Last Friday afternoon I was sitting at home, backing up files on my computer, when I got a call from Charlie Cushman. He asked if I’d by any chance be able to work the door at the Station Inn that night. Having no plans, my schedule was totally open, so I agreed and two hours later I found myself walking in the door of the Station. “Bring your banjo,” Charlie had said, “we’ll get you up to pick a few.” I took my old Gibson style 11, which doesn’t get too much playing these days.
Charlie, in case you are unfamiliar, is one of the best banjo players in the world. He can do Scruggs, he can do Reno. I’ve never heard him to Stanley, but I’m sure he could if he had a mind to. He grew up near Nashville and has always lived and played around here. For years he was in Mike Snider’s band and played regularly on the Opry. These days he often tours with Vince Gill. His banjo album is called “Five String Time.” Last year he released an album with fiddler Johnny Warren, who is Paul Warren’s son, called, “A Tribute to Paul Warren” (…as in the long-time fiddler with Flatt and Scruggs.) Johnny plays just like his dad, has the fiddle that Paul always played, and it is awesome to listen to.
Charlie has always been really nice to me, and very complementary of my playing. It means a lot to me to have his good opinion, because he’s not the type that will hand out compliments just to make you feel good. We’re co-endorsers of Kel Kroydon banjos and the fact that Cush was working with the company was a big factor in my decision to go with that company for my signature model.
The band for the night, in addition to Charlie and Johnny, was Kent Blanton on bass, and Robert Montgomery on guitar. They got up guest Mike Webb to pick and sing some, and in the second set invited fiddler Aaron Till to sit in as well. The crowd was small, which was a shame, because the music was amazing. Charlie was playing his ass off, and it gives me a million little thrills to hear Johnny, because no one plays that style these days.
They asked me up in the second set and I picked “Earl’s Breakdown.” How awesome is it that I passed the break off to Johnny, who was playing the same fiddle Paul played that very tune on thousands of times?! Really awesome.
I stayed on stage for the rest of the set—‘til midnight—and also played “Pike County Breakdown,” sang “Wandering Boy” and “East Virginia Blues.” I took a surprise break on a Reno tune called “Chokin’ the Strings.” It’s in the key of D, and Cush tuned down to D tuning. He often uses D tuning and is not afraid to re-tune his whole banjo on stage. I knew that D tuning was a no-go for me, since my banjo’s not used to it, so I chose to play it in D position. I don’t really know the tune, so I shook off the first break Charlie tried to hand me. After the fiddle and another banjo break however, he stepped away from the mic, leaving me in front of it. So, yeah, sure I’ll take a break now! Actually the tune is very straightforward and I played something decent, that may have even sounded a little like the melody.
At the end of the night we all agreed that we’d had a great time, even though there were only about fifteen people left. (Lucky people!) I’d do it again in a heartbeat, even though it did mean prying myself out of my nice warm house, into the cold dark Nashville night, and staying up long past my bedtime!