Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Homer and the Barnstormers - Banjoist Unmasked!

Over and over the topic about Homer and the Barnstormers "Bluegrass Banjos on Fire" comes up. For those of you out there that aren't familiar with this topic it's a reference to a bluegrass instrumental recording from 1963. The reason the topic comes up often has to do with the anonymity of the session musicians.

There's not much information available as to who was on the recording.

As a banjo player I had a curiosity about who the banjo player was. And oh boy, there's been tons of speculation by a lot of people about who it might have been.

I spent a lot of time as a kid learning the tunes off that record, and I heard my dad suggest repeatedly that it sounded a lot like Buck Trent to him. I had no idea at the time, but figured his guess was as good as any. It did, however, sound a good bit like Buck to me on a bunch of the cuts, but my experience at the time was very limited. It's a recording that I'm very familiar with. I'm not sure how much time I put into that album learning the songs, but there are portions of it that are still embedded in my brain.

Years passed, as they tend to do, and my record collection grew. I ran across a couple of really great records of Charles Trent (aka Buck Trent). One was The Sound of a Bluegrass Banjo. That particular title was dang confounding because it's all electric banjo. The other record was The Sound of a 5-String Banjo - that one really rang a bell as I listened to it. The tunes, the licks, the tones, the other musicians, everything sounded really familiar.

It sent me searching through my record collection where I came across my copy of the Homer and the Barnstormers record. I put it on the turntable and decided that I was holding sister recordings. Those Charles Trent recordings were done in 1962. I began to speculate that perhaps the "Homer" record was just more takes that weren't used back in 62. Feel free to speculate as to why.

Homer and the Barnstormers came out on the Somerset label (SF-195) in 1963.

Charles Trent's The Sound of a 5-String Banjo was recorded in 1962. It was released under the Smash label that was distributed by Mercury - the jacket says Smash but the label on the record says Mercury.

After listening to these recordings again today it makes me wonder if the Homer recordin
gs were not alternate takes that Buck or someone wanted released but maybe couldn't due to label contract restrictions... there I go speculating - enough of that!

So instead of speculating further take a few moments and listen to these examples.

Open this one from the "Homer" album: Camptown Races

Scroll to about 1:45 and listen to the banjo break...

Now open this one from a Charles Trent's Sound of a 5-String Banjo recording: Cindy

Go back and listen to both, back to back. Listen closely to the backup too.

While you're at it give this audio experiment a listen too: Homer and Buck Together

It's got the Homer session on the left and the Buck session on the right. Now, the tempos are not the same, but they're close enough to allow you to pan between them and really get them back to back.

Oh, I'm aware that Sonny and Bobby Osborne said that they had participated in the recording, and if you listen to a few of the cuts the banjo player sounds like it could have been Sonny (I won't try to deny that).

What's it all mean?

I think it proves that Buck Trent was the banjo player on the Homer and the Barnstormers recording - at the very least on several of the cuts. Will this proof end the debate? I doubt it; there are always those that won't accept the audio proof. There are those that just won't believe it unless Buck Trent says he did it. Then again, why would he? Why spoil the fun?

Oh, if you don't have a copy of the Homer and the Barnstormers recording you can download it from a variety of websites. I really recommend it!