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John Snipes

Born John Wesley Snipes, this historic North Carolina banjo player is an important man in musical history, one of the all too rare links between Afro-American musical traditions, the Appalachian style known as old-time music, and of course the music of mother Africa herself. Like his frequent playing partner Dink Roberts, he also provides some kind of a clue about what banjo players used to sound like before fiddlers came along and took over the show. Since the late '70s, three excellent compilation albums have been released featuring Snipes and his contemporaries. These recordings, quite popular among radio programmers specializing in folk, blues, or country, have done much to balance a past in which many record companies and scholars documenting the musical history of the southern United States made it their goal to enforce a color line and try to make it appear as if blacks and whites had had nothing to do with each other musically. Although that really was never true, it certainly was not the case by the time a folk music revival began around the Durham, NC, area in the '60s. Old-timers such as Snipes or Odell Thompson became much-respected local figures at this point among characters such as musician and writer Tommy Thompson, a founding member of the Red Clay Ramblers. He and his colleague, Cecelia Conway, undertook extensive effort documenting the work of the great elderly musicians in the area, including Snipes. This audio and video material is in the permanent collection of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Conway also published the book Banjo Echoes in Appalachia for the University of Tennessee Press in 1995, which argues that the black banjo songs of artists such as Roberts were a distinct musical genre "governed by its own African-American aesthetic standards." Of course, this argument is also made to help counter the past belief that black performers had ripped off this kind of material, sneaking around eavesdropping under "massa's" window. "Pre-fiddle exposure" is a concept that, although sounding like a psychological condition or a new strain of flu, is actually one way to establish the musical importance of these early banjo players without getting into the racial arguments. The music of Snipes, partially learned from slightly older players such as his pal Roberts, represents a style fully formed prior to the fiddle dominating the string band music scene. The alternation sequence of ostinato melodic lines played on banjo and vocals, known as "call and response," has long been considered distinctly African. The most distinctive element to this artist's performances is the sound of his fretless banjo, which once again evokes a strong bond with many similar-sounding instruments from different parts of Africa. ~ Eugene Chadbourne
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Black Banjo Songsters Of North Carolina And Virginia

1. The Coo Coo (Coo Coo Bird)

2. The Coo Coo (Coo Coo Bird)

3. Old Rattler (Fox Chase)

4. Georgia Buck (Georgie Buck)(Never Let A Woman Have Her Way)

5. Georgia Buck

6. John Henry

7. High Sheriff

8. John Hardy

9. Garfield

10. Old Corn Liquor

11. Old Corn Liquor

12. John Henry

13. Love Somebody (Soldier's Joy)

14. Long Tail Blue

15. Ain't Gonna Rain No More

16. Going Where I've Never Been Before

17. Black Annie

18. Old Blue

19. Going Away From Home (Take Care Of My Wife And Child)

20. You Don't Know My Darling

21. Jaybird March

22. Going Up North

23. Sugar Hill

24. Momma Don't Allow

25. Shortnin' Bread

26. Shortnin' Bread

27. Fox Chase

28. Roustabout (Buffalo)

29. Cookin' In The Kitchen

30. Coo Coo Bird

31. Fox Chase

32. Little Brown Jug

x

Track List: Classic Banjo From Smithsonian Folkways

101. Fly Around My Blue-Eyed Girl / Cripple Creek / Ida Red / Old Joe Clark

102. Banging Breakdown

103. Johnson Boys

104. Peachbottom Creek

105. Coo Coo

106. Josh Thomas's Roustabout

107. Jaw Bone

108. Bright Sunny South

109. Coal Creek March

110. Mississippi Heavy Water Blues

111. Walk Light Ladies

112. Buck Creek Girls

114. Skylark / Roaring Mary

116. Smokey Mokes

118. Banjoland

119. Sally Ann

120. Lonesome Road Blues

121. Fox Chase

122. Hop Along Lou

123. Cotton Eyed Joe

124. Foggy Mountain Top

125. Rambling Hobo

126. Old Rattler

127. Georgia Buck

129. Black Eye Susie

130. Bluegrass Breakdown

Comments

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I just nod unccncenucnd j s n c i s d n j s m c k s m x x i s a j x i s c

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