Archive for the ‘Dan Gellert’ Category

Funk Banjo of Dan Gellert

July 5, 2015


by Frank Basile (

Dan Gellert. All you have to do is say the name to invoke awe. He was already legendary more than 30 years ago with his funky, restless playing and now represents a whole way of looking at the music. He has what seems to be an endless capacity to turn the smaller internal phrases of old-time music around and around, nudging them rhythmically and embellishing them melodically.

We’re not talking about jazz, here… the individual moves aren’t particularly revolutionary… harmony is not re-invented… the melody is never completely abandoned.. but the overall effect is damned amazing. Anyone looking to do a “tight duet” with Dan is going to be disappointed. He’s NOT going to stand still, period. No it’s not jazz.

It’s FUNK.

If you look at his banjo playing from a technical perspective, you’ll find a couple of things to note. In his clawhammer playing, Dan’s music is notably “chordless.” This gives his music a stark, linear quality. In terms of note quality, he also likes the notes ‘between the frets,’ and has a way of generating that feeling even on a fretted banjo, although he really flies on fretless banjos of all kinds.

You’ll also note that, eschewing chords in general, he doesn’t fill up rhythmic space with a bunch of clutter. Every note matters… and when I say that, the spaces BETWEEN the notes matter, too. The basic ingredients of the right (picking) hand are also pretty traditional: basic stroke, drop-thumb, occasional double thumb, galax lick – it’s the service to which these things are put.

Any one of these can be employed at any point in the tune to nudge the rhythm along or to inject syncopation. Dan likes to surprise himself – he’s not attached to perfection.. just the fun of being in the moment.

Dan Gellert DVD/CD

March 6, 2015


by Geff Crawford (

There’s a wonderful new CD/DVD set of Dan Gellert, old-time fiddler and banjo player, put out by the Old-Time Tiki Parlour ( based in Los Angeles. Dan’s fiddle and banjo style make him one of the premier old-time musicians around. I recommend this set at the highest level, whether you are already an old-time musician or fan, or just want to experience the music played at its best. I believe that Dan’s recordings are limited besides this one—two cassette albums, one with Brad Leftwich (“A Moment In Time”) and the other with his band Shoofly (“Forked Deer”), plus a CD of Dan called “Waitin’ On The Break Of Day”.

Just to get the details out of the way, this set is an audio CD of 19 fiddle and banjo tunes and songs, and a video DVD of Dan playing the tunes for all the world to see. The price is $25, with the usual disclaimer about my having any connection or financial benefit. Here are the tunes, half on banjo and half on fiddle, and yes, I know 19 is an odd number:

John Henry / Poor Rosy / Pretty Little Shoes / The Cuckoo / Nancy Dalton / Old Jimmy Sutton / Midnight / Fall On My Knees / Black-Eyed Suzy / Eph Got A Coon / Railroad Through The Rocky Mountains / Reuben / Shaking Down The Acorns / Cora Dye / Big Tennessee / Sail Away Ladies / The Girl I Left Behind Me / I’ll Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms / Raleigh & Spencer

One might ask why one would want a video of the same tunes that are on the audio CD. My answer is a long one. First, Dan’s style is iconic, masterful, and beautiful, and therefore possibly a mystery to anyone wanting to use it improve his/her own playing. The combination of audio and video gives a potential leg up to understanding that mystery.

Second, this is a wonderfully produced, recorded, and videoed set that has excellent audio and visual quality, greater than recordings or films of past (sometimes LONG past) players available online or elsewhere. The quote from Dan about how to play like he does is, “Listen to the same dead guys that I listened to.” That’s not always easy when old technology gets in the way—this set eliminates those problems. Third, Dan’s rhythm and bluesy style come across powerfully when you can actually watch him play and watch him love the music he’s making.

Order here.

Fathers and Daughters

March 16, 2013

Video: Rayna and Dan Gellert play “Old Mose.”



Clelia and Rafe Stefanini

Clelia and Rafe Stefanini play “Poplar Bluff” (from Lady on the Green):


The Speckers:  John Specker, Lila Specker, and Ida Mae Specker play “In the Pines” (from “The Speckers: Volume 1”): 

Dan Gellert (2)

January 11, 2013

excerpt from

Dan Gellert is a legend in the field of old time American music. As a result of the folk music revival of the 1960s and records he heard growing up in New Jersey, he began to master the banjo, guitar, and fiddle, and sing. At an early age he discovered the importance of taking the time to understand the music in a complete and detailed way, as if it were a language. Dan has given a lot of thought to what it takes to make the music sound and feel like the field recordings and old 78 rpm records he has listened to.

While Dan is playing, one gets the sense he has entered another world which combines all his influences, yet it is his playfulness and improvisational sensibilities which make his style powerful and instantly recognizable. Dan’s fiddling is bluesy and rhythmic and without regard for modern standards of pitch and tone. In other words, he follows his muse, which makes his music stand alone in a world of timid imitators. Not for the faint of heart, Dan Gellert is a commanding and uncompromising talent.

After raising a family and playing out mainly in his community (Elkhart, Indiana), Dan is hoping to retire and get out more and share his music. His recordings are few but excellent. Check out A Moment in Time with Brad Leftwich (Marimac cassette). He has cuts on a couple of compilations: A tribute to the Appalachian String Band Music Festival (Chubby Dragon), and The Young Fogies Vol. I (Rounder). He has a segment on the Fiddler Magazine video Carrying on the Traditions: Appalachian Fiddling Today (now out of print), as well as various cuts on the old County Records claw-hammer banjo compilations.

Give us your first experience hearing old time fiddling.

Wow. I don’t know what my first experience hearing old time fiddling was. It was hearing stuff on records. What, I don’t know in particular, although we had records of the folkies around. You know — Pete Seeger, Woodie Guthrie, Leadbelly, Cisco Houston, those people. I don’t know if there was any fiddle on any of that but I know I heard some of that. I grew up with all kinds of stuff. We had classical music, too, and Gypsy music.

Was it the Anthology of American Folk Music?

Yeah, that was there. Some of it was. I remember there was one store in New York where you could pick up unjacketed Folkways discs. I think the price was three for ten dollars, if I recall right, and I used to go there every once in awhile and get a few. But I think my mother got this one long before I started going in there. It was just that first disc I remember. We started going in the early ’60s to these “hootenannies.” (more…)

Dan Gellert (1)

December 14, 2012


DB: How did you learn? Did live one-on-one interaction play a part in the learning process?

DG: There were a few banjo (and mandolin and guitar) players around that I got to watch and sometimes play with. On the fiddle I think it was just me and the old records for maybe the first couple of years.

DB: Which fiddle and banjo players have influenced you the most?

DG: I can say that Pete Seeger was a major influence because he’s the first banjo player I heard and also his GREAT banjo book which I still recommend to students. For most, “why” is just because I like to listen to them. A random selection of my early models, in no particular order: Uncle Bunt, Uncle Dave, Hobart Smith, Wade Ward, Doc Watson, Tom Ashley, Posey Rorer, Luther Strong, Fred, Kyle, & Tommy, Gid, Lowe, & Pappy, Sam & Kirk, Dock Boggs…

DB: How did you approach bowing when you started learning? Was there any sense of “bow patterns” for you? How do you think about “bowing?”

DG: I didn’t think of it that way when I was learning, but I managed to acquire a few good habits very early on (just plain luck as far as I can tell). I’d been fiddling for maybe 20 years by the time I was hanging around with Brad and heard him talk about “down bowing”. I remember asking him if I played that way, since I’d never paid any attention to which way the bow was going. He said yes. Since then I’ve gotten more and more into teaching, and so I’ve had to learn how to analyze and dissect the way I do things. It still isn’t real easy.

DB: What are the most eccentric tunes/recordings in your mind?

DG: Strange that I felt an instant negative reaction to this question, as I used to think I was real into eccentricity. My first thought was f*** eccentric, music has to be CENTERED. Everyone has their own idea of where the center is, though. Which doesn’t answer the question. I don’t know. Like, Willie Narmour can be crooked as hell, but he very much makes his own kind of sense. What about Edn Hammons, JW Day, (and lots of others, of course)– eccentric, or just real normal for the mid 19th century?

DB: Do you listen to any modern musicians?

DG: Not a lot. I do sometimes hear things I like, but I’m getting old enough that long-term memory carries a lot more weight with me than short-term..