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Todd Taylor

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Todd "Banjoman" Taylor Todd "Banjoman" Taylor

Todd “Banjoman” Taylor first fell in love with the banjo at just six years old. While on a family trip to Walt Disney World, Todd's parents, James and Nancy, realized he had wandered off. After a frantic search they found Todd on a steamboat ride -- mesmerized by the music of the banjo per- former. His mom finally gave in to his pleadings and purchased his first banjo from a JCPenny cata- log the following Christmas. Since then, Todd has enjoyed a music career spanning three dec- ades. As a teenager and young adult, he and his twin brother performed on the Grand Ole Opry with music legends Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe, and TV shows like Hee-Haw and Regis and Kathy Lee. Todd may be best known for using his unique style to elevate the banjo from the con- fines of bluegrass to build a bridge into all genres of music, especially rock 'n' roll. He was the first solo banjo musician featured on the Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 internationally-syndicated radio program in the 1980’s for his groundbreaking arrangement and performance of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird.” Although Todd has donated his time to various worthwhile charities during his career, the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) has a special place in his heart. In his twenties, Todd became increasingly ill and almost lost his life. Extensive testing revealed he had inherited a mitochondrial disease from his mother, and despite his doctor's diagnosis, he was determined to recover. He performed on the MDA telethon with Jerry Lewis on more than one occa- sion; increasing awareness of the disease and helping to raise funds for the organization's tireless efforts. In 2007, Todd was the first to set the Guinness World Record for Fastest Banjo by perform- ing both parts of “Dueling Banjos” at a mind-blowing 210 beats per minute! He dedicated his record to everyone who struggles to overcome a disease or obstacle in their life. 2011 produced Todd's rock 'n' blues tablature book, Pickin’ Over the Speed Limit, and a feature in the documentary Breaking and Entering, highlighting his Guinness World Record achievement. He has earned doz- ens of Grammy nominations over the past decade in multiple categories, from original song compo- sition to producing. Todd’s eighth and latest CD, Indescribable, earned six Grammy nominations -- most of them attributed to his performance of "Bach Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major,” accompanied by Thornton Cline on cello and long-time friend Mike Moody on bass. But the pinnacle of his career came in 2012 when Governor Nikki Haley presented Todd with the Order of the Palmetto, the high- est civilian honor in South Carolina, for his inspiring personal example and musical contribution to his home state. Todd says, "My life has been blessed in so many ways, and I have no plans to stop sharing the gift God has given me."

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The Banjo Reserve recently interviewed Todd Taylor, here's what he had to say.

Q.  How did you learn the Banjo, and what method of learning do you feel is most effective?
 When I started out there was no internet, I was self taught by listening to records and playing by ear. I went on to a teacher named Walker Copley, and then on to Earl Scruggs Cousin Dan X Padgett. I also got pointers and a couple lessons from Earl Scruggs himself. Today. anyone wanting to learn to play it's a whole new world with the availability of the internet and YouTube, you can learn how to do just about anything. But, the main thing is practice, practice, practice.

Q.  During the early stages of learning to play the Banjo, what did you find most challenging?
 Again, I was self-taught by listening to Earl Scruggs and learned playing by ear, nothing seemed challenging because it was fun.

Q.  Where do you see banjo music going and what is your role in that?
 I hope banjo music keeps going mainstream so more people will know you can do anything with the banjo. My role would be, and still is, from the early 1980's, best known for using the banjo and my unique style to elevate the banjo from the confines of bluegrass, to build a bridge into all genres of music, especially rock 'n' roll. Also in the 80's, I was the first solo banjo musician featured on the Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 internationally-syndicated radio program, for my ground breaking arrangement and performance of Lynyrd Skynyrd’sFree Bird”. In those days it was called pioneering, it was a hard road but was worth it. There was no internet, no bands playing anything like that, and no picking CDs like you see today. Now lots of bluegrass bands are covering rock songs etc, which is a good thing.

Q.  You have been playing banjo since age 6, as a teenager you earned music notoriety playing in a duo with your twin brother Allen as The Taylor Twins, played on the Grand Ole Opry with music legends, and you have received multiple Grammy Award Nominations, among other impressive accomplishments. Throughout your music career you have demonstrated that you are able to successfully adapt to change. What have been some of the keys to your success that you feel would benefit aspiring banjo players?
 If you are an aspiring banjo player and you want to make a living out of it, my advice is to work hard, eat sleep, and breath the banjo. Thats what it takes, and play with anyone anytime you can. It all comes down to how bad you want it. You have to make a lot of major sacrifices to be in this business. Now if you are doing it for fun, as a hobby, that's a totally different thing, you do not have to sacrifice and be on the road all the time etc. But, either way work hard at it and enjoy the journey as it comes.

Q.  In the 1990s you were diagnosed with a rare genetic muscle disease (Mitochondrial). Despite this life threatening disease you went on in 2007 to be recognized by Guinness World Records as the fastest banjo player in the world. How did you prepare for this accomplishment and what did it mean to you?
 I set the Guinness Record for all the handicap people in the world, to show them not to give up on life despite any illness. To prepare for this I practiced for six months, 8 hours a day even though I was very sick at the time.

Q.  In 1989 you were the first solo banjo player to make Rick Dees’ Weekly Top 40 list with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”, from your album “Something Different”. In 2012 you released “Bach Cello Suite No. 1” on your album “Indescribable”. There are numerous other examples throughout your discography. As a pioneer among genre crossing banjo players, has the banjo’s seemingly recent re-surgence in popularity across genres inspired any new Banjoman projects or events that you would like to share with us?
 Yes, I am currently working on numerous projects for Hal Leonard Corporation. I am working on a brand new animated sitcom tv show with a major network called "The Adventures of Florida Bama". The show's excutive producer is Grey Fredrickson, producer of all three " Godfather" movies and "Apocalypse Now". The Creator of the show is Dean Davidson, readers may know of him for Britney Fox, Black Eyed Susan and TC Ridge. I have written and performed all the banjo music.

Q.  I have seen numerous event postings that indicate you often cross paths with Joe Bonsall “Ban Joey”, of the Oak Ridge Boys, one of the first banjo players I have had the honor of interviewing for The Banjo Reserve Featured Artists. Would you share with us more about how you both met, your relationship, and the banjo you had made for Joe!?
 Joe and I knew each other from afar for a longtime, he liked my banjo playing and I always liked The Oak Ridge Boys. The first time we met was at an Oak Ridge Boys concert, we hung out and I played on stage with the boys, they are all fine men.

I consider Joe Bonsall to be like a Brother, he is a great guy with a big heart, as is all the Oak Ridge Boys!! Joe also wrote the forward for my last book put out by Hal Leonard, Americas largest print publisher. The banjo I had made for Joe is a Gibson style 11 copy, a sweet banjo.

Q.  At this point in your banjo playing career, what work or event are you most proud of?
 I am proud of the 80's, being the first to expose the banjo as a solo upfront instrument in the rock-n-roll world with my remake of "Free Bird" for banjo. I am also proud of having received the Order of the Palmetto, the highest civilian honor in South Carolina, presented to me by Governor Nikki Haley. The Guinness World Record was a proud accomplishment, I did it to inspire others suffering like me, demonstrating that they can still make it. My life has been blessed in so many ways, and I have no plans to stop sharing the gift God has given me.

Q.  What other interests do you have?
 I like to be in my recording studio. I love producing projects for others, and my own as well.

I would also like to say I love being a part of the Gretsch family, playing Gretsch Banjos and working all the Gretsch events that we do. The history of the Gretsch line is amazing and I love being apart of it, great poeple and great company.

Q.  Tell us something about yourself that you think our Community might enjoy.
 I will speak a little about my banjo and what strings I use etc. I play Gretsch banjos, I love them and I am on a mission to let the banjo world now about their great banjos. They have a new model coming out soon! I use GHS Strings...the Todd Taylor Custom Set and Dunlop .025 finger picks. I keep my banjo head tune to a G# and my action set to 1/8th at the 22nd fret, I like just a tid bit of neck relief like .09. I also use and recommend the custon banjo bridges of David Cunningham - DC BANJO WORKS Banjo Bridges, they are great!

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Todd Taylor's music in the Banjo Reserve Shop