Last summer I wrote a post about Andy Boarman, “The Banjo Man of West Virginia.” My father-in-law knew Andy in Hedgesville and often wondered about the local barber who moonlighted as a player and builder of banjos and was rumored to have an impressive list of friends in the bluegrass world with whom he’d sit in whenever they came to town. Libby Files of Stoney Creek Bluegrass Band came across my post and was kind enough to put me in touch with Darrell Sanders – Stoney Creek’s own banjo man, formerly of Bill Harrell and The Virginians, and a former student of Andy’s. My good friend and great banjo player, Scott Linford, helped me come up with some questions for Darrell about Andy, his unique style, and his lasting influence.
How did Andy come to play in his “classical” style? Did he name it “classical”?
Yes, Andy called his style “classical”. His mother played the banjo and began teaching Andy when he was young. Later, he spent time with his mother’s brother in Virginia who was a classically trained banjo player who could read music. Andy learned the classical style from him but played by ear. Andy played without picks as classical players did, but used steel strings and a resonator banjo like bluegrass players.
Some of the tunes on “Mountain State Music” sound like parlor guitar pieces. Did Andy play much guitar?
What were the banjos he made like? Open-back, resonator, mountain style? Fretless or fretted? All of the above?
Andy made very nice bluegrass style banjos. He refurbished existing banjos and also made his own Dixie Grand line of banjos.
What were some of his favorite tunes?
His favorite was “When You and I Were Young, Maggie”.
In what part(s) of West Virginia did he grow up and live?
My father in-law knew Andy in Martinsburg and said that Andy was often courted by touring acts but chose not to leave his shop and home. However, Andy would regularly sit in with acts coming through town. Is my father in-law telling me the truth?
With whom did Andy play?
Don Reno and Little Roy Lewis were just some of the great banjo players that would come to Andy’s house. He would travel to festivals and do college shows, just to mention some. He would take his old time barrel, which we all said he probably had put a tone ring in it. He would play his autoharp on the barrel and the sound was amazing.
For whom did he build/repair banjos?
Don Reno, Little Roy Lewis, and many more. He would work on banjos at home and at shows, and would supply bridges and other parts sometimes for players like J.D. Crowe and Sonny Osbourne.
How did you come to know Andy and learn from him?
He went to school and grew up with my grandfather.
How did he shape your playing?
He had a lot of influence on me.
What’s the best piece of musical advice he gave you?
What’s the best piece of non-musical advice he gave you?
Stay away from drinking and always smile.
How much did Andy charge for a haircut?
Darrell Sander’s 1983 release, West Virginia Style, is being reissued in June. Hear the title track below. Many thanks to Libby Files for putting us in touch. Watch the video for Stoney Creek Bluegrass Band’s latest song, “Are you Ready?” – a lovely gospel number featuring some beautiful banjo work by Darrell.