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Banjo Lessons: “John Henry” by Ralph Stanley - FMB Roll

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Well, there is an amazing version of John
Henry, the Steel Driving Man.
John Henry by Dr., Dr. Ralph Stanley, and
I'm calling him Dr., Dr.
Ralph as I'm filming this in May of 2014
because Ralph was just awarded
his second honorary doctorate from Yale
University by the president,
who is a bluegrass bass player himself.
So, we got a double Dr. Ralph right now.
Anyway, this is an amazing solo.
I was listening to the, this, listening to
this with my son about a week ago and
we just fell out listening to it.
It, it was so fast.
It was even faster than I just played it
and again, this was from a live recording
from 1956, Ralph and
his brother Carter, The Stanley Brothers,
and there are so
many Foggy Mountain Breakdown rolls here
it's not even funny.
I'm going to slow things down right now
and play this for you.
And you can start, listen and see if you
can catch all the Foggy Mountain Breakdown
rolls before I start describing them.
So, it starts like this.
One, and two, and one.
There it is.
So, I'm just gonna go from the beginning
on through.
He starts up here.
So the melody starts up here.
The way Earl Scruggs did this in another
live recording, I don't think he, well,
he made, maybe have had one live recording
that came out that you could pick up,
down the neck.
He usually did it up the neck in D tuning.
So he's getting that first melody note on
the fifth fret of the first string.
Ralph, on the other hand,
is getting that same note which Earl got
at the fifth fret of the first string.
He's getting it at the eight fret of the
second string and incorporating it,
incorporating it into a Foggy Mountain
Breakdown roll.
And each of these is a little different,
but in this case he does one hammer-on,
and hammers-on to the first string.
And then, the second measure.
There's no hammer-on,
at least from what I can hear.
He's playing this so fast, it's a little
hard to tell.
He might be doing a subtle one, but I
don't think so.
And again,
bringing that thumb across, index, middle,
thumb, middle.
And then, open.
Cuz the first time,
He stays at the eighth fret-
He's open, and then he goes down here.
Which is the, like the it's the same sort
of thing that Earl does in Foggy Mountain
Breakdown, in the third measure.
But anyway, it's the double hammer-on, and
then the forward roll going to a pull-off
on the third string.
And then,
this is, these are all kind of Earl licks
but Ralph puts his own spin on it.
I just
love this kind of abstract lick right
there, and then he goes back up here.
Opening up the second string again.
Double hammer-on opening.
Except that second time,
it's one hammer-on.
And then,
hammer on again with the first string,
And that's measure six.
then you're back down here to the two to
three hammer-on
Foggy Mountain breakdown roll, which is
about where Earl gets it.
And then, I love this a lot.
He goes-
He has three measures of just breathing
space where he's doing quarter notes
instead of rolls.
He's playing it so
fast that maybe it gives him a chance to
wipe his brow and continue after that.
So anyway, measure eight-
[SOUND] Third string, quarter note, I'm
sorry, third fret of the second string,
quarter note.
[SOUND] on the outside strings.
[SOUND] And then he comes back up here to
continue the melody.
The hammer-on by itself.
And then pinch on the outside strings,
back to the eighth fret of the second
string, pinch.
So you've got these three measures.
It's so minimalistic, I just love it.
And then-
that Foggy Mountain Breakdown kind of
thing again.
is similar to measure four except he's not
going to the fifth string.
Measure four he's doing-
Here he's going-
Second fret of the fourth string and
then a hammer-on.
Into a forward role and now.
Here's the Foggy Mountain Breakdown Roll.
Instead of being here-
or something like that, or-
again, measure 13, he's hammering on-
twice, hammering on the third time.
moving it all over a string from the
second string to the third string.
And that's the same as measure 12.
Measure 14 and measure 12 are the same.
And now-
the same as measure 11.
And there's measure 16, also a repeat.
And then.
And, there,
it's just these things keep recurring.
Measure 19.
A pull-off in the middle of a forward
And then two forward rolls.
And this is a real Ralph thing here,
in measure 20.
Quarter note, forward roll,
another forward roll.
And sliding two to five on the fourth
string with the index finger,
because he's just, he's just hit the fifth
string with his thumb.
And now, so,
that leaves the index to come over to the
fourth string.
I think there's only one example of a roll
ever doing that maybe in Hot Corn,
Cold Corn, one of those.
But it would rare, be very rare for
Earl to put his index over on the fourth
Don Reno would do this also.
But here here Ralph is doing it.
And then, he finishes with-
then he would go right back to the
I think they paused one more measure.
[SOUND] Ralph hit one more open third
string, but
the standard way to do it would be to do
Those double pinches and
then just go right back into the tune.
So, one more time.
[SOUND] Not real fast, but, you know,
getting up to a slightly higher speed.
This is such an amazing solo.
Now, don't worry about it if you, like the
very first measure is hammer-on, and then
hammer-on, with the thumb always coming
across to the second string, of course.
And then, he hits the first string.
If you go index, middle,
if you hit that first string both times
after both hammer-ons-
or up here, sorry.
Don't worry about it.
Don't think, okay, well, you only hit that
without the first string.
Just play it.
This is just the way that Ralph happened
to play it exactly.
Anyways, just an amazing solo.
I'm gonna play it one more time.
Oh, and I should mention also,
Ralph would play really close to the
Really giving it that hardscrabble sound.
So if you really wanna sound like Ralph,
get real close to the bridge.
He had a, a,
an arch top banjo instead of a flathead,
which even had a more high-end
sound to it, so it was really this
cutting, amazing cutting-edge sound.
There you have it, John Henry by Ralph