One of my favorite banjoists with Bill Monroe was Lamar Grier. The band with Richard Greene, Lamar Grier, and Peter Rowan was a classic incarnation of the Blue Grass Boys and the Blue Grass Time album is one of the first LPs of Monroe’s I’ll play. Blue Night, Midnight on the Stormy Deep, Turkey in the Straw, That’s All Right, Roll on Buddy–great, great album. Grier’s playing has both a bounce and a drive that is exciting and make you think it may go off the rails, but always stays true.
Grier was an RB-250 user. The following is from a July 1978 Banjo Newsletter interview with Grier where he discusses his banjo. As Grier was born in 1938, I did some math to guess that his RB-250 was probably among the first of the RB-250s as he purchased while a teen. He started the guitar at 12, played it for a couple years, and then took up banjo. In 1954 he would have been 15 so the age is about right. You will notice in the photos the inlay after the Mastertone block that dates it between ’54 and ’59.
Here’s the BN interview segment:
LG: I piayed on that guitar a little less than a year, then I bought a used banjo for $75 and had that for about a year and a half. lfs hard to remember that far back. It seems like I’ve been playing banjo about 25 years now. Then I bought a brand new Gibson Mastertone RB-250. I had to go to my grandmother for a loan to get the money and pay her back, etc. The banjo at that time cost $318.50. It seems like they’re five times that price today. But that was a lot of money then, too. And that’s the same banjo I have today. It has been modified over the years.
Tom Morgan has done most of the work on my banjo; I really like his work. Everytime he’s touched that banjo it’s come away sounding better. Tom moved down to Tennessee and I live up here and there have been emergency times when I’ve had to have work done locally.
lt’s the same banjo but it has been modified. Almost the whole body end of it has been changed. I got a top-tension stretcher band from the Gibson Company when I was playing with Bill Monroe, so the rest of the body had to modified to accept the top-tension stretcher band. There were a few other fellows that had Gibsons and we swapped resonators, moved around from banjo to banjo, and the one that sounded best on my banjo I managed to keep. I’m very content with my banjo.
BNL: So what part of it is really original?
LG: Really, the only thing that is original is the neck. But not the headstock. Tom spliced an old-timey looking headstock on it. It was originally a bow-tie with a guitar type head stock. The neck is original with the exception of that and the fingerboard and inlay work. The changes weren’t all done at one time. Originally it was a raised head and now its a flathead. Tom had six or eight tone rings in his basement and he had a test where he could ting them and compare one to another and I just went by his judgement as to which one sounded best. So he put it on my banjo and it worked successfully for me.