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Walter Hensley

James Reams Remembers and Celebrates Walter Hensley's Birthday

 James Reams and Walter HensleyBy James Reams
“I had to learn off the radio,” recalled Walter Hensley during an interview for the documentary Making History with Pioneers of Bluegrass. “Didn’t have any records or anything. I just kept messing with the banjo roll. Drove my Dad crazy because he worked in the mines, and he’d have to get up at four in the morning." Replacing broken fingerpicks and strings was possible only when someone with a car was going to town – 35 miles away – and could bring some back. So the future Banjo Baron of Baltimore sometimes made fingerpicks out of PET Milk cans. Walt insisted “They were not all that bad; better than nothin’.” To replace broken strings he sometimes cut the insulation off blasting wire that was used for setting off dynamite in the mines, then tuned it down low enough so it wouldn’t break when played.

A Tribute to the Banjo Baron of Bluegrass, Walter Hensley 1936-2012

James Reams with Walter HensleyWalter Hensley, legengary bluegrass banjo player, passed away Sunday, November 25th.
By James Reams
Walt and I met in the early 1990s at a bluegrass festival in Groveton, NH. The festival was being held at a Speedway and at night, they would stop the music so the cars could race. I walked up to Vernon McIntyre's bus one evening looking for somebody to pick with and knocked on the door. When I walked in, there was Walter sitting there on the bus with Vernon, smoking a cigarette and looking for all the world just like a confederate soldier. When I asked him why he hadn't recorded in a number of years and he said "No one’s willin’ to work as hard as I’d like them to!" I told him that I'd have as many rehearsals as he felt necessary to get a project done and we recorded James Reams, Walter Hensley & The Barons of Bluegrass. When I found out that the album was nominated for IBMA's Bluegrass Recording Event of the Year in 2002, I called up Walter. He asked, "Who are the other nominees?" I told him "The Chieftans and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band” and he responded, "Well, we might as well forget that one!"

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