In search of old-time music at my first bluegrass festival, the California Bluegrass Association’s Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival in 1993, I fell into the expeditionary forces of the “Lewis and Clark” of clawhammer banjo: Rick Abrams and Edwin Lacy. While walking around the festival I heard the unmistakable lope of slowed-down frailing on open-back five-string banjos. It was Rick and Edwin giving a workshop. Following their presentation for the gathered crowd, I walked back to the small gathering area next to Rick’s vintage automobile.
I learned that Rick was the founding member and banjo player for the California based old-time string band, The Piney Creek Weasels. He had also encouraged a group of musicians from southwestern Virginia to form and send a demo tape to the festival organizers. Skeeter and the Skidmarks, in which Edwin played, was born and invited to perform.
Later in the afternoon when Rick led off the jamming, I heard him and Edwin cut banjo paths that are still a dense forest to me. I was in way over my head but they both encouraged me to hang in there. Rick made sure that there were a couple of tunes familiar to beginners. I remember common and uncommon melodies and songs from the old-time bluegrass continuum. There were also originals by the members of the Skidmarks. All were invitations for Rick and Edwin’s complex and driving banjo inventions.
Rick and I stayed in touch. He was kind enough to listen to my first recording projects and give me encouragement and advice. He also told me about his regular trips to the Annual Old Fiddlers’ Convention in Galax, Virginia, which I made it to in 2005.
Rick passed away in 1997 at the age of 47. I haven’t stopped missing him. The energy and creativity that he poured into his banjo and the warmth he extended to me personally are memories that I hold dear and qualities that I try to emulate.