark was doing all sorts of neat stuff, playing 3-finger style out of the oldtime banjo tunings. And I think he would play clawhammer in standard banjo tuning, so he had a good understanding of both styles and was able to sit right on the fence sonically between OT and BG. Larry had stuff he'd recorded at this house, just he and Mark as a duo, and I thought it was really good. Not sure what Mark has recorded in recent years - I know he did an album entitled "Clawgrass" on which Tony Rice plays. So this may be a lead joh might want to look into https://www.clawgrassbanjo.com/
    Last edited by mandocrucian; Aug-18-2022 at 6:27pm.

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    Registered User bbcee's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin and Clawhammer Banjo duos

    And just FYI, Adrian in the first video is playing his Gibson mandola.
    Last edited by bbcee; Aug-22-2022 at 10:04am.

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    Default Re: Mandolin and Clawhammer Banjo duos

    Russ Jordan

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    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin and Clawhammer Banjo duos

    Maddie plays a lot of bluegrass but is pretty well known in oldtime circles too.



    Several mandolin and clawhammer duos in this podcast.

    https://getupinthecool.fireside.fm/290

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    Default Re: Mandolin and Clawhammer Banjo duos

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post
    To correct an error in my previous post;

    Actually it is "Shady Grove" that gets some clawhammer treatment. ("In The Pines" drifts into SRV/Hendrix territory in the last couple of its solos.)

    In The Mandola Sampler, the clawhammer pieces are "Old Man At The Mill" (in the equivalent of GDAD tuning) and Larry's take on "The 8th of January" (in the equivalent of a GDGD tuning)

    NH

    I should mention that in the 80's Larry (Rice) played a lot with a banjoist from Crystal River named Mark Johnson, who has gone on to gain some fame for his "clawgrass" banjo style. But in those earlier days, Mark was doing all sorts of neat stuff, playing 3-finger style out of the oldtime banjo tunings. And I think he would play clawhammer in standard banjo tuning, so he had a good understanding of both styles and was able to sit right on the fence sonically between OT and BG. Larry had stuff he'd recorded at this house, just he and Mark as a duo, and I thought it was really good. Not sure what Mark has recorded in recent years - I know he did an album entitled "Clawgrass" on which Tony Rice plays. So this may be a lead joh might want to look into https://www.clawgrassbanjo.com/
    There was a “clawhammer mandolin” arrangement of Cold Frosty Morning in one issue of your Mandocrucian’s Digest that works great. I still play it. Thanks for that!

  16. #11

    Default Re: Mandolin and Clawhammer Banjo duos

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post
    The problem with playing oldtime tunes/songs on mandolin is that too often it comes off as sounding bluegrassy.

    Mandolin can be played in a manner where it does sound oldtime, but it requires a different way of playing, either emulating clawhammer/frailing banjo or oldtime fiddling.

    The banjo approach is more of an alternative style of crosspicking. (At first I used flatpick only, but later switched to pick+middle finger which I think sounds better and smoother.) I had (still have) the Art Rosenberg "Old-Time Mountain Banjo" book on Oak and spent a lot of time adapting those tunes/tabs onto the mandolin, paying special attention to keeping notes on different strings (if that was how the banjo did it) and all the slurrings/slides/hammers/pulloffs. This was late 1970s and early 1980s when I was also putting Mississippi John Hurt fingerpicking, Clarence White solos, Richard Thompson guitar transcriptions onto the mandolin.

    The other approach was to try replicating the bowing and slurring of oldtime fiddle. My opinion was that if you wanted to bring mandolin into a genre where it was absent or minimally used, one needed to model your vocabulary and dynamics after the one or two dominant instruments of the genre. In oldtime, this would be fiddle and banjo; in Cajun, it's button accordion and fiddle; in Tex-Mex 2 or 3 row button accordion ala Flaco Jimenez. An if you wanted to rock on mando without sounding ridiculous, all the signature guitarists from Jimi to Garcia, BB, RT, Angus Young, Allman, etc.

    At the time the only other mandolin player I ran into doing oldtime banjo style stuff on mando was Larry Rice., with whom I did some playing/recording with in 81-82. He was on a similar track as me, but ahead on the banjo sound. I've occasionally run into some people that also played clawhammer banjo as well as mando who applied the banjo right hand technique, but that gives you something different than what Larry and I were doing. I should add that there's a substantial similarity to the across-the-strings mandolin and mandola playing of Andy Irvine on those Planxty albums.

    There are some "clawhammer mandolin" arrangements in The Mandola Sampler book. In Hot Solos For Bluegrass Mandolin, there is a clawhammer version (and clawhammer harmony) for "In The Pines" before it goes into the single-line solos. There have been a few clawhammer mando pieces in The Mandocrucian's Digest issues, as well a some Oldtime Fiddle on mando columns by Judy Hyman of the Horseflies.


    Niles H and Larry Rice, Crystal River, FL, 1982

    (This is a bit tangential to the thrust of the OP, but it's worth thinking about . Good for solo playing and accompaniment too)

    Niles H
    Niles - thank you for the very interesting perspective and references! I'll message you privately about acquiring some back copies of The Mandocrucian's Digest :-). I didn't realize that Judy Hyman had an "Oldtime Fiddle on mando" column! I grew up close to Ithaca and am acquaintances with Richie Stearns, the banjo player of the Horseflies, yet I had no idea that Judy was also a mandolin player!

    John Reischman teaches a technique he says is inspired by frailing banjo, but it sounds very different than what you describe. His technique essentially consists of fretting a first note and then, while that note rings, playing a pair of eighth notes on the next lower string. You, however, seem to be eluding to a right hand technique that combines flat picking with claw hammer finger picking..! Are you aware of any albums or other recordings that demonstrate this technique?

    I agree it is very easy for mandolin playing to sound bluegrassy when playing old-time. However, I feel like it's usually not the melody playing per-se that is the culprit. Rather, it's the choice to take solos and, as a consequence, play backup when others takes solos. Old-time is not a chordal genre nor does it feature a lot of improvisation - it's all about the pulse of playing a melody over and over.

  17. #12

    Default Re: Mandolin and Clawhammer Banjo duos

    A couple more mandolin/clawhammer banjos I've come across:

    * Eli West and Cahalen Morrison mix-n-match claw hammer banjo, octave mandolin, mandolin, and guitar.


    * Bruce Molsky, Allison de Groot & John Reischman (although, the mandolin part is really hard to hear ..)

  18. #13
    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin and Clawhammer Banjo duos

    Quote Originally Posted by joh View Post
    Niles - thank you for the very interesting perspective and references! I'll message you privately about acquiring some back copies of The Mandocrucian's Digest :-). I didn't realize that Judy Hyman had an "Oldtime Fiddle on mando" column! I grew up close to Ithaca and am acquaintances with Richie Stearns, the banjo player of the Horseflies, yet I had no idea that Judy was also a mandolin player!

    John Reischman teaches a technique he says is inspired by frailing banjo, but it sounds very different than what you describe. His technique essentially consists of fretting a first note and then, while that note rings, playing a pair of eighth notes on the next lower string. You, however, seem to be eluding to a right hand technique that combines flat picking with claw hammer finger picking..! Are you aware of any albums or other recordings that demonstrate this technique?
    No Judy doesn't play mandolin as far as I know. What those columns involved was taking what she was demonstrating on fiddle and trying to replicating that sound on mandolin, which involved a lot of slurring and non-standard pick-direction across the strings to capture the feel of the bowings. So my old-time approach involves elements from clawhammer banjo and oldtime fiddling.

    You can hear my style of "clawhammer mandolin" on something I recently uploaded to SoundCloud. "Little Sadie Revised/Velisurmaaja". (Incidentally, I learned the tune from John Renbourn's 1971 album "Faro Annie". The trad. Finnish tune (interlude), that was from the first Niekku album.
    https://soundcloud.com/user-64352297...BTsLpYrgrWschE


    Let me know what you think of the track.

    I use a pick + finger RH technique. (The "roll" patterns are different from BG "crosspicking") I prefer use of the middle finger - it is smoother, more fluid and faster, and I find the softer tone/volume much more suitable for the drone on the higher strings.

    Niles H.

    Mandocrucian tracks on SoundCloud

    CoMando Guest of the Week 2003 interview of Niles

    "I could be wrong now, but I don't think so!." - Randy Newman ("It's A Jungle Out There")

  19. #14

    Default Re: Mandolin and Clawhammer Banjo duos

    What an informative thread! Recently I have been playing with a very good old time fiddler. His rhythm is very strong. I have been trying to sync to his bowing patterns and shuffles, as well as slurs and other techniques in both right and left hands. Itís not easy with a flat pick but I am learning a lot from him. When it works itís magical. I have also been listening a lot to Caleb Klauder and Sammy Lind in Foghorn Stringband. Caleb uses a clawhammer rhythm groove a lot, and his melody playing sounds great with Sammyís fiddle. That band also has a powerful rhythm section.

  20. #15
    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin and Clawhammer Banjo duos

    Old time mandolin discussion. Not so much mandolin/clawhammer duets, but kind of relevant.

    https://getupinthecool.fireside.fm/311

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