The banjo is a beautiful, if often misunderstood instrument. Its piecing twang can be something of an acquired taste for those who didn’t grow up around it, which I did. However, it was admittedly not until Mumford and Sons made it sexy again in 2009 that I took up playing. Despite being somewhat underwhelmed by its ability to impress the ladies, I was immediately taken by the depth and history of the traditional banjo repertoire. As an illustration, here are five landmark banjo tunes and the stories behind them.
1. Foggy Mountain Breakdown
This song is often the first piece that beginners aspire to learn–something of the “anyway, here’s Wonderwall” of the banjo world–and for good reason. Recorded in 1949 by banjo legend Earl Scruggs, it was largely responsible for popularizing the three-fingered picking style (or “Scruggs style”) that replaced the strumming “clawhammer” style as the dominant technique in American…
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