Banjo Barons

Banjos Back in Town

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The liner notes to this album repeat claims that have been made on other releases by this group, if it can be called a group. These texts speak of a "national craze for the banjo" which began in so-called "banjo bars" (their quotes) of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Yes, and "the movement began to sweep eastward...banjo players now find themselves enjoying a popularity they have not known for some years." Is this some kind of alternate universe? If so, the Banjo Barons have contact from time to time with members of our own. Banjo Baron recordings were part of the "hi-fi" craze of the early '60s and also related strongly to the frightening Sing Along With Mitch phenomenon, as well as happy families spending time in pizza parlors where the crust is made from pulverized crackers. Mitch Mitchell was the Columbia A&R honcho overseeing these releases, which consist of tracks in which three or four different songs are referenced in allotments of about 30 seconds each. Full studio bands make up the ensembles, none of whom are ever credited, and the actual amount of space given over to banjo playing is shockingly sparse considering the name of the group and the claims that were made. Perhaps these were real banjo barons who roamed the countryside, seizing banjos from peasants and not allowing them to be played. For whatever reason, students of musical trivia can examine the strange connections between these productions, which are about as uncreative as one can get in a recording studio, and representing the other end of the creative spectrum, the world of jazz. Another Banjo Baron side was produced by Teo Macero, a guy with heavy jazz credits, but it is well-established that in some cases producers have less than nothing to do with recordings that they are credited with. This album, however, is the smoking gun of the heavy jazz/Banjo Baron connection, as the arranger this time out is Jimmy Carroll. This would at least bode well for the type of song chestnuts involved, which include numbers such as "When You Wore a Tulip" and "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now." Carroll, after all, is an arranger and orchestra conductor who came up playing jazz clarinet with artists such as Roy Eldridge and Mildred Bailey, then worked for song stylists as diverse as Frankie Laine and Patti Page. He also has toiled as an arranger for Mitch Miller, and apparently even Woody Woodpecker, either of whom could have drummed all the decent ideas out of him. But interestingly enough, he is also the guy who did some of the string arrangements and conducted the little orchestra for Charlie Parker. Which means for Parker he was a disappointing substitute for Stravinsky, which is who the great jazzman really wanted for his strings project. That's much more than one can say for his efforts here. The fact that all this information is much more interesting than the actual Banjo Barons is offered as a final insult.