For the last year and a half or more I’ve been consumed with immersing myself in traditional music: Irish jigs and reels, oldtime breakdowns, and more. I’m not overly concerned with authenticity or style, but have put a lot of work into growing my knowledge, repertoire, rhythm and ability to participate in sessions and jams for these specific genres. Recently, this quest has started to expand to include string ragtime and early Creole/Caribbean dance tunes.
Now, I’m finally ready to exhale and bring it back full circle by taking another look at some songs by the bands that were favorites of mine long before this music playing obsession began. Those bands would be Phish, The Grateful Dead and Ween.
When I first started playing tenor banjo I tried doing songs like Water in the Sky, Ripple and What Deaner Was Talking About, but found my 4-string banjo interpretations to be lacking. Rather than muddle through poor renditions of my favorite songs, I was made hip to traditional music, which worked perfectly for tenor banjo, and the rest is history.
I’m finally at a point where I can relax a bit when it comes to the traditional tunes, and increase my overall knowledge of music by trying to once again bring to life songs that have no business being played on tenor banjo! If successful, not only will I add enjoyment and versatility to my playing, but I should become a better musician as a result.
I’m wondering what songs might be good ones to start with? For Phish, I was thinking maybe Wading in the Velvet Sea and Mountains in the Mist? For The Grateful Dead perhaps Ship of Fools and trying Ripple again? For Ween maybe starting with She Wanted to Leave and I Don’t Want It? Last night I was fooling around with the vocal melody line to the Phish song Prince Caspian. I moved it from G to F to pair it with a Caribbean song from the 1800’s called Belle Layotte. It's a bare bones instrumental, but it kind of worked. Here’s a sample:
Rather than trying a whole bunch of songs by different artists, I think for now I'll focus almost exclusively on Phish, The Grateful Dead and Ween, partly because it adds focus and, at least with Phish and The Dead, those are almost like individual genres unto themselves. Hold on...I may need to make an exception for the Eamon O'Leary song Like A Dime from his Old Clump album. That's just too good to pass up.
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