Portfolio > Oil Paintings/Charcoal Drawings_Old Time Songs & Stories

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Banjo Roustabout
Banjo Roustabout
Oil on Canvas
40" x 30"

The great Old Time Music musician and field recorder Mike Seeger inspired this painting. I titled it "Banjo Roustabout" after his performance of the eponymously named song. Mike was the half brother of the much more famous late Pete Seeger, but in my opinion Mike is the more phenomenal and interesting musician. (See my painting "Arkansas Traveler" to find out more about Pete Seeger).

A "roustabout" or a "rounder" is the equivalent to what we Americans also call a "wise guy' or a "ne'er-do-well" or what our UK friends--and I've always loved this term! Call a "wide boy."

In the 17thc., I imagine it referred to the enslaved, manumitted blacks, free blacks, and indentured servants, who played the banjo for about 1 1/2 centuries before whites took it up in the 1830s. In the 19thc. and early 20thc., it applied to whites and blacks (free and enslaved) because of their socio-economic status: immigrants, urban working class poor, rural working class poor (hillbillies), and Southerners. On the frontiers, it referred to so-called "rough and rowdy men:" miners, rafters, boatmen, sawyers, gamblers, etc., plying the rivers of the South and the Mississippi.

Like Mike Seeger's rendition, I turn this on its head and actually celebrate these marginalized people and lifestyles. In this self-portrait, I adopt the roustabout persona--although the Birkenstocks are a dead give-away that I'm middle class! My late feline, little boy Hodge had a "roustabout" streak about him. Here he is, the true roustabout in this painting: stepping on my feet and competing for the viewer's attention. A "hodge" is an English term for a commoner or common worker. Samuel Johnson named his beloved putty Hodge.