Thursday, March 20, 2014

How To Get Even When Your Husband Brings Home a Banjo

Banjo. I never thought I'd write that word with any sort of seriousness. And I certainly never thought I'd have one in my house.

Billy Redden

Let me start by saying that I love my husband dearly. Let me add that when I hear the word 'banjo', my mind conjures the scene in Deliverance where the spooky-looking hillbilly is sitting on his porch swing playing "Dueling Banjos" opposite Ronny Cox on guitar. It's a great scene, even with the banjo, but we all know where the movie goes after that, don't we?

I was dubious from the moment my husband mentioned wanting a banjo for trad jazz gigs (traditional jazz - think Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton) and hoped this was a phase that would soon pass. When I married a professional jazz musician, I understood what I was getting into. Smokey clubs, coming home in the wee small hours, endless practice, roadie duties, and tons of equipment. Guitars, double basses, a cello, a piano, amplifiers. All would be right with the universe as long as the musical-instrument-to-handbag-ratio remained in balance. Never, as I was pondering marital bliss, did I imagine that my husband would want to bring home a banjo.

Before we went in search of said instrument, he played a track of Chuck Wayne playing be-bop banjo on his album Morning Mist, which was bearable. In fairness, it was better than I expected, but still, it was a banjo. Off we went to Banjo Haven in Longview, Texas. The shop's awesome proprietor, Vinnie Mondello, senses my hesitation over having a banjo in the house, and assures me that the tenor banjo my husband has picked out is nothing like the banjo from Deliverance. (It looks the same to me, but I'm no expert.) Just to cement the deal, he tells me that things could be worse: my husband could want to play jazz accordion.


Point taken.

Martyn and the banjo

We're now the proud owners of a 1928 Vega Professional tenor banjo and my husband is delighted, as evidenced by the amount of time he's spent playing the thing and the equal amount of time I've spent with The Kinks blasting through my headphones. My husband usually plays jazz guitar (think Joe Pass, Barney Kessel, Jim Hall), which is a very mellow sound. This is in sharp contrast with the plinky-plinkness of the banjo.

It's been a few days now and I'm starting to thaw, but the whole banjo thing has been a shock to the system, so getting even on two fronts seems a reasonable response. First, the instrument-to-handbag-ratio requires re-balancing. Therefore, shopping.

Second, I've just decided to write a banjo playing jazz musician into my current book. Since I write crime fiction, chances are the banjo will be the first to die, and I'm pretty sure it'll be a violent death. (I can't kill the player now, can I? He's got gigs to play and handbags to buy.)

Anybody want to book a New Orleans' style jazz band with banjo player? Send me an email.

Thanks Vinnie!
(I suppose I should come clean. I'm not totally opposed to the banjo, but I am a selective listener (my husband is sounding pretty good, by the way, and he's taught me the first bar of "Dueling Banjos"). Check out "Stone Rollin' Home" by one of my favorite groups, The Sonny Walters Band, and listen to local bluegrass band The Blake Brothers - amazing guys and great musicians.)

photo credit: twm1340 via photopin cc
photo credit: MSH* via photopin cc


  1. My favorite detail of this article. Is that you posted it at 4 am!

    1. The things we get up to in the middle of the night! It's banjo playing and blog posting at our house...!

  2. Perfect pitch is tossing a banjo into a dumpster and having it land on an accordion.
    An old joke, I know.

    1. An oldie but a goodie. I'm grateful I have no accordions (or bagpipes, for that matter) to deal with!