Banjos and Stereotypes

Sometime back, I saw a commercial on TV for for a certain SUV. You must know – I rarely watch TV, so I wonder how much of this is in commercials. Seems these young guys had pushed their SUV to its trail blazing limits and had wound up almost at the red-necky point of no return. How did they know this? Somewhere in this deepest, darkest part of Dixie, they came upon a hayseed; starring, mouth agape, with banjo in arms. He must have had more frets than IQ. The young guys found this scarier than Norman Bates and high-tailed it out of there.

 

Of course, the take-home from this is that we should all have better sense than to find ourselves near banjos – the very harbingers of all that is bad in the country. But, if you really wanted to be able to get that far back, then get yourself a SUV!

 

This reminds me of my own experience in banjo stereotypes.

When I was first learning to play the banjo, I would often sit outside and practice near the road. We lived on Green Mountain, which had newly been annexed into the Huntsville, Alabama city limits. Even though it was within the city limits, it was still very rural in character. Whip-poor-wills would sing in the spring and the stars were still so bright. It’s still the nearest place you can really get away from the city without going very far.

Anyway, I would sit in the bench swing under the old pine tree up near the road. Drivers in their cars would come near, but they really couldn’t see you very well unless they knew just where to look. One chilly fall night around 1977, not long after I first learned ‘dueling banjos’, a couple came to this backwoods spot and parked up at the power line about 100 yards away. I could tell it was two people, because two doors slammed; they had gotten out to go enjoy the scenic view (we lived right at the edge of the mountain, with a spectacular view to the east).

 

“Hmmm… I wonder what they would think of the local population if I started playing my latest song?”

 

I proceeded to play ‘dueling banjos’. They promptly got in the car and drove away! I can only guess I scared them into thinking they were a little too close to needing their own deliverance from a banjo-toting Norman Bates.

 

And they didn’t even get to hear that fancy ending I worked on so hard!

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About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Systems Engineer and part-time banjo and mandolin instructor. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play Scruggs and melodic and am working on becoming more advanced with single string. I'm also working on 4-finger banjo, which is way off the beaten path. I would like to see more jazz techniques integrated into bluegrass situations; counterpoint, especially. So long-term, that's what I'm doing. I'm also very keen on astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, christian homeschooling, martial arts, organic gardening and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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