All too often, the banjo catches a bad rap, dismissed as the instrument of hillbillies, confined to only the ramblings of mountain music.
The reality is that the banjo is an instrument most dexterous. Long a staple in the African and American folk music worlds, the banjo exploded into the popular musical consciousness with the advent of Earl Scruggs’ three finger roll, and adventurous players like Bela Fleck and Danny Barnes have expanded even farther the instrument’s reach, taking on genres as far flung as jazz, punk rock, and classical.
It’s now well accepted that the banjo’s potential knows no bounds.
Enter into this conversation Al Scorch, a Chicago-born musician whose music, like the town of his of birth, is a melting pot of influence. Listen closely enough to the tracks on Scorch’s new record, Circle Round The Signs, which releases on May 13th, and you will hear the folk balladry of Woody Guthrie crash against the piss and vinegar bravado of The Minutemen.
Like Barnes and Fleck before him, Scorch is boldly elaborating upon the traditions of the banjo. By drawing from such a wide variety of inspiration – vestiges of old time, punk rock, and European folk all can be heard on the new record – Scorch has tapped into the mettle and temper of an Americana sound that has pushed bands like The Bad Livers, Split Lip Rayfield, and The Avett Brothers into the spotlight.
I recently caught up with Al Scorch to chat about his hometown, the link between punk and old time, and the new record.
BRO – From old time to punk rock. Giant leap or easy jump?
AS – Easy! People playing tunes for their immediate community is the heart of all meaningful musical movements!
BRO – How does your hometown of Chicago show up in your music?
AS – All the little stories stacked on top of one another make a massive and beautiful picture.
BRO – Your own favorite banjo player?
AS – The realest, Roscoe Holcomb.
BRO – We are featuring “Everybody Out” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?
BRO – You chat with Henry Rollins and open with, “Good afternoon. I’d love to bring my banjo and jam with you.” How does he respond?
AS – I hope I never have to speak to Henry Rollins.
Al Scorch has shows lined up this weekend in Missouri and Iowa. For more information on Al Scorch, his band, and the new record, be sure to check out his website. To order a copy of Circle Round The Signs, surf over to the fine folks at Bloodshot Records.
And be sure to check out “Everybody Out” on this month’s edition of Trail Mix.