Backup is an underappreciated role. But as a banjo player it's one you need to be well versed in. If you are playing with others, it's what you'll do the majority of the time. Rolling backup behind a fiddle player is one aspect of it. Studying the backup style of J.D. Crowe will serve as a great entrance, or be a welcome addition to your backup vocabulary on the banjo. Make sure to listen to J.D.'s playing. Listen actively. Close your eyes and focus on the sound of the banjo. What do you notice about the timing, attack, and tone? Below is a video of what we'll be learning. We'll also study a few of J.D.s signature backup licks. These four measures work for the A and B part of the tune. They'll also work great on almost any tune that has this same chord progression, which is very common in bluegrass.
Sometimes it's called "Sally Goodin'", and sometimes it's called "Sally Goodwin". It's the same song, but it sounds slightly different depending on who's playing it. If you listen to Earl Scruggs' recording of "Sally Goodwin" from the Foggy Mountain Banjo record, you may notice he plays much more of a vamping style of backup. Listen to J.D. Crowe and The New South play "Sally Goodin", and you'll hear J.D.s strong rolling backup. J.D.'s attack, rolling patterns and licks help to create a drive to the music. It's being pushed forward, like he's whipping a mule to go faster, but never lets it get out of control.
The New South version of Sally Goodin starts out with a fiddle and a banjo. In some places, that's known as a band. You can create a powerful and infectious sound with just those two instruments. If you have the chance to jam with a fiddle player, you have a great chance at having a lot of fun. Study up on this backup, and you'll be ready to make some great music.
Up next, we'll dive right in and learn the backup.