Friday, February 17, 2012

Banjos, Banjos, Banjos

I had seen the old "Country Song Round-Up" advertisements for Ode banjos -- Jamestown Star Route, Boulder Colorado -- they were classy looking banjos. Gibsons of that time had the square guitar-shaped peg heads, but the Odes were really good-looking.

I ordered one of Ode's catalogs and parts list. You could buy everything from them. This was 1964 and I was 12. I didn’t have too much to spend, so buying was out of the question at that point.

Earlier, in the fall of 1963, when we were selling tobacco, I had an idea. Tobacco farmers usually graded their tobacco in two or three grades and then had a bunch that they threw out called "trash." I asked mom and dad if I could have the trash. With their help, I saved and worked up the trash for sale. In order to have a few hundred pounds, I had to save it all season, until all the good tobacco was graded, and with the last sale, I sent my trash to the market. In those days tobacco farming was an art, unlike today, where they treat it like hay. It had be "tied" in "hands" and put on a basket for sale. I worked on the trash and got it ready for sale and, to my surprise, I got $65 dollars for it.

A Bacon Belmont

In 1964, I got my next good banjo -- a Bacon Belmont.
A neighbor (Robert Hall) had a Gibson RB-100 that he wanted $75 dollars for, but the neck had been broken, and when I wrote to Gibson, I got a letter back saying that they would install a new neck for $67.50...Heck, I didn’t even have the $75 dollars for the banjo. A short time after that, Clarence Hall told me he had a Gibson RB-150 that someone had brought to him to sell for $150 dollars...It was tobacco-chopping time in the late spring and we were working in the field. I asked dad if I could borrow a hundred and fifty dollars until I sold the trash that fall.....One of the most hurt looks came on his face when he paused and said, "I just don't have it." I felt so bad that I had even asked. I just wanted to roll time back and never ask it. I've always remembered that hurt look on his face. Both he and mom would always give us whatever they could, but the remembrance of that look on dad's face always stayed with me. During the summer before he passed in March of 2009, he and I were talking and I asked if he remembered that time I wanted to borrow a hundred and fifty dollars for a banjo. Well, he didn't remember and I was so glad that he didn't.
That fall, I again asked mom and dad if I could have the trash, and I tied it for sale.
I went with my uncle John Hutchens who took the tobacco to the warehouse in Martinsville, Virginia, on a Saturday. While he was at the warehouse, I went up to the Patrick Henry Mall to the Music Bar. They had moved out to the Mall from Main Street, where I had purchased my first guitar.

They had a used Bacon Belmont banjo for $149.95. It was chrome and had pearloid on the resonator sides and had a hard-shell case with it. I had seen Larry Richardson playing a banjo similar to it on a TV show on Channel 8, High Point, North Carolina. I talked to the lady at the Music Bar and asked if they could do any better on the price. Finally she said she would take $129 dollars for it. I had my sights set on that banjo. I told them that I had some tobacco to sell on Monday and asked if they would hold it for me until then. I went back down to the warehouse and told uncle John. He went up with me to look at it, and after the tobacco sold on Monday, he was to go and buy it and bring it home.

I couldn’t sleep Saturday night or Sunday night. All day Monday, all I could think about at school was that that banjo would be mine when I got home.

When I got off the school bus, uncle John, mom, and dad were all sitting on the porch at the house. I bounced up the hill in anticipation, and when I walked in, uncle John said, "I’ve got some bad news." I had anticipated getting at least $130 or $140 dollars for the trash tobacco, but he said “It only brought 90 dollars and 38 cents," and he handed me the warehouse bill, showing me the tobacco sale amount.

My spirits immediately fell. I tried not to look disappointed, but I’m sure they could tell. After a few minutes, uncle John said, “But I went up to there and told them that that your tobacco didn’t bring what you thought it would, and they let me have it for $90 dollars.” I was overjoyed.

In the past few years, I started wondering: Did they actually let him have that banjo for $90 dollars or did he pay the additional? It would have been just like uncle John to have done it. He passed away a few years ago and I never asked him. I wish I had.

1 comment:

  1. A wonderful story of love of banjo, a time in our nation, strength and caring of family, sensitivity to people, a young person's proper perspective and a maturing awareness. Doug this is really a great story.