By Michael Hofer
© 2001

Other Banjo Music

Of course banjo music has never been exclusive to bluegrass and mountain music. Banjo music also took other directions in addition to bluegrass in this time period. About 1912, Vega in an effort to promote a banjo with steel strings for greater volume that could be strummed with a pick like a mandolin inspired Vega to create the "Tango Banjo" named for the popular dance of the day, this for dance bands. The tango banjo name soon became slurred and called a tenor banjo.
At the time of this writing I have yet to find the origin of the Plectrum 4 string banjo, my guess is it was created during the heyday of Banjo Bands removing the 5th string primarily from the standard 5 string banjo. The tenors had 17 or 19 frets, the plectrums 22 again essentialy a 5 string short the drone string and tuned differantly.
The Plectum banjo became very popular and went Ragtime, Dixieland even Big Band as well all using the plectrum style playing. One the best known plectrum players was Eddie Peabody. Credited for popularizing the "Plectrum " style of playing. The plectrum style was much akin to earlier minstrel players, strumming chords and mimicking the triplets used in early banjo days often with chords as opposed to single strings. The main differance being strumming was done with a single flat pick, as opposed to fingers.Took alot of dexterity and a quick wrist to say the least.

Eddy Peabody
Eddie Peabody By The Light Of The SilveryMoon
Eddie Peabody born in 1901 began his career following his discharge from the Navy after WW1. In 1925 he wowed the audience at the Granada Theatre in San Fransisco. The packed crowd had come to see Rudy Valee, but soon his performance grew to a major production, and he began headlining 52 weeks a year. Eddie, stood only 5'5" tall but soon became known as the King of the Banjo. He is credited with popularizing the plectrum style banjo, the use of a flat pick as opposed to fingers. His music embraced ragtime, dixieland and big band numbers.
He began recording music as early as 1924 under the Dot music lable. He appeared in Babes On Broadway with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in 1941. He performed in vaudeville, radio , movies and television during his lifetime.
Eddie was known throughout the world, not just the United States for his banjo playing. He played command performances for the Duke of Windsor, King Gustav of Sweden, King George of England, and Presidents Roosevelt and Harry S Truman.
Eddie played on many banjos, most notably Vox by Vega. This banjo was of a top tension design. Top-tension banjos were first made and patented by George Teed of New York City in the 1860's. Around 1886, he added a deep-walled resonator to it. Later, classical player and composer Joseph Cammeyer, of Brooklyn, modified the design and took it to England, where it became popular as the English "zither" banjo.
Plectrum artist, Eddie Peabody, is credited with bringing the design back to America, where it was further refined by the Vega Company of Boston, and became one of the most unique Jazz banjos of the late 1920's and early '30's.

Eddie Peabdoy and his Vox Banjo
Eddie Peabdoy and his
Vox by Vega Banjo
Folklore is in later years, he often supplemented his earnings, by scouting out old Tenor banjos in pawn shops during touring. He would use the banjo for a song or two onstage, then sell it backstage after the performance, along with a good mark up for the ability to say " this was Eddies banjo". Banjo dealers are regailed with this information often, how much truth there is to it cannot be verified. He's also credited with inventing an instrument called a 'Banjoline' Six strings tuned like a plectrum banjo.
Eddie Peabodies Banjoline

Although Eddie recorded at least one album with all Banjoline tunes, the instrument never caught on. Sort of a hybrid electric 6-string banjo-guitar that sounded somewhat like a Hawaiian guitar, but was tuned just like a plectrum banjo. The 1st and 2nd strings were not doubled. The third string was doubled, and the two strings were tuned in unison (like the doubled strings of a mandolin). The fourth string was also doubled, but the two strings were tuned an octave apart. Banjolines were sold for a short time by the Rickenbacker and Fender Guitar Companies.
Its clear though that Eddie Peabody was the top in his field for more than four decades. He helped bring back the banjo to the entertainment industry again. Eddie passed away at the age of 69 following a performance in Kentucky in 1970. His style of banjo is still being played today, and there are many audiences still enjoying the sound of plectrum banjo playing.