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Fred Van Eps

Fred Van Eps was probably the greatest banjoist on early records, notwithstanding stiff competition in the acoustic era from artists such as Vess L. Ossman and Olly Oakley. In acoustic recording, the banjo was a popular, mainstream instrument, and often utilized on early records due to its clear, penetrating tone. A New Jersey native, Van Eps was not quite 20 years of age when he purchased his first phonograph in 1896, primarily so that he could hear records made by his idol, Vess L. Ossman. Within a year, he was using this phonograph to make his own home recordings on wax cylinder blanks, and in 1897, Van Eps approached the Edison company to make records with them. Although his early Edison cylinders sold well, Van Eps was comparatively slow in breaking into the business of recording on disc -- his first Columbia appeared in 1904, and his first Victor record, "The Burglar Buck," did not appear until 1910. The latter title moved many copies for Victor, and in the ensuing decade, Van Eps was so popular that he was able to work for just about any record label in America, with the Victors outselling the records he made for other companies.

In 1912, Van Eps formed the Van Eps Trio with pianist Felix Arndt and his brother Bill Van Eps. This group would comprise the core of the furious recording activity that would keep Fred Van Eps very busy in the decade to follow. Although the size of his groups never exceeded five persons, his records came out under a variety of identities: Van Eps Banjo Orchestra, Van Eps Quartet, Van Eps Specialty Four, and others. Through his groups came musicians such as percussionists George Hamilton Green and Eddie King, saxophonists Nathan Glantz and Rudy Wiedoeft, and particularly pianist Frank Banta, whom on some records was co-billed with Van Eps as the Van Eps-Banta Trio. In 1921 the Van Eps Trio was the subject of the earliest known filmed popular music performance with synchronized sound, the short subject A Bit of Jazz made by talking picture pioneer O.T. Kellum.

From around 1922 Van Eps began to slacken his recording activity. He had entered into a partnership with a touring group of Victor artists, and a number of them chipped in seed money to manufacture a special type of banjo Van Eps had invented. Nevertheless, the venture was a failure, and the advent of electrical recording in 1925 and the concurrent decline of ragtime music dealt a mortal blow to Van Eps' popularity. He made his last 78s for Grey Gull in 1927, but in the 30 years Van Eps had already been recording he had managed to produce hundreds of individual titles that may well number over a thousand issues.

Van Eps returned to recording for his own 5 String Banjo label starting in 1950, producing his last album in 1956, making his 59-year span of recording activity one of the longest in history. Although in sheer technical terms Van Eps surpassed Ossman -- Van Eps could play 14 notes in a second -- many ragtime fanciers prefer the crude muscularity of Ossman's performances. Van Eps also never approached the harmonic complexity of his younger contemporary Harry Reser, and unlike Reser had no interest in sinking into the texture of a jazz band, preferring to work primarily as a soloist. His son, George Van Eps, learned on banjo, but later traded it in and became one of the great pioneers of jazz guitar. George was still recording when the hundredth anniversary of his father's first recordings came around in 1997. ~ Uncle Dave Lewis
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: You Ain't Talkin' To Me: Charlie Poole And The Roots Of Country Music

Disc 1

1. Shootin' Creek

2. Baltimore Fire

3. Leaving Home

4. There'll Come A Time

5. White House Blues

6. The Highwayman

7. Hungry Hash House

8. The Letter That Never Came

9. Take A Drink On Me

10. Husband And Wife Were Angry One Night

11. Ramblin' Blues

12. Took My Gal A-Walkin'

13. Old And Only In The Way

14. Don't Let Your Deal Go Down Blues

15. Bill Mason

19. Sweet Sixteen

20. Write A Letter To My Mother

21. If The River Was Whiskey

22. Mother's Last Farewell Kiss

23. Milwaukee Blues

24. Where The Whippoorwill Is Whispering Good-Night

Disc 2

1. The Girl I Left In Sunny Tennessee

3. Bulldog Down In Sunny Tennessee

7. I'm The Man That Rode The Mule 'Round The World

9. Lynchburg Town

13. Monkey On A String

15. May I Sleep In Your Barn Tonight, Mister

16. Married Life Blues

18. Sunset March

24. You Ain't Talking To Me

25. You Ain't Talkin' To Me

Disc 3

1. If I Lose, I Don't Care

2. The Battleship Of Maine

3. Budded Rose

5. Uncle Dave's Beloved Solo

6. Come Take A Trip In My Airship

7. I Once Loved A Sailor

10. My Wife Went Away And Left Me

14. Coon From Tennessee

17. Dixie Medley

20. Sweet Sunny South

22. Oh! Didn't He Ramble

23. He Rambled

x

Track List: Country Music Pioneers on Edison

1. Somewhere in Dixie

2. Medley of Southern Melodies

3. The Devil's Dream

4. Wreck of the Old Southern 97

5. Kaiser's Defeat Jig

6. Sally Brown Jig

7. Lonesome Road Blues

8. The Railroad Blues

9. Ida Red

10. Just a Melody

11. Kinnie Wagner's Surrender

12. Hop Light Ladies

13. Sally Goodwin

14. Barbara Allen

16. Down in a Georgia Jail

17. West Virginia Highway

18. Nonsense

x

Track List: Jazz / Some Beginnings - 1913-1926

1. You Can't Get Away From It

3. Raggin' The Scale

6. You Gotta See Mama Every Night

7. Masculine Women! Feminine Men!

8. Taint Nobody's Biz-Ness If I Do

12. Weary Blues

13. Old Time Blues

x

Track List: Ring, Ring De Banjo: Banjo Showpieces

4. Persiflage

5. Queen Of The Burlesque

6. Heebie Jeebies

7. Crackerjax

15. The Blackthorns

19. Rhapsody In Blue

20. St. Louis Blues

Comments

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Old
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vntgclctr
Unbelievably grass rooted flapper jazz...what a great fusion.

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