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1997 - Mostly solo recordings of old favorites, as well some newer pieces. Fiddle tunes to folk songs are what you will find in this recording. Dan is joined on a few tracks with other musicians, including Annie Trimble of the Boiled Buzzards, and his son Jonathan Levenson.
Recorded, engineered and mastered by Paul Hamann at SUMA Studios, Painsville, OH except tracks 9 and 20 which were recorded and mixed by RT Audio - St. Louis, MO and 11 & 18 recorded by Pete Lang, St. Louis, MO.
Dan plays 24 solo banjo tunes, played using four different banjos. No vocals.
1999 Vega Tubaphone #2, by Deering 1915 Vega pot with a Kevin Enoch neck 1990 Minstrel banjo built by Bob Flescher 1996 Deering Goodtime, with Fyberskin head and no-knot tailpiece.
The album was recorded by Wes Linenkugel at his home studio in Toledo, Ohio on April 26 & 27, 2000. All of the tunes were played live to a Tascam DA-30 DAT and appear without any cuts, edits, or punch-ins.
The mic used was an Audio-Technica 4050 set about one foot from the head. A minimum of “presence” was added, but no other effects in order to maintain a natural sound. The same set-up was used for recording all four banjos.
Dan on banjo (and fiddle) with The Boiled Buzzards. 18 tracks of traditional old-time music.
Performers Dan Levenson - banjo and fiddle Ruth Kass - upright bass Annie Trimble - guitar Chris Wig - fiddle
Direct to Digital recording and mastering by John Reynolds; Post production and Mastering by Crooked Cove Recordings; Cover photo by Jonathan Levenson.
Dan on banjo with The Boiled Buzzards. Mostly instrumental (vocals on 2 cuts) featuring banjo, harmonica, guitar, and acoustic bass.
Recorded Engineered and Produced by Larry MacBride at Marimac Studios; Photography by Joel Warren - taken at Southeast Harley-Davidson in Cleveland, Ohio
This is The Boiled Buzzards’ first album. Dan, on banjo, joins with Dave Rice (harmonica), Ruth Kass (bass), and Joe Collins (guitar).
Performers Dan Levenson - banjo, vocal on track 4 & 14, fiddle on track 15 & 18 David Rice - harmonica, fiddle on track 11 Joe Collins - guitar Ruth Kass - bass
The album was recorded, engineered and mastered originally by Larry MacBride of Marimac Recordings at his home studio in Indiana in October of 1989. All of the tunes were played live and appear without any cuts, edits, or punch-ins. Cover photo by Heather Lucas; CD Mastering by Joe Loesch - Creative License - Nashville, TN. (Originally Marimac 9027, now Buzzard 1001.)
Dan is joined with Kim Murley for a recording that features a unique blend of American traditional tunes, with some Chinese pieces. If you like fiddle, banjo and dulcimer music and crave something fresh, you’ll love this one.
This album was recorded and engineered direct to DAT by Paul Hamann at SUMA studios. Post Production by FISHTRAKS, Inc.; Photo Joel Warren; Cover Calligraphy by Tom Huang
Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch (book with online audio), plus the DVD Set.
FINALLY! An instructional video that starts from the beginning! This two dvd set, Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch begins at the beginning and assumes NO knowledge of how to play the five string banjo clawhammer style.
FINALLY! An instructional book that starts from the beginning!
Southern Appalachian native Dan Levenson and Mel Bay Publications present Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch - A Guide for the Claw-less! This book teaches clawhammer banjo the way we play, not the way others say. It really begins as though you really have NO knowledge of how to play the five string banjo clawhammer style.
The book is written in tablature form (complete with instruction on how to read tab). All audio recordings of the 12 tunes in each of 3 versions, a fiddle recording of each tune and most of the exercises and examples are now on line.
This is a 128-page book with online audio presents 12 tunes from the common jam repertoire. The basic instruction really begins at the beginning – as if you had NO knowledge of clawhammer banjo or any other instrument for that matter. Technique, scales and exercises start you off, but they are quickly applied to 12 Old Time Jam favorites. The 12 tunes are repeated as new techniques are introduced creating more developed versions of the tunes each time. The book concludes with a dozen “Kitchen Sink” versions of the tunes, ready and able to be played in a jamming situation.
The DVD set Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch (available for separate purchase - Mel Bay 5003 DVD distributed by Mel Bay Publications) is a complementary set of video instructions that follow the same progression as the book but illustrate the techniques using only one tune, Spotted Pony, a great learning and jamming tune in its own right.
Together the book and DVD set will get you started as you claw your way to old time banjo fame!
12 Tunes Taught
Angelina Baker; Arkansas Traveler; Forked Deer; Fortune; Mississippi Sawyer; Old Molly Hare ;Over the Waterfall ;Rock the Cradle, Joe; Soldier’s Joy; Spotted Pony; West Fork Gals; The Year of Jubilo (Lincoln’s Gunboats)
From: Banjo Hangout Discussion Topic
This is a very self reflective review from a member of Banjo Hangout. It really says it all and I am honored both by its content and that someone would take the time to write such a personal story for me. He has given me permission to share it with you.
Message: This goes out to Dan…
I spent five years attempting to learn Bluegrass banjo from books and DVD’s and after all that time wasn’t satisfied with my progress. I am coming up on a year now of working with your book Clawhammer from Scratch: A Guide for the Claw-less and I must say that I am more than pleased with the results.
Like most people I was probably over anxious to get through the book as fast as I could, but I find that the more time I spend with your book the more there is to be learned. For instance, after a year with your book I was able to memorize the “kitchen sink” tablature to the twelve songs in the book and was pretty pleased with that and working on refining the technique.
Then I decided I would be patient and give this style a real chance and listened in earnest to the CD’s that came with the book. Wow, I thought I was listening to completely different songs!
Feeling a little deflated, I tried just playing the songs up to speed and realized I REALLY had a challenge on my hands. I had opened up the proverbial can of worms. There just seemed to be so much that I was missing.
Feeling somewhat frustrated after my year’s investment I FINALLY gave the fiddle versions a listen and have started working on them. EUREKA! What was completely amazing to me was the realization that focus on the nuances of technique and melody really makes the music. In other words, what finally dawned on me after a year of practice was listening to the music as opposed to just learning the tablature. DUH!
The TAB is definitely a starting point, but that’s just the beginning. It’s listening to and attemping to play the little intricacies of the melody that make the songs musical. That is after all what makes them recognizable and distinct. What I find is a real help to me with respect to your book is listening to the melodies on the fiddle and trying to make my playing sound like that. Who would have thunk it, making the banjo sound like a fiddle?
Now, not only am I playing the songs at a speed consistent with recognition of the melody, every song is amazingly distinct and unique in it’s structure and it’s nuances and twice as much fun to play as just the straight tablature.
In hindsight I realize that I should have taken up Clawhammer banjo in the first place for two reasons (this might just be some friendly advice to other people starting out.) First, I didn’t grow up hearing these songs so the melodies aren’t second nature. That’s a real hurdle when you’re trying to learn songs, but it’s also one of the reasons I was drawn to Clawhammer. I could hear the melodies. Secondly, the rythyms are so much more organic (if you will) than the strict structure of roll oriented Bluegrass somehow integrating the melody. There’s just so much more bounce to it as opposed to drive.
Another reason that I’m drawn to Old Time music is I am intrigued with the idea of playing mucic that people can dance to. The integration of these two musical values also makes them so much more fun to play. Frankly in absence of the two, Bluegrass lost me. Speed had a lot to do with it and we all know SPEED KILLS! But there’s a whole other lesson that of realization, huh?
So, In spite of my impatience to get along, I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up spending another six months with your book, if not a year really getting those songs down the right way. I know if I did I would really have the basics of the style down. With the assistance of your fine publication I really believe that I working on the fundamentals of one day being a real musician.
Anyway, I just wanted to say what a great book you put out Dan and how grateful I am to begin to sound musical by virtue of your instruction. It’s the most motivating force I can think of for keeping on, keeping on. I know that you put a lot of time and effort into the book and just wanted to give you a little positive feedback.
For what it’s worth.
Thank you for the kind words Drumstick! Here is what other have had to say:
From Bluegrass Unlimited August 2004 - Robert Buckingham
Here is a 128-page book with two CDs of instructional material married to a tune book, that provides increasingly more developed tune versions for the newly initiated.
Written with humor and compassion, Dan Levenson covers some history of the banjo, holding and positioning for playing the banjo, tuning methods, fretting the notes, and double thumbing. He promptly moves on to chords and fiddle tunes and the banjo. Here we get an in-depth lesson in playing one tune, "Spotted Pony." This tune is selected for its range of melody, chord changes, and the depths of right-hand technique that can be utilized in playing it. Starting with a brush strum, Dan takes us to ever more precise methods of melody development until we are double-thumbing it like an old pro. Of course this will take some time and a considerable amount of effort. Clawhammer looks simpler to some, but in reality it can be as mind-boggling as any three-finger style. Like all good banjo, there is a great deal of right-hand technique to master.
Dan takes time to help the student understand scales (important on any instrument worth learning) and the techniques to learn them quickly and play them accurately. The balance of the book is a baker’s dozen of common tunes in settings with more techniques applied to fill these tunes out and make the student sound like an accomplished banjo player.
There are a lot of details covered here, and the accompanying CDs help to fill in the gaps that the printed page may not convey. Actually, this dual media approach highlights details that may get lost in the interpretation, helping the student to more readily absorb the information presented here.
Speaking as a long-time banjo teacher and player, this is the clearest description of what is necessary to learn clawhammer banjo that I have had the privilege to see. The attention to detail and the depth of the techniques taught outstrip any other book that I have seen. RCB
FINALLY! An instructional video that starts from the beginning! This two dvd set, Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch begins at the beginning and assumes NO knowledge of how to play the five string banjo clawhammer style.
Disc 1 Begins at the beginning. Dan presents a brief history of the 5-string banjo then goes over the parts of the banjo, holding the banjo, right and left hand styles and his basic clawhammer strum. Using one tune, Spotted Pony, you are guided through the chords, the scale then the individual notes of the tune in its basic double thumb format.
Disc 2 starts where disc 1 leaves off. First you will capo up to double D tuning, review the basics of the Double Thumb Pony, then head off into the banjo world by learning to drop thumb, hammer–on, pull–off and slide your way into the Full Blown Pony. That’s where we make it a fully functional jam session tune.
Each of the techniques that make Old Time Southern Appalachian Clawhammer Banjo music an exciting banjo style is taught then applied to the tune in easy to learn segments. At the end of each disc, you are even given a chance to play banjo with the fiddle and guitar just like in a real jam session.
If you have been looking to know all there is to learn about playing clawhammer banjo, this 2 DVD set is for you. If you want to learn to drop thumb, hammer–on, pull–off and more, this is the one for you, too! When you finish these discs, you’ll be playing at jam session pace and have all the tools you need to make any tune your own.
Disc 1 Recorded and mastered at Cedar Glade Studios; Lebanon, Tennessee Disc 2 Recorded and mastered at J. David Wells Studio in Lynchburg, Virginia DVD’s authored by Joe Loesch at Creative License, Inc. in Nashville, Tennessee Wrap sheet by Crooked Cove in New Hampshire Originally two separate discs, Buzzard 5001 & 5002 are now combined into one package as Mel Bay 5003DVD
Review of Dan Levenson’s banjo instruction video “Clawhammer From Scratch” DVD by “Bubba Hutch” for Banjo Newsletter
Once in a while a really outstanding banjo instruction video makes it to market. This is one of those rare instances. Why such a rave about a raw beginner’s instructional video? Because it fills a gap in the market that has been there for a very, very long time. I would compare Dan’s video favorably to the landmark “How To Play The Five String Banjo” record and book by Pete Seeger. When this appeared on the market about 40 years ago, it a major impact on the banjo playing scene because it was virtually the only instruction book/record available to all those that had fallen in love with banjo music but could not find a way to learn to play. And today, while there are some excellent book/tab combinations and videos about playing various styles of clawhammer banjo, I have found none which really addresses the needs of the true novice. This video, “Clawhammer From Scratch,” truly does and does it in a very delightful way.
Armed with this video, someone with no prior banjo experience (or even string instrument experience) could set up, tune and begin to coherently play clawhammer style banjo. Once the contents of this video were mastered, the aspiring player could then reasonably go on to more advanced video instruction offerings such as those provided by Happy Traum’s Homespun Tapes collection of instructional banjo videos.
Dan has a very good grounding in music and music instruction. Raised in a musical family, Dan has been at it in one form or another most of his life. And in the mid 90’s he decided to leave the traditional workplace and earn his living as a banjo performer and instructor. Dan made four albums with his band, the Boiled Buzzards, a dual album of Chinese-American traditional tunes with Kim Murley and a wonderful instructional CD and book from Mel Bay, “Buzzard Banjo.” Dan has led workshops around the country and, for the last 3 years or so, has been conducting “Meet The Banjo” mini-workshops (supported by Deering Banjos) where new players are provided with a simple banjo and taught the basics of Clawhammer and Bluegrass style over a 3 hour period. This has been so successful that Dan recently went to Brazil to lead such a workshop in Sao Paulo. So, when it comes to knowing and meeting the needs of newcomers to the clawhammer banjo, Dan is a master.
Dan begins the video with a brief, concise history of the banjo and then moves on to describing the key parts of the banjo. He then spends a bit time on how to comfortably hold and play the banjo, reminding the viewer that these are suggestions based upon what works for Dan and that each person has to find their own personal method for holding and playing the banjo.
He then presents significant detail about tuning the banjo and then demonstrates how to use two different electronic tuners to tune the banjo to the proper key, Double-C (gCGCD) in this case. This is time well-spent as properly tuning an instrument is one of the biggest challenges to a new player.
Dan then goes into how to use the right hand to properly execute the down-stroke, clawhammer style. He covers using either the index or middle finger for the downstroke and how to hold the hand and arm to properly brush across the strings. He also adds an example practicing the proper rhythm and action on muted strings. He breaks down the right-hand frailing motion into very discreet components that can be easily practiced and leave little doubt about how to execute the clawhammer strokes with the right arm and hand.
The use of the left hand is the next topic. He demonstrates how to hold the neck with the hand and make some basic chords. He provides some detail about how one would fret or finger a note to make it happen. A discussion of rhythm, consistency and speed follows. Dan demonstrates the use of a metronome, which is truly essential to developing the proper timing in the clawhammer style.
Thus far, Dan has only presented the brush of the hand across the strings. He now adds the use of the thumb. He spends significant time in building on the previous material and then how one sounds the fifth string using the thumb without ‘plucking’ the string, a common mistakes made by many beginners. He then demonstrates the use of the brush-thumb with the chord.
The failing of many introductory lessons is that they cover too many songs at too high a level. And the tunes normally presented are really common stock - Cripple Creek, Old Joe Clark, etc. Dan presents only one tune, Spotted Pony. This is a really cool tune. It is still one of my favorites that I play regularly. So, while only one song is presented, it is a good song that is covered in enough detail to learn all the key elements of the clawhammer style that one needs to learn to sound like a competent banjo player.
Finally, Dan adds the downstroke with the index/middle finger and adds it to the brush/thumb version of Spotted Pony that has been presented thus far. He now delves into noting individual strings with the downstroke, followed by a thumbed fifth string combination…again, exactly how we really play tunes in the real world. He presents a set of examples going first sting to fourth string and then reverse order.
The antipenultimate exercise is to play the C scale in double-C tuning using the downstroke-fifth string thumb combination. Very simple, very quick – and exactly what the player needs to be able to play Spotted Pony through with clarity and ease.
Finally, Dan presents the tune, Spotted Pony, in its final form. He begins with playing through part A at a normal speed and then breaking it down into measures at a slow speed. He follows up with the B part and then the whole tune. During the process, there are copius repeats of each section at a very slow speed.
Dan wraps it up with an example of playing in a mirror to see how you are playing and to judge your position and technique versus that presented in the video and some good, practical advice on how to move forward. The closing moments and credits are presented to the tune “Spotted Pony” played only on guitar and fiddle, giving the student a realistic setting to practice what they have learned by playing along. What a nice touch!
What is it that makes this video so special? It is professionally done; it is delivered with a very warm, understandable style; it delivers its content in useful ‘chunks’ that speed up learning; and, most importantly, it presents good information and tips that are usually only available with one-on-one instruction from a master player/instructor. There is nothing else to match it on the market. While most BNL subscribers won’t need this video for themselves, if the reader is a banjo teacher or simply has a friend who would like to learn to play clawhammer banjo, this is the video for that purpose. I can say without reservation that this video would have saved me literally years of effort and frustration!
From Bluegrass Unlimited - August 2004 by R. Buckingham
DVD Set - Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch Mel Bay 5003 DVD (Formerly Volumes 1 and 2 DVD’s - Buzzard 5001 and 5002 respectively)
Dan Levenson has produced a pair of DVDs that teach the basics of the clawhammer style. He only attempts to teach one tune, “Spotted Pony,” and systematically sets out to explain the how of clawhammer playing, with a lot of banjo history along the way.
Dan has the viewer tune the banjo to double C tuning. Then, using tab, Dan gets the beginning player to strum the chords in double C tuning. The methods Dan uses for building left-hand techniques are a strong point in this course. The next step has the student strumming chords, followed by the thumb on the fifth string. While not yet a real clawhammer stroke, we are building our way to it. Then Dan uses the same approach that he used in his earlier book, Buzzard Banjo, for Mel Bay. He effectively adds exercises to build left- and right-hand coordination for getting melody notes, and he ties that to scale exercises. By the end of the first video, the player should be conversant with single thumbing and basic scales.
On the second video, we start getting into the meat of the matter. There is a chordal drop-thumb exercise and more scales. If you are going to learn to play melodically, scales are essential. With more coaching and cajoling, Dan gets the student through a basic version of “Spotted Pony” by a technique that all accomplished players know. That technique involves breaking the tune down into parts-learn each part and then put them together. Once you have the basic version down, he moves on to the full-blown version. All of this material is broken down in the accompanying booklet, measure by measure.
Why Dan picked “Spotted Pony,” a middle level tune, as a vehicle to teach may be based upon his personal experience. My guess is that the tune uses the scale in a sequential manner in the low part, and the developmental possibilities of the tune are rich. This two-DVD set is recommended to folks who do not have a clawhammer banjo teacher within driving distance, or for those brave souls who would venture into these waters on their own. It is of utmost importance to tell you that there is a wealth of material presented here that will not be covered in two weeks (well, maybe if you don’t sleep or eat.) But this package does about as good a job as any non-interactive media can do. The setup of the DVD chapters makes it an audio/visual textbook on banjo basics. The accompanying sheets provide some tab for your reference as well. RCB
Gospel Tunes For Clawhammer Banjo
After many years of requests by you and the publisher, Dan has made this collection of 28 Gospel favorites available to clawhammer banjo players. This book contains both tablature and basic standard notation for each tune.
The tablature versions are neither overly simple nor are they particularly complex. Anyone with basic clawhammer skills should be able to play the tab as written and create a satisfying version of each tune for him or herself.
Basic standard notation versions included for fiddle and others who don’t read tablature.
Download audio recording has a clawhammer banjo versions of each tune.
Many folk banjoists draw influence from greats such as Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, The Weavers, Peter, Paul and Mary, and many others. These folk musicians traveled the country singing the folk songs that many of us now know, some of which are still played in jam sessions. First Lessons Folk Banjo is a great introduction to learning these types of folk songs on this wonderful instrument. Included are lessons on singing and playing backup with the banjo, strumming and picking exercises, and many classic folk songs. The music is written in tablature, and the book comes with accompanying audio.
First Lessons Clawhammer Banjo is an ideal book for beginners and banjo players interested in learning the clawhammer style. The book explains the basics of reading tablature, right hand technique, and other elements unique to clawhammer banjo. Included are classic songs such as Little Brown Jug, Cripple Creek, Old Joe Clark, Policeman, and much more. The book comes with accompanying audio.
A collaborative effort with Bob Carlin. 28 Wade Ward tunes, each with two tabs—Bob’s transcribed version of Wade’s playing, and Dan’s more “modern” interpreted version. Plus a CD so you can hear them.
This book is the second in a series of transcriptions of tunes from the old masters—in this case, Wade Ward—who gave definition to our style of old time clawhammer banjo playing. The repertoire, presented in tablature, is intended to be a starting point for your journey through the old time music world. The recordings are played at a learning tempo and are close to the written notation but not exact in all cases.
A collaborative effort with Bob Carlin. 23 Fred Cockerham and Tommy Jarrell tunes, each with two tabs—Bob’s transcribed version of Fred and Tommy’s playing, and Dan’s more “modern” interpreted version. Plus audio files on line so you can hear the tunes as they are tabbed out in this volume.
This book is the third in a series of transcriptions of tunes from the old masters who gave definition to our style of old time clawhammer banjo playing. The repertoire, presented in tablature, is intended to be a starting point for your journey through the old time music world. The recordings are played at a learning tempo and are close to the written notation but not exact in all cases.