I took six months of banjo lessons from Jerry in '65/66, just before and when
the Dead started taking off. He basically grew up playing banjo and guitar, and
the banjo was actually his primary axe for most of his life up until about '67.
If you really want to hear Jerry's banjo playing in its prime, look for an old
out of print album in used record shops, called the "Good Ol' Boys". There, you
will hear what his playing was really like in the early/mid '60's. It was very
Don Reno influenced, lots of single string, just enough Scruggs style to hold it
all together. He was pretty hot, even by today's standards. Although at the time
when OAITW was done, I felt that his banjo skills had slipped somewhat as a
result of concentrating primarily on the electric guitar, among other factors.
When Jerry and I would get together for lessons during '65, he was hot as a
firecracker on his old Weymann five-string. Although he showed me a lot of
stuff, he wasn't really into writing things down much. We concentrated on banjo
shape positions, chord inversions, and single string stuff, kinda like plectrum
banjo techniques, which I'd also been working on for a couple years prior. His
right hand was a marvel, considering...
And yes, much of what Jerry played on the guitar came directly off the banjo. At
the time Jerry learned banjo, there were no tabs and very few accessible
pickers. So even though some may feel that today's players are better, the fact
was that he was original, doing it his own way, right or wrong. And, he loved
it; and that's what was important for him.
After finishing the lessons with Jerry, for several years it seemed like I'd run
into him regularly, in surprising locations sometimes, and we'd jam for hours
along with lots of other bay area pickers. He was always willing to play with
anyone at the drop of a hat; pretty down to earth especially considering the
goings on back then (with the Dead). It was at one of these gatherings that I
met an electric guitar player called "Clinton Kodak".
I later dropped into the house where Clint was working out with his electric
band, and it was pretty good. On a later stopby, I heard this outrageous single
string banjo work coming from the back bedroom, so I popped in and grabbed a
guitar (then banjo). Although my folks had known this guy in DC and he looked
mighty familiar, I hadn't recognized him even though I'd seen him play when I
was a little kid. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Clinton Kodak was
actually Eddie Adcock, there jamming with Jerry. Jerry whispered the little
secret to me while Eddie was out of the room, and explained that he was "trying
to make it in the rock world - so don't tell anyone".
Jerry and Eddie had a lot in common, I suspected. And this proved to be fairly
true, as we played straight bg, rock & roll tunes, hard rock, blues tunes,
ragtime, etc. late into the night (some 10 hrs); forgot to eat dinner.
So, if you think Jerry was cool, then you should also check out Eddie Adcock,
the father of newgrass. Someone should do a book on Eddie's playing styles
sometime soon... yes? (hint, hint).
Thanks to Earle White for this information!