I was recently digging through a box of stuff and found some cool old photos of my grandparents and it seemed liked good material for a first blog post!
This is my grandpa circa 1923. No one is quite sure for how long he took violin lessons, but it was enough that he could play pretty well as an adult. I don't think he knew how to read music; I'm told he was pretty adept at playing by ear and he had some friends that he would get together with and jam on some old-time tunes. I don't remember him playing violin—he died when I was 4—but I do have a cassette tape of him playing some tunes and goofing around with a banjo-playing friend of his (btw, can anyone help me transfer this tape to digital? Maybe I'll post it here if that ever happens.)
My grandpa also played the banjo, and this I do remember seeing and hearing as a kid. He played in the Billings Banjo Band:
My grandpa is the guy in the back row between the tuba and the woman in the yellow dress. And my grandma is the woman playing the gut bucket! (Gut-bucket? Gutbucket?) There is probably a story there, but I have no idea how she was talked into being the rhythm section of a banjo band. Amazingly, Billings Banjo Band shows, and a grandma that played gut bucket, were a totally normal part of my childhood. I'm sure there were a lot of things the 5 year-old me would have rather been doing, and I was probably reluctantly dragged along to hear them play, but I do remember them being fun to watch. Although the only song I can specifically remember them playing is The Sheikh of Araby. They played at the mall, at bars, Billings Mustangs games (the local minor league baseball team), and other summer festival kinds of things around central Montana.
My grandma continued playing with them for several years after Charlie died. They weren't so successful at recruiting new members. As they all aged the band's numbers started to dwindle, and I think they officially called it quits sometime in the mid '80's. I'm convinced that someone in the family still has some old super 8 video of them playing, but I have yet to hear of any.
As I look back on it, I wish I had the chance to hear them and watch them play as an adult. I remember them being a fun group of characters who definitely had a good time playing and hanging out together. I know the banjo band was a fun and fulfilling part of my grandparents lives, and I hope the tradition of good amateur folk music is still alive and well in Billings, MT.