Ben Eldridge banjo book coming in 2021

Finally! Banjo players rejoice… a book on the stylings of Seldom Scene banjo player Ben Eldridge is in the works.

Though now retired from the band, Ben was with the Scene from their first jams in his basement in 1971, through their most iconic recordings, which left an indelible mark on bluegrass. Acts I, II, and III, Live at the Cellar Door, and Old Train changed the way we look at the music, and Ben was on board for those and a dozen more albums until he stepped away in 2016.

Countless banjo players labored over those records to learn his stuff – long before slow down software, or even computers, were around to assist in the effort! His impact is difficult to overstate. In 1981, I bought a Stelling Staghorn primarily because he, and Alan Munde, were playing one.

Tentatively titled Ben Eldridge on Banjo, the book is being co-written by Ben with DC-area banjoist and all-around bluegrass promoter, Randy Barrett. He tells us that it will be formatted as a tab book, but with extensive input from Ben, both about the solos and songs included, and about his life and career in bluegrass music.

“I’ve been a Ben Eldridge superfan for more than 40 years. Ben’s elegant and tasteful playing has formed the stylistic bedrock of a generation of banjo players, including me. Somehow, he manages to combine both drive and bounce, and his ballad playing is simply otherworldly. And yet Ben is underrated in the pantheon of banjo greats. It’s my hope that this book will help change that.

This will be a combination of Ben’s musical history and influences, and his philosophy about how banjo fits into bluegrass. And there will be lots of tabs of his iconic breaks and back-up, and more. It’s a real honor to be working with him on the project.”

Randy has already put a lot of work into the book, completing transcriptions of many of the pieces he will feature in the book, and consulting with Eldridge at some length. Both Ben and his son, Chris, will be involved, as the younger Eldridge spent a great deal of his youth traveling with the band, and has some important memories that Barrett wants to work into the narrative.

The author says that his goal is to capture the mindset that led to such memorable banjo playing.

“I’m most interested in getting into Ben’s process in fashioning his solos. In talking about the book with Ben, he says of his time with the Scene, ‘I was just a helper.’ That says volumes about his banjo philosophy.”

Wonderful news for the banjo community. I’ll be first in line for one of these!

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.