Shedding Light on the Legend of the Bluegrass Album Banjo December 2010

Each of has been on the search for our own idea of the Holy Grail. Some of us find it, some give up, and some continue the search… For me The Holy Grail was an original 1930s Five String Flathead Style 3 Banjo! The story of that banjo and the quest needs to be told one of these days… but not yet. I will tell you though, that I did find that banjo and we have been together for more than 30 years. In 1981, a few years after I found that banjo, I received a telephone call from my friend J.D. Crowe. J.D. was planning to come out to the San Francisco area to record an album with Tony Rice, Doyle Lawson, Bobby Hicks, and Todd Phillips. Now J.D. doesn’t really care that much about flying and likes flying with a valuable banjo even less. He was calling to ask me if he could use my banjo for the upcoming record project. Of course I agreed and not too long after that I was sitting in the Arch Street Studio in Berkeley California watching and listening to history being made. The result of those sessions produced the first legendary “Bluegrass Album.” Take a close look at the cover of that album and you will notice that the banjo is indeed a Style 3 but not with the Flying Eagle inlays associated with J.D.’s own banjo. The banjo pictured and recorded on The Bluegrass Album is the one referred to earlier as “the Holy Grail” but now know as “The Bluegrass Album Banjo.” When it came time to record the second album, I got a call from Tony Rice it went something like this, “Richard your banjo sounded so great on the first album I told J.D. to leave his at home… can he use yours again?” …and so he did! There are many pickers who will tell you that those albums produced some of the finest examples of banjo tone that have ever been recorded. Last month I spent the better part of a week at out banjo factory going over every nut, bolt, curve and dimension of that Bluegrass Album Banjo. I’ve done that many times before but this time extremely precise measurements and drawings were made and now were have embarked on a project to replicate that banjo just as accurately as we possibly can. I think that you will like this upcoming Bluegrass Album Banjo… it really is the second quest for me …the quest to recreate the Holy Grail!

Richard Keldsen
December 2010

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