Clawhammer Banjo Instructional DVD

2010.08.20

I just recently finished the filming for an instructional clawhammer banjo DVD with Jonathan VanBallenberghe from Open Lens Productions behind the camera. It’s geared towards intermediate/advanced players and covers 10 tunes along with a section on technique and a few extras. Its aim is to not only teach those 10 tunes but to give the student the tools to learn and adapt tunes themselves from other sources. Jonathan is editing it now so keep your eyes peeled for its eventual release.

The tunes are:

  • Lonesome John (from John Salyer)
  • Candy Girl (from Uncle Bunt Stephens)
  • Boatin’ Up Sandy (from Wilson Douglas)
  • Unfortunate Puppy (from Elmo Newcomer)
  • Cripple Creek (from Hobart Smith)
  • Ducks on the Millpond (from Emmett Lundy)
  • Raleigh & Spencer (from Tommy Jarrell)
  • Leather Breeches (from John Salyer)
  • Ft. Smith Breakdown (from Luke Highnight’s Ozark Strutters)
  • Bonaparte’s Retreat (from Bill Stepp)

Sing Out! Magazine CD Review

2010.05.26

A great review of my last CD with Casey Joe Abair, If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed, just out in the new issue of Sing Out! Magazine:

The title of this wonderful 17-song collection of traditional tunes comes from long-gone Round Peak banjoist Charlie Lowe, who preferred up-tempo songs. The album is aptly titled, a delight to listen to and explore. “Explore” because nearly all the songs, though familiar (“Devil’s Dream,” “The Coo Coo,” “Ducks on the Millpond,” etc.), are based on versions that are a bit more obscure. These small differences add a great deal of interest to the recording. For instance, “Bonaparte’s Retreat” is based on Bill Stepp’s version, rather than the more well-known melody.

The liner notes state that the album was recorded “direct to stereo, over the course of a few months in our homes, not always under the most sanitary of sound conditions, the sirens on ‘Sugar Baby’ for example” – there’s definitely an old-time aesthetic to the recording. These guys are well versed in the repertoire, but even more important, they deliver it with fresh abandon. They don’t sound like they’re scared to make a mistake, which is an even greater homage to the old songs.

Hunter Robertson previously released a solo CD, Sings Songs for the Masses, to good reviews, and this is Casey Joe Abair’s first recording. A word might be said about Robertson’s vocals, which tend toward the gravelly side. I like his voice, but it’s a tone more on the bluesy side of old-time. Still, we don’t all have to sound alike, and his style is unaffected. A highlight is “Hog Eyed Man,” with amazing lyrics that come from the dark underbelly of old-time.

Terrific packaging and liner notes, with brief historical sources on each song and banjo tunings. A highly engaging selection, well played. — CS for Sing Out! Magazine

More on the album, including sound files, here: www.hunterrobertson.com/ifyouframe.html

Acoustic Magazine “If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed” CD Review

2010.05.12

Another great review of If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed from Britain, this time from Acoustic Magazine (issue 38):

Named after a favorite saying of banjo player Charlie Lowe, Abair and Robertson present a collection of old time material. The vocals are surprising, as Robertson, featured on the cover, doesn’t look like that sort whiskey-and-cigarettes voice should come out of, and are addictive, especially on I Truly Understand and the well known but speedy version of Old Joe Clark. The real charm in this album is that although the musicians work tightly together, it sounds like it was recorded in someone’s back yard. There’s nothing not to like here; the musicianship is excellent, the rhythm infectious and the style abundant. As the title suggests, it’s not for the tired. http://hunterrobertson.com/ifyouframe.html

Kate Lewis

The Cellar Upstairs – Gig

2010.04.16

A gig at The Cellar Upstairs, Saturday, October 16th, 2010. Exmouth Arms, Starcross Street, London NW1 2HR, England (on the corner of Cobourg Street, near Euston and Euston Square stations).

New CD Review – Maverick Magazine

2010.04.14

A great review of If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed came out recently in Maverick Magazine.

Fast-paced picking carried off in such a confident and prolific way that simply leaves you gob smacked.
This being his second release, the Californian-born but now French native Hunter Robertson really is something. Consisting of seventeen songs, it is evident from this raw and unadulterated beauty that what we have here, ladies and gentleman, are some ultra fine musicians playing their hearts out. This type of music is at its finest when played live and untouched, and I suspect that this was the case here as, after Hunter’s superlative efforts on banjo and Casey’s fine fiddling, they just played it until they got it right and pressed it onto disc.
The finest track has to be The Devil’s Dream. Perfect for The Louisiana Hayride when it was in full swing, this relatively short track of less than two and a half minutes is perfect in every sense. Whether it be the excellent banjo or superb fiddling, there is nothing to dislike about this track. The same can certainly be said about June Apple. A moderate fiddling pace, this tune has a relaxed bluegrass sound which I’m sure allows the crowd to show their appreciation in rapturous applause; a track which is not one to dance to as when Casey and Hunter play like this such an occasion has to be watched.
An experience to relish, listening to this album sure was a most enjoyable time. A highly recommended album which I strongly urge you to try and track down.” Russell Hill

Listen: The Devil’s Dream

2 New Reviews of “If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed”

2010.03.01

A couple of reviews of If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed have come out recently, always nice to see:

- “…Casey Joe Abair and Hunter Robertson take it a totally different way. Their music on banjo, violin and vocals is energetic and raw. The banjo sounds occasionally like a wild storm and impresses in combination with Robertson’s raw and heavy voice. I like the way this duo totally give themselves to the music. They keep the ancient soul of the compositions and force me to listen to their music with superb music and compositions in which the musicians search for the outer limits of their possibilities and have the guts to ignore standard conventions. I appreciate that and the result is an album with good old banjo/violin music that both sounds like it’s decades old and modern at the same time.”  -  Eelco Schilder for FolkWorld

- “Casey Joe Abair & Hunter Robertson, If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed (hunterrobertson.com). Hot old-timey fiddle and banjo. Seventeen knock-yer-socks-off numbers. These guys are not kidding around!”  -  Mitch Finley, Inland Northwest Bluegrass Association’s Bluegrass Blabber


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Magazine Ads

2010.01.15

Been working on magazine ads the last couple of days.

Hunter Robertson "If You Want to Go to Sleep..." Ad

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Recent CD Reviews from the European Press

2009.12.29

There’s been a minor spate of reviews recently in the European press for my last CD, If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed. I’ve translated the French ones. The German and Dutch reviewers seem to like the record but you’ll have to take my word for it (that’s worth more than my translation of them would be!).

From the French Trad Magazine (No. 129, Jan-Feb 2010), by Claude Vue:

“« Si vous voulez dormir, allez au lit » était la réponse que faisait le banjoïste Charlie Lowe à ceux qui trouvaient qu’il jouait trop vite. J’avais adoré le premier CD de Hunter Robertson, “Song For The Masses”, j’aime encore plus celui-ci. C’est un exercice difficile et dangereux que de jouer dans cette combinaison, uniquement un violon et un banjo. Hunter et Casey réussissent magnifiquement. Les deux instruments s’emmêlent, s’interpellent. Un vrai plaisir. On ne peut s’empêcher de penser au duo Tommy Jarrell & Fred Cockerham. Le choix des morceaux est excellent : des classiques (June Apple, Old Joe Clark, Sail Away Ladies) et des surprises, des versions inconnues ou peu connues (telles Fort Smith Breakdown ou Hog Eyed Man). Hunter chante avec une voix râpeuse à souhait, secondée par la voix très pure de sa femme Féréale sur trois morceaux, dont le très beau I Truly Understand. Un superbe album, conseillé aux amateurs de musique old time français.”

“Le second opus d’Hunter Robertson, cette fois-ci en compagnie d’un fiddler pour revisiter le répertoire à banjo et violon. Sûrement l’un des meilleurs CDs de musique old time du moment.”

“‘If you want to go to sleep, go to bed’ was banjo player Charlie Lowe’s reply to those who found that he played too fast. I loved Hunter Robertson’s first CD, Songs for the Masses, I like this one even more. Playing in this combination of just fiddle and banjo is a difficult and dangerous exercise. Hunter and Casey succeed magnificently. The two instruments intertwine and respond to each other. A real pleasure. You can’t help but think of the duo of Tommy Jarrell & Fred Cockerham. The choice of pieces is excellent: classics (June Apple, Old Joe Clark, Sail Away Ladies) and some surprises, unknown or little known versions (like Fort Smith Breakdown or Hog Eyed Man). Hunter sings with a voice as rough as you could wish for, supported by the very pure voice of his wife Féréale on three pieces, including the very beautiful “I Truly Understand”. A superb album, recommended to French old-time music fans.”

Claude also included the album in his Trad Magazine list of the 5 best albums of the year (Thanks a lot Claude!). “Hunter Robertson’s second opus, this time in the company of a fiddler, revisiting the banjo/fiddle repertory. Certainly one of the best current CDs of old-time music.” (my translation)

- Claude Vue for Trad Magazine

Here’s another French one from the magazine Le Cri du Coyote (No. 114):

“Casey Joe ABAIR et Hunter ROBERTSON sont respectivement originaires du Vermont et de Californie (Robertson réside actuellement en France) mais ils jouent de la musique old time des Appalaches. Pour les 17 morceaux traditionnels qui composent If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed (Yodel-Ay-Hee 074), ils citent les artistes qui les leur ont fait connaître (Hobart Smith, Wade Ward, Tommy Jarrell, New Lost City Ramblers, Elizabeth Cotton et beaucoup d’autres). Tout est interprété en duo fiddle/banjo. Hunter Robertson (bjo) chante 7 morceaux d’une voix grave, gutturale et râpeuse. Une harmonie vocale et des choeurs adoucissent quelque peu le chant sur I Truly Understand et Sail Away Ladies qui figurent parmi les titres les plus réussis. Robertson alterne le clawhammer et un style mixte qui intègre du picking (I Truly Understand). Il a un jeu qui respecte et met en valeur la mélodie et sur certains instrumentaux c’est d’avantage le fiddle qui accompagne le banjo plutôt que l’inverse (Last Chance, Sugar Baby). Robertson joue plusieurs titres sur un banjo fretless et quelque fois à des tempos très rapides (Run Slave Run, Lonesome John). Il utilise une syncope originale, apparemment accompagnée de notes tirées sur The Devil’s Dream et Sandy River Belles. Le style de CJ Abair au fiddle est plus classique, avec une mélodie un peu tronquée quand le banjo est en avant. Mon morceau favori est cependant June Apple mené par le fiddle, comme le sont Old Joe Clark et Lonesome John, également assez réussis. Il faut une ou deux écoutes pour se faire a la voix d’Hunter Robertson mais cet album n’est pas forcement réservé aux amateurs de old time hard-core!”

Casey Joe Abair and Hunter Robertson are from, respectively, Vermont and California (Robertson currently lives in France) but they play old-time music from the Appalachians. For the 17 traditional pieces that make up If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed (Yodel-Ay-Hee 074) they list the artists that they learned from (Hobart Smith, Wade Ward, Tommy Jarrell, The New Lost City Ramblers, Elizabeth Cotton and lots of others). All are played as a fiddle/banjo duet. Hunter Robertson (banjo) sings seven pieces in a deep, rough, guttural voice. Harmony and backing vocals soften the singing somewhat on ‘I Truly Understand’ and ‘Sail Away Ladies’, which are among some of the most successful pieces. Robertson switches between clawhammer and a mixed style which includes fingerpicking (‘I Truly Understand’). His playing respects and highlights the melody and on some instrumentals it’s more the fiddle that accompanies the banjo than the other way around (‘Last Chance’, ‘Sugar Baby’). Robertson plays several tunes on a fretless banjo, sometimes at a very fast pace (‘Run Slave Run’, ‘Lonesome John’) and has an original sense of syncopation. CJ Abair’s style on the fiddle is more classic, with the melody slightly abbreviated when the banjo is up front. My favorite piece though is ‘June Apple’ led by the fiddle, as are ‘Old Joe Clark’ and ‘Lonesome John’, also fairly well done. It takes a listen or two to get used to Robertson’s voice but this album isn’t necessarily limited to hardcore old-time fans! (my translation)

Cri du Coyote

Going back to August, there was one in Germany’s Country Home:

“Dem primitiven, unnachahmlichen Stil der Appalachen haben sich diese zwei Interpreten hier angenommen. Und genauso primitiv wirkt der Gesang auf ihrem Tonträger. Gerade deshalb verdienen die zwei aber uneingeschränkte Aufmerksamkeit. Denn Simplizität kann nie gleichgesetzt werden mit Anspruchlosigkeit. Was die beiden hier bieten, ist vom Feinsten, auch wenn viele Zuhörer damit wahrscheinlich nichts anfangen können. Nur wenige begreifen, wie unglaublich sensibel das Gefiddle von Casey Joe Abair neben dem Clawhammer-Banjo von Hunter Robertson ist. Und wie gut sich die beiden Musiker ergänzen. Mit von der Partie sind so bekannte Stücke wie „Bonaparte’s Retreat“ oder „Old Joe Clark“. Und jetzt weiss ich auch, wie mein einfacher, aber raffinierter Blues-Song „Sugar Baby“ im Appalachen-Stil klingt. Ebenso genial, nämlich.”

- Country Home

From this month in MazzMusikaS, written by Fred Schmale.

Hunter Robertson / Sings Songs For The Masses / Eigen Beheer Casey Joe Abair & Hunter Robertson / If You Want To Go To Sleep, Go To Bed / Yodel-Ay-Hee 074 (www.hunterrobertson.com) Hunter Robertson (1972) is geboren in California, verhuisde met zijn van origine Schotse vader in 1986 naar de Haute Savoie in Frankrijk en begon weer een paar jaar later interesse te krijgen in gitaarspelen. Pa kocht een 6-snarige Epiphone voor hem en leerde hem de eerste beginselen van het spel, compleet met Carter Family tokkelwerk. Uiteindelijk kreeg hij een 12-snarige gitaar van zijn vader en die gitaar is nog altijd zijn belangrijkste gitaar. Het echte instrument van zijn vader was de banjo, die hij bespeelde in de ‘clawhammer’ stijl. Hunter raakte op den duur geïnteresseerd in dit instrument en de clawhammer speelstijl en dat instrument bespeelt hij op de meeste nummers van de bovenstaande twee cd’s. De eerste cd, Sings Songs For The Masses, bevat solo-opnamen uit de jaren 2001-2007. Hunter bespeelt naast de banjo een keur aan andere instrumenten, uiteraard ook zijn 12-snarige gitaar. Van de 14 nummers zijn er 7 traditionals (waaronder bekende nummers als Pretty Polly, Soldier’s Joy en Bonaparte’s Retreat), 6 van de hand van Hunter en het nummer Red Wing van Mills/Chattaway. De muziek is traditioneel, lees begin 20e eeuw, Hunter’s zang is heel apart en past wonderwel goed bij zijn muziek. Een geluid dat diep uit zijn keel komt en klinkt alsof hij te lang onder de grond heeft gezeten in een kolenmijn, behoorlijk gruizig dus. Maar o zo passend. Hunter, die sinds mei van dit jaar (na een verblijf op Kreta om een oud dorpshuis te restaureren en vervolgens in Vermont in de USA) weer een onderkomen in Frankrijk heeft (dicht bij de Zwitserse grens) heeft afgelopen september een duet cd uitgebracht met de fiddler Casey Joe Abair, die hij tijdens zijn verblijf in Vermont had leren kennen. Abair is behalve fiddler ook een goede bluesgitarist en een uitstekend vertolker van Ierse muziek op fiddle en melodeon. Op deze in de eigen huiskamers van de heren in Vermont opgenomen cd staan 17 traditionals die allen in duetvorm worden gespeeld, old-timey fiddle/banjo duets, zoals men dat in de Appalachians placht (en ook pleegt) te doen. Op een paar nummers is er hulp van buitenaf, Hunters Franse vrouw Féréale (is dat zo?) zingt op een drietal nummers mee en ene Josh Neilson doet ‘stomping’ in Ducks On The Millpond. Ook deze cd ademt de sfeer van ruim een eeuw terug en kent een aantal bekende nummers: wederom Bonaparte’s Retreat, maar ook The Coo Coo, Old Joe Clark, Sail Away Ladies, In The Pines en Lonesome John. Het is verrassend originele muziek die is te horen op beide cd’s. Ga eens luisteren naar deze sympathieke Schots/Amerikaanse Fransman of Schots/Franse Amerikaan Beide cd-verpakkingen zijn voorzien van technische informatie over de instrumenten en de gebruikte stemming (FS)

- Fred Schmale for MazzMusikaS

And finally, from Bluegrass Bühne – Old-Time & Bluegrass Magazine (Dec./Jan. 2009/10, No. 174), written by Eberhard Finke. (The same issue also had a separate article on me. Thanks guys!)

Hunter ist mit seinem Old Time Banjo solo in Voorthuizen und in La Roche-sur-Foron aufgetreten, er lebt jetzt in Frankreich; diese CD hat er in den USA mit einem befreundeten Old Time Fiddler aus Vermont aufgenommen. Die meisten Titel kennen wir aus dem üblichen Repertoire dieses Genres, sie einzeln aufzuführen ist nicht immer sinnvoll, denn zu manchen Titeln gibt es mehrere Melodien und die gleiche Melodie hat mehrere Titel, nennen wir hier “Sail away Ladies”, anderswo heißt das auch “Sally Ann”, “Don’t you rock me daddy-o” usw. Der “Devil’s dream,” hier hat nicht die von Bill Keith u. a. bekannte Melodie, “Run slave run” war vor der Erfindung der political correctness “Run nigger run”, “Coo coo” ist nicht das Lied mit “She’s a pretty bird… ”. Andererseits haben sie oft ihre Individualität, man kann viele leicht wiedererkennen. Die Quelle ist immer angegeben, ebenso die jeweilige Stimmung von Banjo und Geige, teilweise spielt er ein bundloses Fivestring. Hunter singt auch mit einer ungewöhnlich tiefen, rauen Stimme, manchmal begleitet von seiner Frau Féréale. Was jedem ins Ohr fällt, sind Tempo und Temperament der Interpretation, die beiden schaffen zu zweit einen überraschend kompakten Klang und meistens eine halsbrecherische Geschwindigkeit, die so nicht sein muss, aber kann und darf. Wir finden Authentizität, Verständnis für und Respekt vor der Musik, die sie spielen. Kontakt: www.hunterrobertson.com

- Bluegrass Bühne

Nääsville Bluegrass & Music Festival

2009.12.07

I’ll be playing at the Nääsville Bluegrass & Music Festival in Sweden next July 10th, Saturday (approximately, check back later for the final date). Get in touch if you’re interested in a lesson or workshop whilst I’m there (or know of any places in the area that would be interested in putting on an old-time concert).

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6-String Banjo (no guitars involved)

2009.11.17

I’ve read about 6 and 7 string banjos over the years (that is, banjos with 5 or 6 long strings and a short drone sting – not guitar-banjos/guitjos/banjitars etc.) and thought it would be good to have the extra range to be able to play the high part of a tune an octave down, or to give the effect of Tommy Jarrell’s ‘John Brown’s Dream’ tuning (with the low D tuned down to G). Well, after finally hearing a 6-string played, by Chuck Levy courtesy of the internet, I decided to get one. A little hunting and I got a 7-string beauty made by J. Viner, I’d guess from the 1880s or 1890s, which needed a little work. It was missing a tailpiece and bridge so I made those. Someone had glued a piece of an old bone domino in place of the nut but had never cut it down or notched it, so I worked it into something useful (and a good story!). I have it set up as a 6-string. I’d put 7 strings at first, but you need pencil size fingers to play it that way, the strings are so tightly spaced. The action is horrible but I’d have to recut the heel to fix it and I don’t feel like doing that yet. Here are some pictures, and below that a video of ‘Tater Patch’ on it, going down into the lower octave.

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

7-String Banjo by J. Viner

Here’s the video of ‘Tater Patch’ in the equivalent of gGDGBD (actually tuned down to around E with minstrel gauge Nylgut strings plus a classical guitar low E). The danger with it is I get so used to the spacing that going back to a normal 5-string discombobulates my hand! I end up drop-thumbing to the 1st string instead of the 2nd that I’m aiming for… (May 2012: after a few years that’s not a problem anymore, but it did take some getting used to!)