Being the son of a Robert, I have had the nickname “Robby” since childhood. In the 80’s that nickname was expanded to “Robby T” by friends and bandmates, and I am now morphing that into “RawBeeT”, as a moniker for my new musical project.
A while back I got some land and a cabin on the sun up side of Priest mountain in Tyro, Virginia, one of the most beautiful and inspiring places on earth. Frequent visits to the area eventually led to porch picking sessions with some of the local boys. One night at a nearby cabin jam session, one of the mountain boys handed me a 5 string banjo. No one there knew how to play it, myself included, but for some reason I noodled around on it for a while that night….long enough to figure out it was tuned more or less how Keith Richards tunes his 5 string Tele with the exception of the fifth string being high rather than low. That fifth string really throws a guitar player for a loop at first. It’s also where a lot of the magic of a 5 string banjo comes from.
So I went back to my cabin on the hill that night and couldn’t get the sound of that banjo out of my head. I had zero experience or knowledge of bluegrass or old time music, but I was really taken in by what I would soon come to know as “that half-barbaric twang”. I bought myself a cheap Epiphone 5 string as a birthday present to myself….and there ain’t been no looking back ever since.
It didn’t take long to learn there were 2 main schools in the banjo world: 3 finger upstroke style (bluegrass/Earl Scruggs) and clawhammer/ frailing …a down stroke style used mostly in old-time music. There exists somewhat of a split between the two playing and musical styles, as the techniques are very different and 3 finger style utilizes finger and thumb picks, and clawhammer is mostly bare fingernails, or a finger pick worn backwards as to downstroke instead of upstroke. Even folks who were capable of playing both styles had to decide which one to use at a given time, then add or remove the picks for the other style. That led to a problem for me as I wanted to be able to do both within the same song…..without having to switch picks……which led to inventing my own style of finger and thumb picks in order to play both styles simultaneously, a style I call “ClawJam”.
The 5 string banjo has been largely pigeon-holed as being strictly a bluegrass instrument. This is a big mistake. The banjo is extremely versatile when treated as such, and even in it’s rawest form it’s one of the most beautiful sounds in existence…..to my ears anyway. There have been many styles of music that I’ve been fortunate to be deeply influenced by, and I still love them all and am eternally grateful for the influences….but this is the music that speaks to my soul now….the music that I am drawn to and that moves me. I am not doing anything other than taking existing styles of music and attempting to inject some of my own self into the mix. This music will not be for everyone, nor should it be….but for those who may be craving something a little different from the norm,…something maybe not so new, but just new to them…. I offer you some RawBeeT.
p.s. “Thank you” to the Roberts Brothers of Tyro, VA. who first put that banjo in my hands on a cold winter night….(I honestly can’t remember if the perpetrating brother was Hampton or Houston)…..my family will eventually forgive you.