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New Banjo Music

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My debut album ‘Bobcat’ is officially available. 12 Tracks of new banjo music, 10 of my original compositions. Many thanks to everyone who helped out along the way. Visit the Store page to order a copy.

Studio Footage/Update

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The music is done and the paperwork has begun. Literally as soon as I can finish the publishing and copyright procedures and get this thing off to the press I will have it available for the world. In the meantime, here’s a little footage from the studio. Jenni Lyn Gardner, Dustin Benson and Royal Masat laying down my tune “Through The Fence”. Total dream team of groove. B chord, right where they belong. Also, there’s a sidebar on this page where you can download a single from the record early, for FREE.

Making Progress ….

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Here’s a little update: I’ve done a few more sessions, and am getting dangerously close to having the music complete for my new album. It’s mostly original compositions, some are 5 years old, some are brand new. It’s been a new and fun challenge to produce this project on my own, and I feel that I learn something new with every session. Stay tuned, there will be an opportunity for an early download of a single…

Ross Holmes

Ross Holmes

3 Mics are better than 1

3 mics are better than 1

Daniel Rice, and Matt Wingate.

Daniel Rice, and Matt Wingate.

New Recording Project

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Dominick Leslie, Royal Masat, Billy Contreres, Jon Stickley, Kyle Tuttle, Daniel Rice

Dominick Leslie, Royal Masat, Billy Contreres, Jon Stickley, Kyle Tuttle, Daniel Rice

I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be releasing my first solo album in 2015. I’ve been hard at work in the studio with Daniel Rice at Gravity Boots Recording. We had a very productive 3 days with all these awesome cats pictured above: Dominick Leslie on Mandolin, Royal Masat on Bass, the unmistakable Billy Contreres on fiddle, and Jon Stickley on guitar. It’s an honor to have such great musicians as friends and colleagues. More to come soon!

Duo Shows with JLG

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KTJL Couch

I’ve been doing some duo shows around Nashville lately with the lovely and talented Jenni Lyn Gardner. We’re having lots of fun arranging traditional material to fit the duo instrumentation, and working up some new original material too. And of course, no acoustic duo is complete without a little instrument swapping!! You’ll have to catch us in person to hear my dazzlingly executed mandolin solos, and Jenni Lyn crackin’ that 5 just like her Granny taught her. And we’ve got another project together in the works, so keep your ears out!

Electric Banjo

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I’ve been having fun playing an electric banjo this year. It was built by Ian Davidson in California. It’s a very cool instrument. With an acoustic pickup under the bridge and a humbucking electric pickup in the neck position this banjo has a pretty wide range of sounds. I mostly alternate in a 60/40% ratio in either direction, depending on what type of song it is. The neck feels great, thinner than most banjo necks, easy to play fast. I run it through a Fender Deluxe tube amp right now, with the occasional wah-wah pedal, which you’ll hear near the end of the video below. I spent my teenage years playing electric guitar in punk rock bands, mostly in basements, and very loud. So it’s nice to get to plug in and make some real noise again.

Check out Ian’s website for more electric banjos, he has some really cool looking stuff on there.

Here’s a compilation of footage from FrazierBand shows where I’ve played this instrument at The World Famous Station Inn and The 5 Spot in Nashville TN,  and The Grey Eagle in Asheville NC.

Rebecca Frazier & Hit and Run Bluegrass

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I’m excited to be joining Rebecca Frazier‘s band Hit & Run Bluegrass this summer. Her new album “When We Fall” is being released on Compass Records, and we’ll be traveling in support of it. There are dates around the South East in May and June, and in Colorado in July. For more information about that, check out our Schedule. The band consists of Rebecca Frazier of guitar, John Frazier on Mandolin, Shad Cobb on fiddle, and myself on the 5-string. It’s real hard-drivin’ grass. The players are all great and I’m honored to be a part of it.

Double Banjo- but not how you think….

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Back in November a rather unfortunate series of events involving a weak gig bag, concrete, and UPS resulted in the breaking of my only banjo neck multiple times. Shortly thereafter I purchased a new ‘Hot-Rod’ of a banjo from Robin Smith. I’ve been playing that while Robin re-built the neck on the ODE that had been destroyed. I got the ODE from Robin in the mail a few weeks ago, and couldn’t be happier with the neck he made. I’ve been keeping it tuned in E ( a minor third below typical G tuning, the notes are: e B E G# B).

I had the idea to record something with both banjos, and began to ponder the possibilities. We’ve all heard a double-banjo tune before, usually a melody with a higher, mostly tertiary harmony. Its the same harmonization technique that’s typically used for Bluegrass and Folk vocals. And it works well with human voices; but something gets lost in translation onto the banjo. So I figured, why not try to get the banjo’s as far apart as possible. It starts with 2 different tunings (G and E), but there’s still a lot of overlap there. You really need a key where the chords can be voiced differently on the 2 instruments. The lowest string on the E banjo is a B, which happens to be one of the highest capo positions on a G banjo: so B is the key. And what better banjo tune in B than Herschel Sizemore’s “Rebecca”.

So I climbed into the control room at Studio 94 and went to it.

This recording is what came out.




Acoustic Music Seminar, Merlefest: 2nd place

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I spent a few weeks down south in April on some very exciting musical endeavors. The first of which was the Acoustic Music Seminar, hosted by the Savannah Music Festival, and organized by Mike Marshall. It was a week of workshops and creative collaboration between many of the best young string musicians in the country, and the ‘faculty’ including Mike Marshall, Tony Trischka, Edgar Meyer, and Julian Lage. I feel completely honored to have been a part of this event. It was a truly priceless experience to sit in a small room and discuss the creative process and compositional and arranging ideas with some of the players who have influenced me the most. Particularly Julian Lage. He conveys the sounds he hears to his audience in a more honest, and more complete way than most any other performer I’ve ever seen. I’m inspired not only by his compositional and improvisational abilities (which are completely out of this world), but the direction in which he is taking his music. Much of the Acoustic Music Seminar was spent discussing the balance between representing tradition and creating with your own voice. In my mind Julian’s work has achieved that balance. He is pushing the instrumentation boundaries a bit with the cello and hand percussion, but more importantly he is moving away from traditional 32 bar forms and 4 chorus solos and focusing on what a piece of music really needs to say (or doesn’t need to say). This newer type of architecture is still held together by beautifully simple melodies and movement that seems as if it were the only sensible option, to create music (maybe jazz) that is intellectual, but timelessly easy to listen to.






I also spent good time with Tony Trischka in Savannah. Of course Tony is one of my heros, and one of the great banjo players of all time. His touch on the instrument is so brutal and in-your-face, if his banjo were a person I think he’d be arrested for assault. But fortunately it’s just a banjo, and he makes it sing. I’m always on the edge of my seat playing with Tony, waiting for the next crazy idea that he’s going to force out of the 5-string. That’s not to say that Tony cant play sweet too, he certainly can. But I always find myself gravitating to his early albums, ‘Banjo Land’ and ‘Bluegrass Light’ where he’s just knockin the doors off the place.

The musicians of Tony Trischka and Mike Marshall’s generation had a much different balance of tradition and creativity in their music than we do today. My generation has access to so much music and information that it becomes a more complex situation for us than it was for our predecessors. Weeding through whats out there to find something that really speaks to you is hard. The result of not finding something you really relate to is becoming a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. I’d say that’s the plight of the advancing musician in 2012. A week with my ‘co-workers’ of sorts and some heavy mentors really helped me to locate whats important in my musical life, and I feel pretty good about it. I’m writing more, with the goal of a solo album getting closer all the time.

59590_383507965064488_672742103_n Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 8.29.51 PM








Also while down south, I went to Merlefest for the Banjo Contest, and took 2nd place. The contest was judged by Pete Wernick, Mark Shatz, and Weston Stewart (last years winner). They wrote a nice paragraph about me, which you can find here. This year I have arranged ‘Redwing’, ‘Jerusalem Ridge’, and ‘Road To Columbus’. I have not yet recorded them, but have plans to soon. I still need to arrange one more tune for Winfield this September. It’s a neat scene at the banjo contests, lots of very talented players doing all kinds of things, and everyone’s pretty dang nice to one another. I saw a few players I met last year at Winfield competing at Merlefest this year, and I look forward to seeing them again at Winfield #41.

Buster Keaton Films, and Reading Music

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The past few weeks have brought some interesting work, and challenges. Mainly I’ve been practicing my part of 3 scores written by pianist Brendan Cooney. The music accompanies 3 silent films from 1923 starring Buster Keaton. The films are full of physical comedy and wild stunts, Buster seems to defy gravity and human fragility with his trips, jumps, and falls. Brendan’s new scores are quite fitting, lots of rags featuring the “stride” piano technique that feels just right with the grainy black and white projection. These bouncy piano themes join some banjo tunes, some clarinet led hot-jazz, some textural soundscapes, and the 90 year old films to create a really funny viewing experience. And I’m not saying this as an advertisement, I’m saying it honestly because I’ve seen it about 50 times now, and it’s hilarious. (Click HERE for show details)

The challenge in this event is that these scores are on long, complicated charts of standard notation, something banjo players are generally not very happy to see. Fortunately for me, Brendan happens to be a banjo player too, so he put the “banjo-istic” parts in tablature for me, but the majority of the parts are standard notation, or rhythmic notation. Of course, just as any good 20’s era film score, it’s covered up in diminished chords. Also fortunately for me, I’m pretty comfortable with reading charts like these, otherwise I might not have been able to get this job. That fact got me to thinking about the ability to “read”.

In a way there’s almost two musical worlds, one where charts are a regular part of the job, and one where nobody understands how to read a chart. And they’re equally valid places.  For players who work in GB bands, theatre, studio sessions, and big bands reading is a part of every job they get. On the other hand, for players in rock bands, jam bands, bluegrass bands, and just about anything else one might label a “band” reading a real chart is unheard of. There may be a piece of paper that says what order the sections of the song occur, but they never read standard or rhythmic notation or key signatures on a staff. But both groups of musicians are able to work professionally, and even achieve equally high levels of success.

It’s kind of funny if you think about it. You would never go see a surgeon who didn’t know the names of their tools, or the parts of the human body regardless of their reputation for doing good work. Music and surgery are so far from each other though, that an “untrained” person is still perfectly capable of doing great work.

I guess the only difference is the type of work they’re capable of doing. Music created from a place of honest emotion, to convey a certain feeling or message (weather it’s creator is trained or not) is almost always going to be good. But when someone hires you to record banjo for a cat food commercial they don’t want you to play what’s in your heart, they want you to play what’s on the page. And they’d like you to get it right the first time. I’d prefer to play just what I want to all the time, and maybe one of these days I will, but not this week.

This week I recorded banjo for a character in the Czech Republic similar to ‘Alvin & The Chipmunks’ and for a French Canadian kids cartoon. Both were great learning experiences, and there will be some folks in costumes dancing around on stage in other parts of the world to my banjo playing, which makes me happy. I was able to get both of these gigs because I can read music.

I’m not trying to pick on people who can’t read, I’m just saying that in this modern musical world of diversification every skill helps, and reading has helped me quite a bit. Not to mention its benefits during the compositional process and studying harmony, which is another post for another time.



The Buster Keaton Silent Films with new, live scores will be playing this Friday, March 30th at:

The Armory. 191 Highland Avenue  Somerville, MA 02143

Tickets are $10 and can be purchased in advance here or at the door.


Here’s a scene from one of the shorts with Brendan’s music and a few shots of the band live.