An entertainer for the ages…
… From- String Music Recorded live at the 43rd Annual Old Time Fiddlers Convention, Union Grove, NC on the Union Grove Label. This is track 10.
From the back cover: “Roger Sprung, virtuoso banjoist from New York City, needs no introduction to Southern Convention audiences. He has played ‘the circuit’ for several years and draws a large following. Teaming up with his West Virginia friend, Frank George, they do a refreshing twist to an old number.
One of my favorite Roger Sprung stories-
When Roger Sprung was in his 80s and I was a beginner banjo student in my 40s, I drove Roger to a concert and an afterparty. There were two young rising stars in the Bluegrass/String Music genre, both virtuoso guitar players, playing at a church in southwestern CT. I think it was in Easton but maybe it was New Canaan? Doesn’t matter.
Anyhow these two young hot shots had just released an album and I guess it was a really big deal that someone was able to get them to perform at this local venue. Roger and I arrived late for their concert and went straight to the afterparty site, a home near the church, while the concert was still in progress. The host who had helped book the artists at the church, was busy putting out a spread of food and drink. I helped set up some chairs, while Roger helped himself to all the food. By that point in Roger’s life, his wife had started strictly policing his diet and every chance he had to indulge, he did. He picked up a hunk of cheese as big as an apple and just started chowing down.
We talked with our host about the performance we were missing. She had been at the concert earlier and said the music was extremely technical. So technical, one song blended into the next and they all pretty much sounded the same. She asked if Roger wanted a lift to the church to hear the last part of the performance and Roger looked up from the buffet table just long enough to say he’d play with them later at the party. It was clear that Roger, with his advanced age and experience, wasn’t one who was easily impressed by rising stars. He was there for the party.
About an hour later folks finally started arriving from the concert. Nearly everyone had an instrument case with them. There were more instrument cases than people and there were easily fifty plus, all packed into this small house. A group of about twenty settled into the garage, set the chairs in a circle and started jamming immediately. Another dozen or so between the kitchen and the dining room. It was cold in the garage, so Roger and I found chairs in the living room. After a half hour or so the two young guns came into the living room and were introduced by the host to Roger, the World Champion Banjo player and legend of the Washington Square bluegrass scene for decades. They were actually pretty nice guys. They asked Roger if he had enjoyed the concert, and Roger replied in a way that didn’t give away that he hadn’t actually gone to it. Something like “I heard good things”. The host told the two young guys, you’ve got to play with Roger while you are here.
There in the living room after everyone had filled up on food and drink, it felt like the real show was about to begin. People started getting out their instruments. And there was a tension in the air. How would these two rising virtuoso players get along with Roger. As is tradition, someone has to start it off, giving the name of the tune and the key. All eyes went to Roger. Someone yelled “Hey Roger, Whatcha got?” Roger replied straight faced “hopefully nothing that can’t be cured with a couple of shots!” The room erupted in laughter. And the real show began.
He was a legendary entertainer. He was loved and he’ll be dearly missed.