January-February 2014

For the Love of Wade

By David Bragger

wade ward 2I love Wade Ward! When I started immersing myself in old time music, I first heard Wade Ward on an out of print compilation of Lomax recordings. Soon after, I picked up the Smithsonian Folkways recording Uncle Wade - A Memorial To Wade Ward: Old Time Virginia Banjo Picker, 1892-1971 and was blown away at the sophisticated simplicity of his playing on both fiddle and banjo. Something about his bold, archaic style just sent lightning bolts right through my body when I first heard him.

His strong downbeat-oriented sense of time pulses through the music whether he's playing solo fiddle, clawhammer banjo or finger-style behind Uncle Charlie Higgins. His playing makes you tap and he never plays too many melody notes. There's a lesson to be learned there. Even in the banjo tune Half Shaved which features many notes in the form of strums, pull-offs, and frequent thumb notes, he uses the perfect amount for the tune and the setting! The notes serve rhythm and drone more than melody. The man was full of good timing and good taste. Not to mention, he inherited a wonderful, traditional, Virginia-based repertoire of tunes and technique.

wade ward 1Like many old time banjo players, he played a resonator banjo. To this day, I still encounter musicians who believe the resonator banjo is a bluegrass instrument only. Not the case. There are many precedents for resonator banjos in old time music. Wade Ward is one of them. Even I own two vintage Gibsons for the sole purpose of playing old time music. They sound much more appropriate for clawhammer banjo than most of the open backs which are being tightly stuffed with pillows and such these days. Uncle Wade made a banjo sound like a banjo.

This month's lesson is Half Shaved. The banjo is tuned in Double D tuning with the fifth string tuned down to an F#. Oddly enough, I'm not teaching it on one of my Gibsons in the lesson video. I've chosen my 11" open back Romero banjo because it has the punch and clarity of a heavenly made banjo. It's one of my favorites. It is also quite easy on the eyes! Enjoy!

Wade Ward's Half Shaved Clawhammer Banjo Lesson

David Bragger is a Los Angeles-based instructor and player of old time fiddle and banjo music. He also photographs, films, and collects the lore of traditional artists, from puppeteers in Myanmar to fiddlers of Appalachia www.myspace.com/davidbragger


All Columns by David Bragger