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The Barons of Bluegrass

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.

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