INTERVIEW WITH BOOKMILLER SHANNON
Recorded in Timbo, AR 4/18/70
Click here to listen to the original recording
BS: "Well, I got started back in my younger days, you know, on a homemade banjo, one my brother made, and another boy and myself played on it. I learned to pick this out one finger style, is all. His daddy could play a banjo, and he's the one taught us what little we knew at the start. And then later on, my daddy, he was a fiddler and had been ever since I could remember. But I didn't pay no attention to the tune or how they went or anything. But after I got started to playing the banjo enough to get the sound of what the music was, I could listen to my daddy play, and I'd work 'em out myself, work 'em out the same as I could sing 'em."
GW: "Yes, sir. This first banjo you made. What was it . . . Could you tell a little bit of what it was made out of, or how it was made?"
BS: "Well, my brother made the rim of it out of bent hickory, a hickory strip. He bent it and put the neck in it, and the neck was made out of walnut. And the frets in the neck was made out of hay wire--we call it baling wire, which you bale hay with it. He cut 'em off and put 'em in there. Done real, real good for a homemade banjo. Sounded good."
GW: "Yes, sir. Could you tell me maybe where was the first time you played for anybody, and then maybe a little bit of where you played, just in general?"
BS: "Ah, just around home, and then in the communities there where I played up there near Timbo, southeast of Timbo where we lived, just there in the community."
GW: "Yes, sir. Have you lived in Timbo all your life, or . . ."
BS: "Well, the biggest part of it. I was born on this mountain between here and Mountain View, that's on the right as you go down there, called Cow Mountain. My home then was on the east side, west side of it. Most of my life, only what time I spent 3 1/2 years in the service; I was away then."
GW: "Yes, sir. What else do you do besides perform? What, maybe, what do you do here?"
BS: "You mean my occupation?"
GW: "Yes, sir."
BS: "I don't have much occupation. I'm a truck farmer and gardener and so on, is all I do. I'm kind of knocked out, disability, draw a little disability check. . . . Social security started now, I'm 62, so it's just barely started. It's a poor living, but I'm getting by."
GW: "Okay, well, that's about all the questions I have. If there's anything else you want to tell us, it'll be all right, but ah, if you want to go ahead and start playing . . ."
BS: "Later on, after my . . . My daddy got to playing this fiddle, you know, violin, that's what we always called 'em back in the old days, though--a fiddle. Well, he'd get to playing the fiddle and I'd get to listening at him. Well, if I get to . . . paying attention to him and get to working . . . humming the song, or whistle it or sing it anyway, get that in my mind, I could pick up my banjo and work it out myself. Well, this other guy that was learning with me, he didn't know how I was learning them. He never learned how to do that yet. And I was a-getting songs that he wasn't. And so he asked me one time how was I getting ahead of him, and I told him. Of course, his dad had just been playing the banjo for him. He got the same way, and so he got picking up some tunes, so from then on we just kind of worked alone and didn't work together. We played together a lot, but I mean for our learning . . . neither one of us knew one note from the other."
GW: "Yes, sir. When did you start playing with the man that you made this record with I bought from you? When did . . ."
BS: "You mean when did I start with . . ."
GW: "Mister . . ."
BS: "Avey . . ."
GW: "Avey, yeah."
BS: "Oh, we've been playing together ever since the festival started down here. And I have played with him before, but I've been playing with him regular for the last eight years."
GW: "Yes, sir. Well, I enjoyed listening to the record. Well, if there's nothing else you want to add, you can play whatever you want to. Go ahead."
BS: ". . . what we're gonna play now?"
GW: "Nothing, really, in particular."
??: "Tell on the thing what you're gonna play."
GW: "Oh, yes."
BS: "I'll try 'Sally Goodin.'"
GW: "Thank you a lot. Is there any . . ."
BS: "I think I goofed a little, but maybe not."
GW: "That was real good. You have anything else in particular, anything you can think of?"
BS: "Well, now, I can play several different tunes. Ah, I know 'Buffalo Girls,' I've already played that, he's got that one, I think . . . I'll play 'Shortnin' Bread.'"