Ed Helms plays a paper pusher on The Office and an insurance salesman in the new comedy Cedar Rapids — but on Thursday's Fresh Air, he plays the banjo. With his band The Lonesome Trio, he joins Terry Gross for an in-studio performance and a chat about his latest film.
Earl Scruggs, who turned 80 on Jan. 6, originated the staccato three-finger, five-string banjo technique that became known as the "Scruggs style." He got his start playing with Bill Monroe's band in the 1940s, and then teamed up with guitarist Lester Flatt (fronting The Foggy Mountain Boys). The two penned and recorded the tune "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" which was used on the Bonnie and Clyde film soundtrack and was one of the first crossover hits of the genre.
Otis Taylor brings his banjo to the studio for a concert and conversation. We'll hear tracks from his new CD, White African. Taylor plays guitar and ukelele in addition to banjo. His music is often described as minimalist, and his lyrics are often stories of race and racism. He's been compared to John Lee Hooker.
Rock historian Ed Ward on Moran Lee Boggs, otherwise known as Dock Boggs, who played banjo like a blues guitar in the 1920s. Boggs died in 1971. His recordings have been collected on a new CD "Dock Boggs: Country Blues" (Reventant label)
Banjo and pedal steel guitar player Winnie Winston will perform several pieces. A four-time world champion on the banjo at the country's top bluegrass competition, the Union Grove Old Time Fiddler's Convention in North Carolina, Winston has played with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, Dave Bromberg and the late Steve Goodman.