Banjo Masters Oral History Project: Hank Smith

A few years ago just before the Carolina in the Fall festival (the third week in September), I stumbled upon some recordings by Hank Smith. I don’t remember how I found them, but I do remember sitting here listening to his tune Django’s Dream ( ) and thinking that this player was something special. I looked him up and saw that he was currently playing with a different band and I made a mental note to check them out. I was pretty happy when I saw that they would be at Carolina in the Fall that year.

At the festival I watched two sets of Hank, Pattie, & The Current and was definitely intrigued by Hank and his playing. One song in particular struck my fancy, it was very classically inspired and very lengthy, two things I enjoy in a banjo song. After that set I went over and spoke briefly to Hank and walked away feeling even more interested in him and his playing. The band was very interesting to me because it seemed an odd mix of people and musical influences, and I always like that too.

After the festival I started buying albums that Hank was involved in and each one delighted me. He has a real sense of melody and tosses in chromatic runs and classical-like lines in a really smooth and unassuming way. All of us banjo players have our set of chops we go to and Hank’s seemed to be in a totally different space than mine, or those I was used to. I was even more intrigued and so started researching him.

The more I learned about Hank Smith, the more I wanted to really talk to him, so one day I contacted him and set it up. I studied up and on the appointed day my associates Aaron Spelbring and Tom Snediker and I loaded up the van and headed to Raleigh, NC to talk to Hank.

Since he may not be a household name yet, here is a very quick snapshot- After getting his masters degree in (I think) Religious Studies, Hank hit the road with the acoustic based jam band Barefoot Manner. They toured the country repeatedly for several years playing the jam band circuit and had the pleasure of actually opening for the Grateful Dead one time! After Barefoot Manner, Hank joined a few bluegrass and Americana bands, frequently with his friend Pattie Kinlaw. The two of them later formed their current band, Hank, Pattie, & The Current. Hank is currently also a part of the UNC music faculty and teaches banjo. In addition to those mentioned bands, he also formed the first (and only?) Bela Fleck and the Flecktones tribute band- Blu Bop. AND, he has written a novel. I mean to tell you, this is one interesting guy!

So now that you are intrigued, watch this video and meet the amazing Hank Smith!

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