Steve Played Banjo
"The" banjo picker champ calls
By David Williams
November 6, 2006
After picking up his second national banjo championship in Winfield, Kan., Mr. Wood is back home spending time in Oconee County giving banjo lessons, playing with local bands and enjoying the life of a musician.
"Most of what I do is give lessons to students in North Carolina and South Carolina and play about 130 to 150 gigs a year," said Mr. Wood, 40. "I don’t spend many nights on the road. Most gigs are close by."
Mr. Wood has no shortage of area bands that welcome him to the stage. He plays with Curtis Blackwell — a former musician with country legend Bill Monroe — and his band the Dixie Bluegrass Boys, The Wild Hog Band, The Lonesome Road Band and Doug McCormick and Southern State of Mind.
Mr. Wood has also spent time in the national entertainment spotlight. Last year, he joined actor-comedian Steve Martin, also an accomplished banjo player, along with Earl Scruggs, Pete Wenick and Tony Ellis at the New Yorker Festival in New York City. The group made an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Mr. Wood and Mr. Martin become fast friends after that meeting and when Mr. Martin recently spent some vacation time at Caesar’s Head in Pickens County, Mr. Wood was invited over for a Sunday dinner.
"I joined him for supper and we played for about three hours," Mr. Wood said.
Mr. Wood started in music when he was 5 years old and sat down at the piano. Ten years later he heard Lester Flatt and Mr. Scruggs’ classic recording "Foggy Mountain Banjo." Mr. Wood has not been able to put the banjo down since turning 15.
He says he practices or plays about six hours a day.
Other titles he has won along the way include the Rockygrass and Merlefest Banjo championships.
The national banjo championship is highly regarded because first-place winners can not compete again for five years. Mr. Wood won the title in 1999, placed third in 2005 and won it again in 2006.
Mr. Wood said the All-American banjo instrument was designed as a five-string music maker in the mid-1800s. In the early 1940s, it was Mr. Scruggs who developed the three-finger picking style.
"The banjo was strummed before Earl Scruggs came along," Mr. Wood said.
In competitions, Mr. Wood said he plays four tunes in the early rounds and two tunes in the semifinals and finals. His fingers on his left hand can step quickly along the banjo’s neck while his right hand picks out music that covers a lot ground.
"Foggy Mountain Breakdown" might be the one tune familiar to most people when it comes to banjo music, but Mr. Wood can just as easily play "What a Wonderful World" and the William Tell Overture. Many would recognize the overture as the theme song to the classic black-and-white television Western, "The Lone Ranger."
Mr. Wood said he likes to keep his appearances close to home — he’s scheduled to be at Just More Barbecue in Pendleton Friday.
Mr. Wood has three CDs, including "Somewhere Over The Banjo," "Banjo Noel" and "Tour de Banjo." Visit www.charleswoodbanjo.com for more information on Mr. Wood.
David Williams can be reached at (864) 882-0522 or by e-mail at williamsde@IndependentMail.com.