I began playing old timey American five string banjo some forty years ago and began writing books on history some thirty years ago. I’m not an academic…just a a guy who likes to find things out. When I started asking questions about gold rush music, it helped that I had studied the 1850s–my book PROFIT PLOTS AND LYNCHING–and had played fiddle and banjo for dances over the last twenty five years.
I have been working on my book THE MINER’S FAREWELL for over a decade. I continue to find more information. If you are interested in gold rush music, the culture of the west, western music, cowboy poetry, old time banjo, the fiddle, minstrel banjo or anything related, you will find this book of interest. It contains a host of quotes from original sources–language that is absolutely priceless, and colorful. See the link to sales of the book on scribd…above.
In 1999 California was about to celebrate its sesquicentennial of 1849. As I looked at the various “folk music” versions and views of gold rush music, I saw that the actual stories behind individual songs had been glossed over by a general lore. The “folk” view of popular music had replaced actual song writers and specific circumstances with a general summary of gold rush music that made it an expression of “folk” culture and that allied it with communal definitions of culture. Subtracting that lore–much of it 20th century in origin–a different picture emerged. I began to look at the stories behind individual songs and, selecting what I saw as the most significant songs for the book, to construct a narrative that discusses both the passage of time and the creation of a western culture. I also noted that this culture largely faded away after 1919.
For the last several years, I have focused on understanding gold rush melodies in the context of the instrument unique to the time of their creation–the gut strung five string 19th century minstrel banjo. The significance of this instrument’s arrival in 1849 into San Francisco and its significant presence on the Comstock during the 1860s has nowhere been noticed and written about until now. My hope is that people interested in the gold rush, gold rush music and/or the banjo will realized that my research just opens the door. There’s a lot more to be discovered and played.