Rudy Lyle – The Unsung Hero Of The Five-String Banjo

Rudy Lyle: The Unsung Hero of the Five-String Banjo by Max Wareham paints a vivid picture of the life and musical significance of the early bluegrass banjo giant. The book features exhaustive and largely never-before-published transcriptions and analyses of every break Lyle recorded with Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass Music.

Lyle was the fourth banjo player hired by Bill Monroe, joining the Blue Grass Boys in 1949, remaining until drafted in 1951 before re-joining in the summer of 1953. 

He featured on the final Columbia session before going on to add creative touches to the distinctive early Decca recordings. 

In the liner notes to the 5-CD set, Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys Castle Studio 1950 -1951 Complete Sessions collection (RWA ACD12522, 2017), Dick Spottswood comments about following Earl Scruggs and Don Reno, “… it’s said that Rudy never received the recognition he deserved. He was soft-spoken and unassertive, but his hot solos, creative backups, and distinctive touch were more than equal to the job.”

By way of introduction Wareham explains ..

“I began this project as a way to root my own playing more firmly in the tradition, but quickly came to realize that despite Rudy’s tremendous influence on the development of bluegrass music, he’s been nearly forgotten.”

Rudy Lyle: The Unsung Hero of the Five-String Banjo aims to bring due recognition of the rightful status of the Virginia-born banjo player in presenting “an intricate and surprising portrait of a nearly-forgotten master.”

The book contains complete transcriptions of 26 of Lyle’s breaks, which cover everything that he recorded in the studio with Monroe, as well as alternate takes and live performances. Extensive transcriptions of his backup playing are included also. All of the transcriptions are written in banjo tablature, and are published in larger format to ease reading of those tabs.

An excellent example of Lyle’s importance is the standard that he set in helping on the first recording (on January 20, 1951) of the show-piece instrumental, Raw Hide 

Note Lyle’s sophisticated jazzy chords and up-the-neck-break that innumerable banjo players have imitated ever since. 

Lyle’s historical significance is explored in the final interviews given by late banjo legends Sonny Osborne and Bill Emerson, as well as interviews with several other prominent banjo players and members of Lyle’s family. Beautiful portraits of each interviewee are included alongside several never-before-published photos of Lyle himself. 

Wareham took on the role of detective as he attempted to track down the fabled banjo (a Gibson RB-3 Mastertone) that Lyle played. Following hints dropped by interviewees, he scoured issues of a bluegrass magazine from the 1980s, where he found letters to the editor from people claiming to own the banjo. This saga, which ultimately led Wareham to the banjo itself, is included in the book along with full colour photographs.

The book is available to pre-order from Max’s web site.


SKU: 364215376135191
Paperback: ‎ 152 pages 
Dimensions: ‎ 12″ x 9 1/2″
Street Date: August 23, 2022

About the author:

Max Wareham, banjo player and multi-instrumentalist, is a member of the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, and can be heard on Rowan’s latest Rebel album, Calling You From My Mountain.  

Having studied with banjo masters Tony Trischka and Bill Keith, Wareham has taught music extensively, giving private lessons, and at a couple of schools in the Boston, MA area. 

Also, he has played bass with psych-pop outfit Sun Parade and written songs and produced several albums under various aliases.

Much of Wareham’s work in bluegrass and education is focused on early bluegrass banjo styles and how they can offer alternative paths to expression within the bluegrass idiom.

Rudy Lyle: The Unsung Hero of the Five-String Banjo is his first book. 

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.