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article number 119
article date 04-10-2012
copyright 2012 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Larry Paden, Much More than a Banjo Picker from Tuscola, Illinois
by Stu Moment

I heard of Larry Paden when doing an article on the Camargo Illinois 175th Aniversary Celebration. He was part of the afternoon entertainment. I figured he was an old fart … found out he was a youngin’ … but he’s been strummin’ the banjo for more than a decade.

Larry was raised about 30 miles south in Charleston Illinois. He was always been interested in music as a child. He used to have a toy piano. His mom worked in a nursing home with a grand piano in the foyer. Larry never took formal lessons on the piano, just had a good ear. He enjoyed ‘hunt and peck’ on the piano and eventually got to where he could accompany himself singing …even used his left hand for bass.

He was watching the movie Bonnie and Clyde and remembers hearing Earl Scruggs play Foggy Mountain Breakdown. He started listening, more and more, to bluegrass. Not long after that, he told his ma and pa, he’d like to get an acoustic guitar. His dad said, if they got him one, he’d “better learn to play the damn thing.”

Larry played so much he wore the guitar out. It lost 3 frets … he was small and had small hands … he had to play up the neck. He would play it until his fingers bled.

First guitar … worn out … top 3 frets missing.

A local musician and instrument maker, Wayne Scott, took him under his wing. Wayne wasn’t a highly skilled musician … played in his own homemade style which skilled musicians in the area loved and respected. Wayne fed Larry’s constant drive for learning new music styles and instruments.

A local fellow gave Larry his banjo. Larry learned the old sawmill style from another local musician, Bob Pearse.

  (10 second clip) Sawmill style banjo.

Larry plays his banjo a lot … some areas are already wearing.

The banjo he plays is referred to as an archtop. Larry says he is of the “School of Ralph Stanley”. Whereas most players wanted a flathead banjo, the archtop gives more piercing cutting tone. Larry refers to flathead banjos as “dead heads”.

  (9 second clip) Piercing sound of archtop banjo.

From there, Larry began playing the mandolin. It was the third mandolin Wayne Scott built. It has a wild cherry back. Wayne just passed away so this mandolin has memories attached to it.

  (8 second clip) Mandolin made by Wayne Scott.

Larry played the talent show at the local grade school. Didn’t win anything except for a standing ovation … and that got him thinking … “I’m going to stick with this big time.” He loved the noise of the crowd. It was intoxicating. He was still playing bluegrass and didn’t delve into country music until later. It was “either Bill Monroe or nothing at all.” He’d go to the library and check out Bill Monroe’s music.

Then he started to listen to Chet Atkins … some of these tunes sounded very familiar to him. He figured that Chet took a lot of old numbers and “ran them up a bit.” Playing country, at first, went slow. Larry’s earlier stuff was usually with a straight pick and he played with a mixture of strumming and picking.

  (8 second clip) Larry Paden mixing it up on the 12 string.

Larry Paden’s 12 String.

After the mandolin, Larry got interested in playing the fiddle. Wayne Scott made his fiddle … even made the bow. Larry had been playing around on a friends fiddle for some time and slowly got better at it. Wayne used to hold a Sunday night jam. Wayne asked Larry, “you have a fiddle?” Larry said no. This was the first time Larry went out to jam with Wayne. He started playing a fiddle that Wayne brought out for another fiddler who didn’t show. Next Sunday night, Wayne fixed Larry up with a fiddle.

Larry also likes to fiddle around.

After bluegrass and country, Larry started to listed to 1960’s Rock ‘n Roll. He listened to the Beatles (Ringo singing) do Act Naturally. “Hey that’s a Buck Owens tune … this is an English group??? What the !!!”

Larry started playing with a friend and started to write his own music. He bought an electric, a Fender Stratocaster, and his current acoustic guitar. “It’s not a Martin” but Larry likes its sound. …but … If he ever gets a Martin “this guitar will be semi-retired.”

  (5 second clip) Larry on his newer acoustic guitar.

If he ever gets a Martin “this guitar will be semi-retired.”

Wayne Scott made a console steel for Larry last year, just before he died. Larry notes that he can’t get the sound of a pedal steel out of a consol steel but to this author, it sounds pretty good.

Larry’s console steel, built by Wayne Scott.

  (6 second clip) Sound of Larry’s console steel.

Wayne Scott inscription under console steel.

What is Larry’s current repertoire? Bluegrass plus much, much, more. He can play a folk rock style with a big amount of country.

Larry likes rock music up to about 1982. But he also gets into old blues. He was playing, Son House’s, Death Letter Blues. Sounded so much like Son House, that a blind guy in the audience asked who’s playing the Son House Record. It was no record. Larry had been playing blues on his acoustic guitar before he got an electric guitar.

  (13 second clip) Larry singing Death Letter Blues.

Larry plays solo and with other bands. Sometimes he has a friend in the audience come up to sing when his voice is going out. When he’s solo he plays a bit of everything.

  (13 second clip) Sound of a normal performance.

  (9 second clip) Rockabilly.

  (11 second clip) Larry’s blues rock sound.

He laughed as he mentioned that a friend told him he that some of his country music sounds like a hodgepodge of Cowboy Copas and Jim Reeves.

  (14 second clip) Singing regular folk country.

Thanks Larry for sharing not just your story, but giving us insights into the affects of music styles on your own music.

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