For more than three decades Bob Shank has been a benchmark for American banjo players. Not bluegrass or old-time, or classical or ragtime, but all that and more.
A sixth-generation West Virginian, Bob began his musical journey at age 5 with drums and piano and by age 13 he was firmly hooked on banjo. And then guitar. And then hammered dulcimer. And an abiding rock and roll sensibility.
All of which led to the formation, with (Sam Morgan, Mark Walbridge, Pete Tenney, and Glen McCarthy), of the successful crossover band, Hickory Wind.
Hickory Wind’s fusion of various traditional musical forms over (and under) layered with rock rhythms and fills got them all the way to opening for some of the best known acts of the time including Steely Dan, John Prine, Emmylou Harris, and Jackson Brown.
As Flying Fish recording artists the band toured 30 American states and 20 countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, recording three very favorably reviewed albums in the process. A new compilation of previously unreleased Hickory Wind material, No Fish Today, is available from CD Baby.
All that traveling has a price and the boys eventually paid it, each going off to try and build real life and family.
Bob’s effort led him to academia and then the corporate world, where he co-founded a medical records software company. Which, of course, led once again to more-than-desirable travel.
Over the last few years Bob returned to his musical roots, writing and recording his own original music, that in his words “retains the traditions of Appalachia but ventures beyond the front porch.”
That would bring us all the way to the present and the release of Bob’s new CD, Don’t Worry About the Moon.
Released by Bob’s Otter Slide label and recorded in his rural West Virginia farmhouse studio, Don’t Worry About the Moon is an ambitious exploration of musical genres on solo banjo and more complex arrangements performed by his one-man-band, the Big Otter Orchestra.
He plays several banjos on the CD including a vintage Weymann, a thoroughly modern Nechville Phantom, and a cello banjo with a Gold Tone pot and Wyatt Fawley neck. And acoustic and electric guitar. And hammered dulcimer. And piano. And percussion.
He also built the studio computer used to record it, and engineered, mixed, and mastered the CD.
Bob performed on NPR’s internationally broadcast Mountain Stage, Have a listen. He has been an invited guest at West Virginia University’s annual World Music Concert and has been a Master Artist at the Augusta Heritage Center’s Spring Dulcimer Week, the Upper Potomac Dulcimer Festival, and West Virginia’s traditional music camp, Allegheny Echoes. Bob won first place old-time banjo at West Virginia’s celebration of traditional arts, the Vandalia Gathering.
He can also tell a story as only an Appalachian can.