Interview with Marcy Marxer - Cello Banjo Pioneer


Marcy Marxer Interview Page 1                   

Interview with Marcy Marxer - Cello Banjo Pioneer    
By Paul Roberts
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Marcy Marxer has created a revival of the cello banjo, an instrument that long ago fell into obscurity.

The traditional music world was taken by surprise when, out of the blue, a unique video appeared on YouTube: a banjo duet with Marcy playing a Gibson cello banjo and Cathy Fink playing clawhammer banjo on the tunes Buffalo Girls and Puncheon Floor. Uploaded May 1st, 2007, that YouTube video became the impetus for a budding cello banjo revival.

Those of us who got inspired to wrap our hands around one of these cello creatures encountered a small problem. There are very few of these beasts still around from their heyday at the turn of the century. If one can be found, chances are it isn’t in the greatest playing condition.

Wayne Rogers was one of the many thousands who have seen the historic video, and he was thrilled with the sound Marcy was creating on the old Gibson. It just so happens that Wayne is president of Gold Tone Banjos. Thanks to his enthusiasm, there is now a Marcy Marxer CEB-4 Signature Model four-string cello banjo, and a CEB-5, the five-string version – both made by Gold Tone.

“These banjos have their own soulful sound,” Marcy said. “Thanks for understanding why I bonded with this instrument, and bonding with it yourself. This voice hasn't been heard for close to 100 years! When it was heard, it was barely playable. It needed to come back as a playable instrument. The Cello Banjo has been given a second chance, and this time it's working! Thank you for being part of it, Paul.”

I had become mesmerized by the sound of the Gold Tone four and five-string cello banjos and I wanted to find out more about them. I got in touch with Marcy and she agreed to an interview me. We spoke by phone, as she and Cathy were on their way to a music and dance camp in Canada and, again, when they were driving back. A separate article from that interview about Marcy’s musical background is here. The following is my interview with her about the cello banjo.


What kind of response are you getting from your new Gold Tone cello banjo?

“It’s tremendous. It’s a little shocking to have something like this take off. It’s gotten a lot of attention, but you’re the first person to do an interview about it, and I really appreciate that. It’s such a natural for playing with a five-string banjo, a natural accompaniment that fits so well into string band music. I think people are just a little bit taken aback or shocked and, also, very excited. I just think it’s great. People really sit up and take notice to this. It’s fun.”

How did you get introduced to the cello banjo?

“Mike Seeger came over to our studio to do some recording and he brought a Gibson 1918 cello banjo. He wanted Cathy to play it like a bass for the recording. He asked me to play the banjo ukulele. Mike played five-string and we all sang. That was a lot of fun.”

“During the recording, I just kept looking at this cello banjo, thinking, ‘oh my god, I gotta play it.’ After we finished the recording, Mike put it my hands and I started playing tunes on it. His eyes lit up; he said, ‘I’ve never heard anybody play that as a melody instrument. I’ve only used it as a bass!’”

“I think I started playing melody on it because no one told me what to do with it. I just bonded with it right away and before that session was over he said, ‘Well, I could leave that instrument here for a couple months if you like,’ which was just remarkably generous. It was one of many ways that Mike has really touched my life.”

“Well, it was getting time to give it back to Mike. I had searched far and wide for a cello banjo and I was having a great deal of difficulty finding one. Finally, I located one in a shop in Utah, where it had been hanging on the wall for ten years without anybody asking about it. It ended up being just five serial numbers off from Mike’s, and almost identical.”

And that lead to the famous YouTube video?

“Yes, that’s the cello banjo Wayne Rogers from Gold Tone saw me playing on YouTube. And he just said, ‘I’ve gotta make those banjos.’ So, I sent him a six-string banjo with the same pot as the cello banjo, because I couldn’t part with the cello banjo. Wayne took measurements from that and I laid a piece of paper out on my cello banjo neck and rubbed it with a crayon so the imprint of the neck and the string spacing would all come out. Then Wayne made this amazing banjo! This was over a year ago and they’re just released.” click here to continue on page 2


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Cathy Fink interview on Cello Banjo

Buffalo Girls & Puncheon Floor – w/1918 Gibson cello banjo  
Kitchen Girl - with Gold Tone CEB-4 cello banjo  



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