If your only exposure to the banjo is the "Dueling Banjos" scene in "Deliverance," an education is in order.
No one can offer better schooling than Bťla Fleck, the most highly regarded banjo player around.
You could start by heading to see Bťla Fleck and the Flecktones on Sunday at the Holland Performing Arts Center or by picking up the band's latest album, "Rocket Science." Or perhaps one of Fleck's other records, which have won him a total of 13 Grammy Awards (and more nominations in more categories than anyone ever).
Before the band comes to Omaha, we spoke to Fleck about it all, including when he first picked up the banjo.
Q. Most people traditionally go for guitar or piano, so I've always wondered how you picked the banjo.
A. I fell for the banjo after hearing Earl Scruggs' playing on "The Beverly Hillbillies." I don't know why it hit me so hard, but it sure did.
My grandfather got me one when I was fifteen. I was playing some guitar then, but banjo swept that away quickly.
Q. If you hadn't picked up the instrument, what do you think you'd be doing instead?
A. I'd be watching other people playing it!
Honestly, I have no idea ...
Q. I read that you got the band together originally for a one-off show. How did that happen? And are you surprised to have been doing this band for almost 25 years now?
A. I had the opportunity to do my own one-hour PBS TV show. In it I performed a piece for banjo and string quartet that I co-wrote with Edgar Meyer, and I did some banjo stuff with a computer, and I had plans to put a little jazz combo together for a few songs to end with. That combo ended up being the Flecktones, and it didn't end anything!
I am thrilled to have such a long and fruitful musical relationship with (bass guitarist) Victor (Wooten) and (percussionist) Futureman (Ray Wooten), and it is truly wonderful to have (keyboardist and harmonica guy) Howard Levy back on stage with us, once again.
Q. "Rocket Science" has a number of influences and musical genres. Do you have eclectic tastes or inspirations?
A. Yes, we all love a lot of different musics, and we are intrigued by them and we desire to understand them and incorporate new ideas from them as much as possible.
Q. You've been playing for a long time, so where do you continue to find inspiration? Do you still hear music that makes you want to learn how to play it or styles that you'd like to master?
A. Yes, I do. The world is so filled with great music. And the past is a treasure trove. It would be very egotistical to assume that music from the time period we are living in is better than what has happened over the last centuries. Now is only one of our options. So listening to the great musicians from the past and present is essential.
Q. Within the band, there are several very strong talents. Is it hard to guide everyone's vision into one cohesive effort for a song or an album?
A. Actually we are so used to each other that we rarely have disagreements about the music. Most decisions are unanimous, and sometimes we just need to have a leader (me) so that we do make decisions when there is diversity of thought.
Q. The album was the first in a long time with the band's original lineup. How did it feel to have everyone back together?
A. Victor and Futureman and I have been together the whole time, 24 years now. Of course we've taken breaks, sometimes a year or two long — but we've always come back together and grown together and separately. Howard Levy is the returning hero. After 17 years away from the band, he is the reason the band sounds so different now. He was with us for the first four years or so, and his incredible harmonica and piano playing was a big part of our sound. Now it's back, and we get to pick up where we left off in 1992.
Q. You won another Grammy earlier this year. Is it as exciting as the first time?
A. I don't think it can be as exciting when it's your 15th Grammy as it was when it's your first, but it's still quite an amazing thing. It means that the music community thinks that you are doing good work. It's highly appreciated.
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