Reprinted from Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine
January 1969, Volume 3, Number7
Roger Sprung is 38 years old, tall dark and handsome. He is reminiscent of a Gregory Peck type in appearance. Shy soft spoken and friendly. When I met him in 1950, he had already learned all of the banjo styles that were popular. Frailing, Scruggs picking and a host of others. He had a head full of folk tunes and words gathered by himself and his brother George. He had every record that had been put out by Earl Scruggs and other banjo players and he was trying to combine the best of all styles.
Always his growth as a musician and stylist could be watched by anyone who cared to watch. When the other 5-string players would be copying performances directly from the records, Roger would be changing them subtly. This earned him some abuse from the rigid people but it earned him respect from the rest of us.
When Roger was with the Folksay Trio he was experimenting with calypso and when they recorded Tom Dooley with his subtle insertion of this rhythm, a whole new feel to the song came out and it has been sung by thousands with this Sprung syncopation for many years since. Long before we met Roger had played Dixieland jazz and can play the strings off a 4-string banjo and pound the keys off a piano with ease.
The biggest influence to the progressive bluegrass image that Roger has, was and is without doubt, Paul Cadwell. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Cadwell banjo style, let me say that it is a classical approach to the banjo. Roger and Paul discovered each other about 15 years ago and a mutual admiration society sprung up. Paul, a man in his late sixties then, belonged to an organization of banjo players and they were interested in locating new and younger people to recruit for the organization.
So they met, and Roger began to watch Paul’s technique. The arpeggios that weren’t the same continuous three finger pattern, but actually were a continuity on the banjo neck. Slowly a new Roger Sprung began to develop. He began to connect his many styles with these new fascinating runs that no other banjoist was trying or even considering. Much of this growth was obvious to Mike Cohen and myself in the 15 years that we three were the Shanty Boys.
I can also say honestly that there were times when the experiments raised our hackles and drove us up a wall. Had we known that we were watching the development and growth of an unbelievable talent, we might have been more tolerant.
Then Roger decided to go a step further. Drawing on his knowledge of music outside of the bluegrass field, he began to interpret show music, Greek and Russian songs and dance and fiddle tunes in his new style, always with taste and the smile that makes the girls in the front row flutter and the girls in the back row move to the front.
He’s a winning combination in appearance and talent and now the culmination of the Sprung act has been the marriage to and inclusion of his beautiful wife Joan. We have known and admired her guitar playing, fine voice and beautiful personality and so now the Sprungs have supplied a counterpart for the men to flutter to.
I could go on and on but you’d do well to follow this reading with an ear to his numerous recordings. If you don’t have them go out and buy them.
“Progressive Bluegrass & Other Instrumentals” with Doc Watson FOLKWAYS FA 2370
“Progressive Ragtime Bluegrass, Volume 2” FOLKWAYS FA 2371
“Progressive Bluegrass, Volume 3” FOLKWAYS FA 2472
“Grassy Licks – Roger Sprung” VERVE-FOLKWAYS FV 9037
“Roger Sprung” SHOWCASE RS 4666
(available from Roger Sprung, 255 West 88th St., N.Y., N.Y.)