Harry Lane, noted boutique banjo builder and artisan craftsman, passed away early Tuesday morning (7/9) in Savannah, GA after a brief and ultimately terminal battle with brain cancer. He was 72 years of age, born December 1, 1941 as Raymond Harris Lane.
Harry was diagnosed with bladder cancer in the Fall of 2012, and subsequently traveled to The Mayo Clinic in Florida for radiation and chemotherapy. Upon completing treatment, scans showed him cancer free, but after becoming listless this Spring, further tests revealed a tumor on his brain stem. 85% of the tumor was successfully excised through surgery, but little hope of recovery was offered. He went from the hospital into nursing care, and had been in hospice care since last week.
The Lane banjos were highly prized for their unique tone, exquisite attention to detail, and perhaps as much for their scarcity. Known by his close friends as something of an eccentric, Harry made banjos on his own terms, when he chose, often by request or for popular players in the 1970s and ’80s.
A notoriously private man who avoided being photographed, Lane spoke through his art which included museum-quality instruments, custom wood furniture, ivory carving and metal engraving, and highly ornate pool tables and cues. He was raised in one of Savannah’s wealthiest families – his grandfather started the largest bank in town – and was educated at Yale where he graduated with honors.
Longtime friend, North Carolina banjoist Bob Gaddis, described Harry as a true Renaissance man.
“He was the most brilliant man I ever met. He could talk about anything… philosophy, history… anything. He loved to travel and had been around the world more than dozen times. I could sit all day in his shadow and soak up his knowledge.
I was privileged to know him”
Bob said that Lane collected vintage automobiles, and it wasn’t uncommon to find him driving through Savannah in his Bentley, or an Oldsmobile or Lincoln from the 1950s. Gaddis has a pair of Harry’s banjos, and mentioned that they had also been made for Jim Smoak, Eddie Adcock, Hub Nitchie, Don Reno, Jimmy Arnold, and Raymond Fairchild.
It is thought that Lane retained most of the instruments he built, which also include guitars, mandolins and fiddles.
His older brother, Mills, also attained notoriety as a boxing referee. Mills B. Lane is in the Boxing Hall of Fame, and starred in the Judge Mills. B. Lane show from 1998 to 2001.
No funeral plans have been announced, but friends and fans can leave messages in the Guest Book set up online.
R.I.P Harry Lane.