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”.
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.