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Thursday, 19 February 2015

Eddie Peabody born 19 February 1902

Edwin Ellsworth Peabody (February 19, 1902 - November 7, 1970) was an American musical entertainer. His career spanned five decades and he was perhaps the most famous plectrum (4 string) banjo player ever. He was also known professionally as "Little Eddie", "King of the Banjo", and "Happiness Boy".

Born in Reading, Massachusetts, Eddie taught
himself to play the violin, mandolin, guitar and banjo, at a very young age. He entered the U.S. Navy in March 1916 aged fourteen after lying about his age. He served in World War I on an S-14 submarine. It was during this period that he earned the nickname "Happiness Boy." After his discharge from the Navy in 1921 he began a long career in show business, beginning with vaudeville. In 1926, he was hired to appear in a very early "talkie" and may have been the first banjoist to play on film. At some point in the 1920s, a music critic nicknamed Peabody "The King of the Banjo" because of his frenetic playing style which involved fast triplets and cross-picking, made some listeners think he was playing two banjos at once. The nickname "King of the banjo" stuck for the rest of his life.

He visited England in the 1930s and made several recordings for the Columbia Company. Whilst there he helped to promote the banjo by visiting BMG clubs (Banjo, Mandolin and Guitar clubs) which were very active in the years up to the Second World War. When the U.S.A entered the war Eddie became a morale officer for the U.S. Navy. He already held the rank of commander and he was subsequently engaged to play shows to bring the servicemen "a touch of home".

During the 1930s he married Maude Kelly, who was also his business manager at the time, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1939. In 1940 he married Ragna Kaupanger, a Norwegian-American nurse and flight attendant for United Airlines. Eddie and Ragna had two children, Eddie Jr., and George.

When the war finished, Eddie went about restarting his concert career. Most of the Vaudeville halls had closed down and musical tastes had changed. However, in 1948, I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover, a hit from the 1920s, was resurrected by the Art Mooney Orchestra and created interest in both nostalgic music and the banjo. Eddie capitalised on this by signing to Dot Records and made over half a dozen albums for them. He took his act around supper clubs that were popular at the time, and TV made him a household name, once again. He also produced records and appeared in films. He was, and still is, regarded as the most popular banjo player of his generation.

He developed, with the Vega Banjo Company of Boston, a new type of "deep resonator" for the four-stringed banjo called the Vegavox, based on the zither banjo. The Vegavox has been produced mainly in four-stringed plectrum (22 frets) and tenor (19 frets) models; however, some five-stringed models were created and sold as special orders.

Eddie also developed a special type of electric guitar, first with the Fender Company and then with Rickenbacker, called the Banjoline. This instrument is tuned as a plectrum banjo but with the 3 and 4 string doubled in octaves, similar to the way a 12 string guitar is strung. The Banjoline is now a very rare and highly-priced collector's item, although very seldom used today in live performances.

              Here's "Me & My Shadow" from above 1959 LP

During his career Eddie played not only shows for paying concert customers, servicemen etc. but also for kings, queens, potentates, dukes, duchesses, one dictator and presidents. In 1968, President Eisenhower awarded him a distinguished "People to People" Award for Meritorious Service in both the military and show business.

His very last concert was in 1970 at a supper club called "The Lookout House", in Covington, Kentucky where he suffered a stroke during his act. He passed away the next morning in hospital, leaving a musical legacy that plectrum banjo players still cherish today. His wife, Ragna Peabody, died in 2002. (Info mainly edited from Wikipedia)

1 comment:

boppinbob said...

I have Eddie's double CD of Banjo boogie Beat. Will post link if requested.