New 4 String Banjo

Jeff Menzies is a fantastic banjo builder and an all-around great guy. He just built me a super cool 4 string banjo made from local (to him) Jamaican Blue Mahoe wood. It should be arriving any day now. I’m super excited to get it under my fingers.



More information on Jeff and his wonderful instruments can be found at:


The Art Of The Gourd Banjo

my left-handed fretless cherry wood gourd banjo

I’ve played old-time music for 15+ years. Often, in the late afternoon, I can be found sitting out on my deck, watching the sun disappear beneath the redwoods while playing a tune from West Virginia or the Round Peak area of North Carolina. From the banjo, old sounds of a half-forgotten past filter through the air.

I was introduced to the banjo by my close friend Martin Simpson. He played me a recording of Dock Boggs’ Country Blues. To this day, that song still haunts me in the best way possible. I have also had the good fortune of learning the banjo from one of my dear friends and musical heroes, the inimitable Jody Stecher.

I have always been attracted to the sounds of the gourd banjo, which is exactly what it sounds like – a banjo made from a gourd (think: veggie with a neck!) For years, I have played a banjo made by Bob Thornburg from Bishop, California. It has served me well, but like all organic things, has started to revert back to its more original, compostable state. When I decided that I wanted a replacement, I turned to Jeff Menzies, a wonderful banjo maker (and lovely human being) from Toronto, Canada.

Jeff approaches his art and his craft with boundless energy, love, and precise attention to detail. Having him create a superb gourd banjo for me has been nothing short of a joyous experience. For anyone interested in a banjo built with love and expert skill, I can unreservedly recommend Jeff’ Menzies. Feel free to tell him I sent you…

Jeff’s website:

A short biography on Jeff can be found at:

A very nice history of the gourd banjo can be found here:

Here is a sound sample of me playing my Jeff Menzies banjo.   Groundhog

New Atsuya Okuda CD: Bamboo Zen

In August, 2006, my pal Henry Kaiser and I, with the invaluable help and support of Kiku Day, produced a recording of our favorite living Japanese flute player, Atsuya Okuda, at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, CA. Okuda plays bamboo flutes, made mostly by himself, called “jinashi shakuhachi”,” jinashikan” or “hocchiku.” These flutes, while similar to modern shakuhachi, are made without the use of lacquer inside of the bore. As a result, in the hands of a master, (who uses a different type of blowing technique to compensate for the natural imperfections of the inside bore), these flutes are capable of producing a wide array of beautiful, evocative sounds and tones associated with both Zen and the natural world. This type of playing could be called “Suizen” — Blowing Zen.

The recording sessions went amazingly well and the resulting CD is quite possibly the finest of its kind in modern times; filled with spontaneity, depth and the soulfulness of Okuda’s unique playing style, while reflecting the spirit of the greatest of all hocchiku players, the legendary Watazumido.

Now, nearly 4 years later, Okuda’s CD, Bamboo Zen, has finally been released!

Copies of Bamboo Zen can be purchased directly from