The banjo has been part of my life since I was eight years old and, from the very beginning, so has the East Bay Banjo Club. It’s hard to describe a banjo club to those who haven’t experienced it but much of the music intersects with Dixieland. The most significant difference, at least in our club, was the restriction on instruments. A banjo club is primarily banjos with just a few rhythm instruments to keep us in line.
We had a bass or tuba, sometimes a washtub bass, otherwise known as a gutbucket and a washboard. I remember seeing clubs who also had talented spoons players and a couple with the bones.
I love all of the funky rhythm instruments but I especially appreciate both a well appointed washboard and, even more, a talented washboard player.
Growing up with the East Bay Banjo Club, our washboard player was Jim Morgan who also connected us with the hospital charity our playouts always supported. Jim would get up and strap on the washboard for a couple songs each night, especially the Coney Island Washboard.
Here’s a recording of the Club playing it though I’m pretty sure this was after Jim had passed away.
Now YouTube gives us access to anything and everything, so I found an amazing washboard player who plays smooth with impressive fills, not overdoing it. Here's the Washboard Chaz Trio playing the I'm So Glad Blues.
About a year ago, I decided it was time to create my own deluxe washboard and began building it. I started with a classic Dubl Handi.
I like darker woods, so I stained it. Then I made many trips to the best music shop I’ve found in town, Bentley’s Drum Shop. I’m not a percussionist but it’s clear that Dana Bentley has the best selection for his realm of the music world and absolutely the most knowledgeable staff.
The cowbells and plastic versions of wood blocks are mostly LP Percussion and Meinl attached with the clamps to attach them to drum kits. Ultimately, I discovered the whole things was just too heavy for normal hang around your neck play, so Bentley’s found a Gibraltar Electronic Mounting Station that worked perfectly.
While I mostly remember playing with thimbles, I also like the spoons which are a bit more mellow and can be played as their own instrument. I also picked up a couple types of percussion brushes which work well and don’t overpower the room.
All told, the cost added up, especially with the stand but the components are all interchangeable and the fun it has been creating has been completely worth it.
Here's the final product...
And here it is from the player's perspective...