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Like it or not, popular culture has had a major impact on the story of the banjo and the people who play it.
And that impact has not always been kind.
Most notably in the “not always been kind” family is the infamous “Dueling Banjos” scene from the movie Deliverance, from which the enduring stereotype of the banjo player as toothless and uneducated took root (regrettably, the stereotype of the banjo player as a source of uncommon and surprising virtuosity failed to catch on…).
Banjo public relations were boosted a bit in the year 2000 with the release of the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou (oft referred to as OBWAT, cause who has time these days to either say or type all that?!).
That movie, or perhaps more accurately, the soundtrack to that movie, set in motion a resurgence in interest in traditional music and the 5-string that continues to this day. With it came a rise in popularity in folk acts that incorporated the banjo (Mumford and Sons, Avett brothers, etc.).
I think one could even argue that it sparked the golden age of independent open-back-banjo makers we find ourselves in now.
And the Deliverance-derived stereotype, while not fully eradicated by the OBWAT reputation rehabilitation, was at least replaced by a more expansive view of the music of the banjo and the people who make it.
I’m a big fan of OBWAT (and of the Coen brothers in general) and its soundtrack.
One of the songs on that soundtrack was “I’ll Fly Away.” I’m not certain I’d heard it before seeing the movie, but was instantly drawn to it once I did. No surprise then that is has the distinction of being “the most recorded gospel song.”
The hymn was written in 1929 by the prolific Albert E. Brumley (on a related note, if you notice a banner ad displayed in the bottom of my video, this is why. The song is still under copyright, and so ads are a youtube requirement for broadcasting recorded works that aren’t in the public domain).
Fittingly, the vocalists in the version used in the movie (for some reason, the soundtrack released another version by Allison Kraus and Gillian Welch) were backed by the sounds of….clawhammer banjo.
Here I’ve kept the song in a female friendly key so that Jules can take the lead. I should also note that it also sounds fabulous as a solo banjo tune.
I’ll Fly Away
gDGBD tuning, Brainjo level 3
Notes on the Tab
In the tab above, you’ll note I’ve tabbed out both a “lead break” (something to play in between verses) and the “vocal backup” (what I play while I’m singing).
For more on reading tabs in general, check out this complete guide to reading banjo tabs.
PRIOR SONG OF THE WEEK EPISODES
- Episode 1: “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow”
- Episode 2: “Gumtree Canoe”
- Episode 3: “Crawdad Hole”
- Episode 4: “Oh Susanna”
- Episode 5: “Freight Train”
- Episode 6: “Grandfather’s Clock”
- Episode 7: “Hop High Lulu”
- Episode 8: “Been All Around This World”
Level 2 arrangements and video demos for the Tune (and Song!) of the Week tunes are now available as part of the Breakthrough Banjo course. Learn more about it here.