You're A Gonna Ruin That Banjo

Shared by: Reed Martin

My sister lived in Whitesburg, Kentucky, during the mid 1960s and thereafter. In 1967 I went to live with her for the summer. I had been living in my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana. I was used to playing at noisey dances and had taken to the habit of winding all four strings in the peghead - the same direction. If I was part of a band and the noise was great, if my third string was flat, I knew that even if I could not really hear it, I could reach up, turn the peg clockwise, and the tone of that string would rise. All four pegs were wound so that worked on all four. I hope you are following this so far.......

Anyway, in 1967 when I went to visit my sister for the summer, I remembered that Doc Boggs lived in Pound, Virginia. I looked at a map and Pound was just up the valley from Whitesburg. I gave him a phone call and he invited me over.

Upon arriving, we talked a little and then I took out my banjo. It was Larry Richardson's old 1928 RB-3 ballbearing flathead with a newer tonering and no more a ballbearing. It was a lot like Doc's banjo. He looked at it and 'bout had a stroke when he saw what I had done with the windings on the third and fourth strings. "You're a-gonna ruin that banjo by doin' that." He stared at the peghead again. "What you're doin' is going to twist that peghead all to pieces." I told him that the banjo had been wound that way for a year and wasn't showing any sign of twisting. We sat and talked for awhile and I took out a tape recorder and made a 5" reel of tape of the afternoon. Every once in awhile he would stop whatever we were doing and look at the peghead on the Mastertone and repeat, " You're a-gonna ruin that banjo by doin' that."

It was a great afternoon with a great fellow. He claimed that back in his youth he used to spin the banjo around and flip it up in the air and never miss a lick. I brought in my old Thompson & Odell banjo which was in my car, and I pleaded with him to try one of his old tricks so I could see him in action, but he refused. I told him it was alright if the banjo got loose and broke all to pieces - I really wanted to see some of the old tricks, no matter how out of practice he was. He was determined to keep the banjo tricks within him until he died. No matter how many times we saw each other, he would never do any banjo tricks. And he never forgot me....everytime he would see me at a festival, or I would visit him, he would pretty soon be looking up at my banjo peghead to see if I was still ruining banjos. I will never forget what Doc looked like, because I have a photo here of my maternal grandfather, George Morris Jones. The two men look like identical twins.

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