What’s the best way to get a playlist of great banjo songs? Ask a great banjo player to make it for you … duh. We wanted. We asked. We got. Here, Ashley Campbell culls a dozen of her favorite banjo-based jams for us. Pick on!
Dolly Parton — “Travelin’ Prayer”
When I’m in the mood for bluegrass, I almost always turn on this song first. The playing is so unbelievably tight, and it has that classic bluegrass drive that gets my heart pumping faster. My favorite part is when the guitar solo comes in after the dobro break. The feel is so spot on right there!
Chris Thile — “Watch ‘at Breakdown”
This is my “Get Pumped about Banjo” song. I love the driving energy and dynamics of this song. I actually play the intro of this tune, sometimes, as a banjo warm up for my right hand.
Glen Campbell — “Gentle on My Mind”
Need I say more? So good!
John Hartford — “Gum Tree Canoe”
I can’t listen to this song without smiling. I love the YouTube video of John tap dancing and playing this song on the Opry. It’s just so simple and happy!
Dixie Chicks — “Long Time Gone”
This CD lived in my car’s CD player for a good long year, and it was around the time I was first starting to take guitar lessons — when I was 15. “Long Time Gone” was one of the first songs I learned to play and sing along to.
Ashley Campbell — “Carl and Ashley’s Breakdown”
Shameless plug, I know.
J. D. Crowe and the New South — “Old Home Place”
This was one of the first songs I learned to play in a jam setting, when I was just starting out on banjo. I love old standards like this because of the way they can allow total strangers to play together in perfect harmony.
Punch Brothers — “Moonshiner”
One of the last concerts I took my dad to was Punch Brothers in Santa Barbara. He absolutely loved the show and pretty much gave them a standing ovation after every song. At the end of the show, they came in front of the mics and played “Moonshiner.” It was beautiful. The way they use their instruments to slowly build this song is mesmerizing.
Dolly Parton — “Banks of the Ohio”
This is one of my favorite songs of all time, and Dolly’s version is just perfect. I actually had the opportunity to hear it before it was released because my godfather, Carl Jackson, sang background vocals on it. I remember him playing it for me in my car, and I was just floored by that powerful vocal soaring above the simple instrumentation.
Sarah Jarosz — “Annabelle Lee”
Edgar Allan Poe is my favorite poet, so I love the idea of putting his poems to music. Clawhammer banjo is such a great instrument for storytelling and can also sound quite dark, which is perfect for Poe’s lyrics.
Carl Jackson — “Orange Blossom Special”
This song is insane! Carl plays his banjo so dang fast! I have the album Banjo Player on vinyl and, as fast as the song is, it’s fun sometimes to speed it up on the turntable for a good laugh!
The Deadly Gentlemen – “Moonshiner”
This is my favorite of the Deadly Gentlemen’s tunes. I love how they take a traditional bluegrass style for this song, but they make it their own with the way they talk-sing some of the lyrics. And I love the percussive picking style on the banjo in the verses. This is definitely on my “Get Pumped Bluegrass Playlist” and yes, I have a “Get Pumped Bluegrass Playlist.” Who doesn’t?
Photo credit: Sean Flynn