An instrument as old and seemingly simple as the banjo: Could we possibly learn anything new about it? Can anything more be done with it? Yes, indeed. Centuries since the banjo in its earliest forms was introduced from Africa to The Americas, its study and art are in exciting phases, as witness the newly-published Banjo: An Illustrated History (Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Corporation) by Bob Carlin.
Carlin, an accomplished banjo performer, instructor, and historian, surveys the instrument’s history right up to the twenty-first century with emphasis on its most influential makers and players. Entrancingly illustrated with gorgeous and detailed color photographs and numerous rare archival images, its text transcends old cliches and myths about the banjo to bring its story vividly to life. As Tony Trischka notes in his introduction: “It stands as a basic primer for the novice, but also has enough detail and rich historical data to entice that person who has had a longstanding, incurable itch for the banjo.”
Says Carlin, “People ask me, ‘How long did it take you to write the book?’ And I say, ‘All my life!’” He laughs, while adding, “But once the contracts were signed, my part was under a year.”
Bob had long wanted to do such a project, “actually a bigger, encyclopedia kind of book. But I didn’t have the time or the money.” However, the opportunity came to create a book with the potential to find an even larger readership. He was contacted by the Elephant Book Company, a small yet busy operation in London, England, specializing in information-rich, visually high-quality books about music, art, and popular culture. They, in turn, successfully pitched the project to the Hal Leonard Corporation for publication by its Backbeat Books imprint. Hal Leonard had already found success with a beautifully illustrated and thoroughly researched book on early Martin guitars (see “Inventing The American Guitar: The Story Of The Amazingly Modern Pre-Civil War Martins,” Bluegrass Unlimited, March 2014). Read entire article »