David G. Hyatt
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Craftsmanship

Scott Didlake  [see gallery]

Few people have influenced the interest in recent gourd banjos more than Scott Didlake. Born in New Orleans and raised in the rural Mississippi town of Crystal Springs, Scott was first exposed to the banjo by his uncle Harley Gordon, and began playing at the age of twelve on a Montgomery Ward banjo. He continued this interest through high school, but quit playing during his college years. During the 1970's, he spent some time in Canada, and while there studied under banjoist William Miles (who had studied under A.A. Farland). Scott later returned to Mississippi, and began experimenting with his music, eventually becoming dissatisfied with the "nature of the instruments". It was during this time that Scott developed a friendship with Clarke Buehling. Carrie Didlake reports, "Clarke was on the scene before I was. I do know that they were both members of American Banjo Fraternity, publisher of the "Five-Stringer" and organizer of twice-yearly banjo rallies, and that both attended some of the rallies. It's highly possible that Eli Kaufman of New York, a major banjo collector, introduced them, it seems I have a fragment of a memory about that".

Clarke was interested in building gourd banjos, and he persuaded Scott to build one. Thus began Scott's obsession with the "banza". Clarke reports that Scott sent him many long letters that chronicled his experimentation with the construction of gourd banjos. Over the next nine years, Scott built fifty banjos, beginning with a copy of the "Stedman banjo". His enthusiasm resulted in recordings with his banjos by Tony Trischka and Joe Ayers, and his instruments are now collectable. In an effort to make music-making accessible to players of differing genres and skill levels, he made three and four-string banzas. Also, according to Carrie Didlake, "Scott made both fretted and unfretted instruments. The fretted ones, in fact, were controversial in some quarters. The prevailing thought mode is that gourd banjos are about recovering history, and of course the African instruments weren't fretted. Scott was a dedicated historian, but was an artist and Renaissance man at his core, thus he shooed away the thought that history or anything else was allowed to rein in his creative license". Scott mentored two individuals who have gone on to build banjos, Pete Ross and Jason Smith. Scott Didlake died at the early age of forty-six on October 25, 1994.


Resources

Articles
  Banjos Before and Beyond
  (pdf - 14kb)

  Bob Carlin Article from The Old-Time Herald
  (pdf - 889kb)

Letters
  Letter to Buehling -'85
  (pdf - 686kb)