What’s it concerning the banjo? As a musical instrument, it’s oddly polarizing. Embraced by conventional bluegrass bands, revivalists and hipsters alike, it’s as prone to be the punch line of a corny joke as it’s the opening riff to an Avett Brothers music.
Find it irresistible or hate it, the banjo’s roots return tons of of years, and that clangy, jangly sound is right here to remain. For proof of its perennial energy, look no additional than this yr’s Grammy Awards on March 14. Nominees for “Greatest Bluegrass Album” embrace releases from banjo wizards 28-year-old Billy Strings and 59-year-old Danny Barnes. Each are celebrated for his or her unconventional, progressive takes on this conventional instrument.
Barnes creates music on a Bishline Banjo, made proper right here in Tulsa by luthier Rob Bishline.
“I contacted Danny and instructed him how proud I used to be of him for simply getting the nomination as a result of he’s labored extraordinarily laborious in his life to comply with his ardour,” Bishline says. “Like all artists, I feel he’s suffered for that, and it’s good for him to be acknowledged.”
Bishline first met Barnes years in the past when Barnes bought one in all Bishline’s banjos from his vendor sales space throughout the Worldwide Bluegrass Music Affiliation (IBMA) awards. Bishline was impressed with Barnes’ expertise and his lack of ego.
“I felt like I’d identified this man my complete life. We actually hit it off,” Bishline remembers.
They saved in contact as Barnes started taking part in in entrance of bigger audiences in greater venues with bands like Yonder Mountain String Band and even Dave Matthews. With the electrified, louder devices on stage, Barnes quickly discovered he wanted a distinct fashion of banjo, one he might amplify with much less suggestions. Bishline modified one in all his present fashions, utilizing a wood tone ring (rather than metallic) and including a pickup, or transducer. Thus, the “Danny Barnes” mannequin was born.
That banjo proved in style with a lot of Bishline’s prospects. Lighter than some conventional banjos, it’s an excellent match for older gamers on the lookout for a extra comfy instrument with much less put on and tear on their shoulders and backs. It’s additionally a favourite of many younger, progressive gamers, who recognize this banjo’s versatility and rock and roll performance.
Tulsa musician Cody Brewer has his personal customized Danny Barnes Bishline Banjo. He even helped construct it when he labored for Bishline.
“Once I first discovered about Danny Barnes and that Rob had made his banjo, I used to be blown away as a result of he’s performed with Dave Matthews and all types of loopy stuff at that stage,” Brewer says. “And Rob is only a regular dude. You’ll by no means get it out of him that folks like (15-time Grammy Award winner) Béla Fleck have been in his store and that he’s made banjos for all of those well-known folks. He has an unassuming angle about all of it.”
Tulsa wouldn’t be residence to a world-class banjo maker at the moment if it weren’t for the truth that years in the past, a 13-year-old Bishline couldn’t consider a option to get a drum arrange into the tree home he and his buddies had constructed excessive of a railroad monitor.
“So I dumped the thought of being a drummer, and I didn’t wish to play guitar as a result of that’s what my good friend was already taking part in,” Bishline explains. “By some means I bought on the monitor of the banjo. I purchased one at Service Merchandise and began taking part in it. It wasn’t lengthy after I bought it that I wished to vary this or that, or put a brand new head on it, or simply tinker with it and take it aside.”
Bishline ultimately went to luthier faculty in Arizona. After returning to Tulsa in 1984, he offered his banjos by way of the music retailer the place he labored on the time. The devices gained a following. One buyer, Frank Davenport, who additionally was Bishline’s banjo pupil, was significantly impressed. Davenport and his good friend Andy Oatman determined to type a partnership with Bishline in 2003, which allowed Bishline to pursue his commerce full time. The corporate grew. Bishline Banjos are offered on to prospects in addition to by way of sellers throughout the U.S., with orders from all around the world.
Though enterprise has been stable, 2020 was a difficult yr for Bishline. Along with the entire pandemic-related points, Oatman, Bishline’s longtime good friend and enterprise accomplice, died after a battle with most cancers on the finish of 2019. Oatman dealt with most of the day-to-day features of working the bodily enterprise, and together with his passing, Bishline determined it was time to return to a less complicated manner of working. He let go of Bishline Banjos’ massive showroom, workshop and instructing facility 4633 E. thirty first St., and is again to creating banjos on his personal from residence.
“It made sense for me to show unfastened of that and simply concentrate on constructing,” explains Bishline, 59. “It’s been a extremely unusual yr. I’m grateful I’ve been extraordinarily busy constructing and promoting a variety of banjos. I’ve gone again to doing every part on the banjo, identical to I did once I was youthful. My palms are in each single little bit of the constructing course of.”
The 63rd annual Grammy Award Ceremony, hosted by Trevor Noah, will air 8 p.m., March 14, on CBS. To study extra about Bishline Banjos, go to bishlinebanjos.com.