Stephen Wade, author of the new book The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience, is the subject of a cover story in the December 2012 issue of Banjo Newsletter. The interview was conducted by Greg Adams.
Greg Adams: Stephen, you are certainly no stranger to Banjo Newsletter’s readers. For example, in addition to your own interviews with fellow players, you yourself were featured on the cover of three previous issues of BNL—September 1983, September 1989, and November 1998. You also did cover stories of Tony Ellis, Tom Paley, and your mentor, Fleming Brown. Then, in November 2005, BNL included an interview for your Smithsonian Folkways release “Hobart Smith, In Sacred Trust: The 1963 Fleming Brown Tapes.” Today I’d like to speak with you about your two recent milestones—“Banjo Diary,” and your new book, “The Beautiful Music All Around Us”What were your motives for doing these two projects?
Stephen Wade: Well, maybe the first question should be, “Why did it take you so long to finish these projects?” Well, it’s interesting. For “Banjo Diary,” because I was dealing with great guys—my fellow great players on the album—it took two days to record, two days to do some fixes, two days of mixing, and one afternoon of mastering. On the other hand, in the purported solitude of a writer’s garret, “The Beautiful Music All Around Us” took eighteen years to complete, sixteen of it spent in writing and research. In May 2011 the book was finally accepted for publication. But because I was just so energized by then, I couldn’t slow down. So I worked from that May to October trying to figure out what might constitute a new banjo record. Originally, my idea for “Banjo Diary” focused on DC’s banjo history, quite different from what it became. Ultimately, it very much connects to my film, “Catching the Music.” And as you know, that documentary addresses the music that inspired my teachers.