Here are some awesome banjo songs that you need to hear. I’ve chosen some that are more off the beaten path by some of my favorite players. A few of these banjo players aren’t that well known, but all of them are great players with their own style. Of course, you’ll see familiar favorites such as Bill Keith and Alan Munde as well.
- Rainbow Ride – Jimmy Arnold
- Rhapsody for Banjo -Larry Mcneely
- Santa Clause- Bill Keith
- Welcome To New York – Bill Emerson
- Banjo Bounce – Allen Shelton
- Pickaway – Vic Jordan
- Darcy Farrow – Alan Munde
- Elsie – Jimmy Henley
- Ghost Dance – John Hickman
- Late in Arrival – Alison Brown
- Old Timey Risin’ Damp – Alan O’Bryant
Rainbow Ride – Jimmy Arnold
What can I say? I think Jimmy Arnold was one of the best banjo players to have ever lived. Unfortunately we don’t have more of his wonderful playing recorded. Rainbow Ride is a great little tune with a lot of bounce; it reminds me of Allen Shelton in a distant sort of way. I love the chord structure to this tune. I suppose that is something that draws me to Arnold’s playing, he writes just as well as he plays.
Rhapsody for Banjo – Larry McNeely
I’ll never forget the first time someone told me about Larry and I went and listened to him. I was like, “How have I never heard of this guy before.” He just sounds light years ahead of his time on some of these recordings. The entire Rhapsody for Banjo album is mind-blowingly good. This is the title track. Larry was of course known to play with the great Glen Campbell.
Santa Clause – Bill Keith
I’m not sure whether this is a banjo tune, but it’s one I wished was played more often. It was a jam session staple when I was growing up. Recorded in the early 60’s with Bill Monroe, Bill Keith’s playing on this track is superb. A great little tune inspired a bit by “I don’t Love Nobody.” The tempo allows one to hear some swell melodic banjo playing in a clear and tasteful manner.
Welcome to New York– Bill Emerson
It’s no secret, Bill Emerson is one of my favorite banjo players of all time. To this day, I think he is one of the best banjo songwriters ever. His “Home of the Red Fox” album is full of banjo hits. Welcome to New York is always one I’ve been drawn to; however, you don’t hear it as much as something like “Cowboy’s and Indians” or even “Sweet Dixie.” Beautiful chord changes on this one and beautiful playing by everyone else on the album.
Banjo Bounce – Allen Shelton
Of course I’m going to list an Allen Shelton song, as Allen was my favorite banjo player of all-time. This tune was one of his own and features some awesome chord changes. In particular the Bb to A chord change movement in the second section. It hits you like a ton of bricks!
Pickaway – Vic Jordan
Vic Jordan is another one of those underrated banjo players. This album was at one time played a ton at festivals, less so now. Pickaway is the title track and features some really neat chord changes mixed in with Vic’s super tasty playing.
Darcy Farrow – Alan Munde
I must admit, I had a DIFFICULT time picking one Alan Munde to include. Peaches & Cream is one of his more well known songs. I chose this one because I love the melody (and the key of F). It’s less known but a great example of Alan’s awesome songwriting for the instrument.
Elsie Jimmy Henley
Jimmy was another one that was more well known a few decades back. He was a child prodigy that came on the scene playing in a manner way advanced for his age. I thought this little known track was a great tune and representative of his playing. Set in a minor key with some tasty playing. GOBS of Tone from this young kid.
Ghost Dance – John Hickman
John Hickman is another player that I don’t think gets his due. Very clean, tasteful and imaginative. Ghost Dance with Byron Berline is an awesome tune.. I’ve added it to my list of ones to learn
Late on Arrival – Alison Brown
Alison Brown is one of the newer players on this list. She is definitely one of my favorite modern banjo players. I thought this was a great driving, fast bluegrass track. It was hard to pick one tune of hers. I chose this one because it shows she can lay down solid bluegrass with melodics and single-string technique.
Old Time Risin’ Damp – Alan O’ Bryant
Many know Alan as an incredible singer. However, he did some unique banjo work with the Nashville Bluegrass Band. I was less familar with this track than the others on this list. I went to find one of his that I felt like showed off his skills. I loved his playing on “Old Dangerfield” so be sure to check that out as well. This tune has a low C old-timey kind of feel to it. It reminds me a bit of Billy in the Lowground in parts (at least how I play it myself!).