Portfolio > Oil Paintings/Charcoal Drawings_Old Time Songs & Stories

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Banging and Sawing
Banging and Sawing
Oil on Canvas
67" x 80"

Bob Carlin is one of the very finest contemporary Clawhammer banjoists. He's a favorite! He's a fantastic independent scholar to boot, having written many books about the history and material culture of the banjo. He's an engaging performer with a wonderful sense of humor. And last, he's a fabulous, fascinating person and wonderful company. I named this painting after one of my favorite albums of his "Banging and Sawing." He plays clawhammer-style banjo on his album. For each tune, he plays with a different fiddler. My painting is a tribute to Bob.

Much to my delight, Bob visited me a few years ago and saw this painting on exhibit at the Weatherspoon Museum of Art!

I have always considered the banjo and fiddle duet the quitessential essence of Old Time Music, a union of West African and European sounds and instrumentation: the banjo an Afro-Caribbean invention and the violin a Western-European invention. Sound-wise, from its very early predecessors, spiked lutes from West Africa, the banjo is inherently a great rhythm instrument. The violin/fiddle is inherently a great melodic instrument and provides the British-Isles and Western-European inspired melodies. This banjo/violin union and Old Time music constitute a truly unique American musical form and culture.

Bob's album's title alludes to the instrumentation and playing style of this fabulous duet: "Banging" refers to the banjo and the specific banjo style Bob uses on his album commonly known as "Clawhammer." Clawhammer historically was also known as "banging" or "knocking" banjo style because of the downward stike of the back of the index finger's fingernail hitting the strings, and because the same hand in its follow-through often smacks the head or drum of the banjo. Even if the hand doesn't smack the head, this playing style has a very rhythmic and percussive sound like a drum beat. "Sawing" refers to the saw-like sound of the bow dragging across the violin's strings; in Old Time music fiddlers love to emphasize this awesome scratchy, homespun sound. I wonder if this sound has a cultural referent: back in the 19thc. well into the 20thc. a lot of these musicians made their living as sawyers. One of my favorite Old Time musicians, the late black fiddler Joe Thompson, worked in a sawmill. There is also an Old Time tune classic called "Mississippi Sawyer."

I use this idea about "Banging and Sawing" to discuss visually my dual identity as a painter and musician. Stretcher bars, a saw, and a "clawhammer" (painted bright green to make it conspicuous), are tools that not only only make painter's supports but also create the same sounds as the clawhammer-style, knocking banjo and the saw-like sounds of bows dragging across fiddle strings.