“Stringbeans” and the banjo in bluegrass

There’s been some discussion lately on BGRASS-L (a list mailer re. bluegrass music) about “Stringbean”, his association with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, and his banjo style.

Stringbean’s real name was David Akeman. Bill Monroe called him “Stringbeans”. It’s true that “String” was Monroe’s first banjo player. It’s also true that he played banjo in clawhammer style, but NOT while he was a Blue Grass Boy.

While he was with Monroe, String played a two-finger, thumb-lead picking style. Did Monroe  tell him to do that?  . . . Nobody knows.   Perhaps it was felt that that style fit in a little better than clawhammer style, though other bluegrass bands (including some of mine) have used clawhammer banjo to good effect. I love the sound of two banjos, combining Scruggs-style with clawhammer playing.

At any rate, the only time String recorded while not playing clawhammer style was with Monroe in the mid-40s.  An interesting situation.  The last time I had a chance to talk with Bill Monroe, he mentioned “Stringbeans”.  I really wanted to follow up on that subject and the banjo, but Bill knew I had been a botanist (non-practicing) and kept asking questions about growing pear trees, which he told me he had planted in Goodletsville.

I do know I have in my possesion a “Sensational Collection of Mountain ballads and Old Time Songs” by Walter Peterson, “The Kentucky Wonder Bean”. Walter Peterson - songbook
Copyright 1931, so my guess is that preceeds Akeman’s stage name. There is a very serious-looking photo of Mr. Peterson on the cover, holding a slothead guitar with a very heavy-duty clamp for a harmonica affixed. Bob Dylan, eat your heart out!

I also know that, while I hated string beans as a kid, I love ’em now, and that in Kentucky, they used to hang ’em out to dry on a string. When they dried, they turned brown and split in half lengthwise – making “leather britches”.

. . . But that’s another story.

About Peter Feldmann

Peter Feldmann has long been a musical mainstay in Santa Barbara and Southern California. Besides actively performing bluegrass and old time music with a variety of groups, Peter is also known as a bluegrass historian, collector, music consultant, teacher, and producer, both of live concerts and radio/tv programs throughout the area. His music has been heard in clubs, concerts, saloons, universities, pre-schools, at weddings, wakes, parties, barn-raisings, calf-ropings, rodeos, auctions, fund raisers, wine tastings and chili cook offs. Peter founded Santa Barbara's Old Time Fiddler's Convention (1972), UCSB's Old Time Music Front (1964), and The Bluebird Cafe (1971). Through these and other outlets, he was the first to bring many prominent folk, blues, and bluegrass artists, including Bill Monroe, Mance Lipscomb, The Stanley Brothers, The New Lost City Ramblers, Fred McDowell, Furry Lewis, Rose Maddox, the Balfa Brothers, and many others to the Santa Barbara area. Peter also helped others access the music by teaching privately, and in group classes for Santa Barbara Continuing Education, UCSB Extension, and McCabes Guitars. He was the first on the West Coast to produce and market instruction Lps - three on How To Play Country Fiddle, and one each on Clawhammer Banjo, and Maybelle Carter Style Guitar. He still presents lectures on country music history at UCSB, Santa Barbara area libraries, and for various interest groups, festival workshops, etc. In 2006, he presented his monograph titled "The Big bang Of Bluegrass Music" (describing the origins of bluegrass 1938 - 1946) to the worlds first International Music Symposium at the University of Kentucky at Bowling Green. He has also been very active in radio, television, and film work, producing weekly shows on country and bluegrass music over a 21 year period on various commercial and public stations. Peter currently maintains three music-related websites, a music blog, and an entertainment service company, "BlueGrass West!", based in the Santa Ynez Valley in Southern California. Peter performs tunes and songs from the heart of America's musical treasure chest. His shows can include fiddle, guitar, banjo, and mandolin. Well-known as a historian and teacher, Peter is first and foremost an entertainer, sharing his respect, energy and love for the music with his fellow musicians, friends, and audiences.
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