Word had reached us about a banjo player being featured in a number of recent episodes of The Jerry Springer Show – the notorious “reality TV” show based in Chicago. The banjo picking was intended not as a performance, but to add a flavor to a hillbilly-themed episode.
When we further learned that the banjo player in question was Greg Cahill, founder of Special Consensus, President of the International Bluegrass Music Association and long-time Chicago resident, I knew there had to be an interesting story behind the Springer appearances.
When I reached him a few days ago, his first reaction was “I was hoping to keep this under the radar, but it seems the word is definitely out.” Knowing Greg to be a serious musician and a truly dignified gentleman, I asked him to fill us in on the back story, which he has graciously agreed to do.
“I have been involved in the Chicago studio scene for about 30 years ‚Äì which is a primary reason for not moving to Nashville years ago (in addition to having family here). I have played on countless commercial jingles, recordings and radio and television shows in Chicago studios over the years, but the majority of commercial studio work began moving to Los Angeles at the beginning of the New Millennium (as it had moved from New York City to Chicago in the 1990s). There remain a small number of quality studios in Chicago and I am very fortunate to continue to maintain my position as a first call banjo player (in spite of spending about 150-160 days a year on the road with The Special Consensus). My studio connection has afforded me the opportunity to play the banjo on various television show soundtracks (including the Oprah show); it is because of this connection that I was contacted to play the banjo on the Jerry Springer Show, which appears on the NBC network.
I was very reluctant to accept the offer at first because I find it extremely offensive when people make fun of people publicly (and I never watch the show for that reason). But a producer of the Springer show contacted me personally to assure me that the folks who appear on the show are fully aware of the presentation of the show and are happy to be part of it; the purpose of the show is simply to have fun. My primary concern was that I would jeopardize my studio connections, especially with NBC, if I refused to appear on the show so I agreed to make an appearance. Part of my agreement with the producers was that I would wear a hat and that my name would not be listed in any show credits.
I had to walk across the stage playing the banjo, climb a spiral staircase while continuing to play and remain on a catwalk on stage to play small musical snippets throughout the show. The result was that the audience responded very positively, which pleased the producers immensely. I was shocked when people were waiting outside the stage door to get my autograph ‚Äì I began walking away, thinking they had me confused with someone who had appeared on a different show somewhere else in the huge NBC building, but they were definitely waiting to get the autograph of the banjo player. Money was definitely not the main reason I had agreed to appear on the show (keeping my NBC connects was the primary reason), but I was paid well and I also did see that the people about to appear on the show were being coached backstage ‚Äì and they were actually very willing and pleased to be part of the show, which made me realize that the show really is all in fun.
I was called back to make a second appearance on the Springer show and the producers basically told me that they had received such positive feedback about the banjo playing that I would be a ‘somewhat occasional regular’ on the show. I did make the return appearance (which apparently aired recently), rationalizing that at least thousands of people who may never have paid attention to hearing a banjo may now go out to hear a bluegrass band or attend a bluegrass festival after hearing and seeing a banjo played on the television.
I sincerely hope the folks in the worldwide bluegrass music community will understand why I agreed to appear on the Jerry Springer Show.”
Greg did have something else to report, something that he wants everyone to know about. Special Consensus is finishing up their next recording project now, with an anticipated release on Pinecastle in the first part of 2009. He told us that the CD will be primarily new material – some written by band members Ashby Frank and Justin Carbone, a new song from Ronnie Bowman, and an instrumental written by Greg and Ashby.
We’ll all be on the lookout for that.