Cathy’s Banjo Tabs
While Cathy was recognized as a master of the hammered dulcimer and one of its earlier players in its revival in the 1970s, her banjo playing was at the heart of her music. It was her winning her high school talent show in 1973 with a solo rendition of “Dueling Banjos” that pointed her in the direction of musical performance,
and folks in mid-Missouri mentioned their memory of that for the rest of her life.
Lee Ruth first taught her the frailing style, and his brother, Jim, inspired her greatly. But Cathy started playing with old-time fiddlers in mid Missouri, and banjo players backing up Little Dixie fiddlers no longer frailed like they still do in the Appalachians. She developed her own arrangements of these tunes and an impressively strong solo style. Her friendship with Grandpa Jones further inspired that effort. In the 1980s, she twice won the Tennessee Old-Time Banjo Championship, and in Nashville, where old-time music had all but vanished from the scene, Roy Acuff often called her his “favorite banjo player,” reminded of earlier days of country music.
Cathy was a fine teacher; her music students loved her. Doing workshops at festivals and camps, Cathy learned to write tablatures for those sessions. I’m pretty sure she never learned a tune from tablature; she was a terrific ear musician. Her knowledge of theory wasn’t extensive, either, but she could find a shape and hold it at the right time, not really caring what it was called. It was the sound that mattered. And while we have a couple of tablature writing programs, Cathy didn’t bother with them and preferred to write them out by hand, even drawing the lines herself with a straight edge. I include them here for anyone to copy and learn. Playing her tunes would honor her best.
Also included here are some tunes we recorded for our friend Gary Libman, her banjo buddy from Carp Camp, who died from a rare leukemia in 2016. While he was at M.D. Anderson we sent him these tunes his enjoyment and learning. It’s a pleasant image for his wife, Erika, and I, of Cathy and Gary laughing and playing banjo in the celestial sphere, much to the surprise of tellers of banjo jokes everywhere.