Alan Munde goes track by track through Excelsior

Date: 02/01/2024

Time: 4:00 pm - 7:00 pm

Banjo legend Alan Munde will stop by WTJU this Thursday afternoon to go track by track through his new album, Excelsior, out now on Patuxent. Munde is currently on tour with fellow Steve Martin Banjo Prize winner Bill Evans, and they recently stopped by The Stage for a special hourlong performance and conversation. Folk & Beyond airs Thursday afternoon from 4-7 at 91.1FM and streaming at

Dreaming about winning the lottery is just that for most people – a dream. It became a reality for banjoist Alan Munde when he won the 2021 Steve Martin Banjo Prize. The windfall allowed him to go to the studio and record his thirteen original compositions and two Elliott Rogers’s penned tunes that make up this collection. Alan surrounds himself with many mandolin hugs and the sweet sounds from some of his favorite pickers on these new recordings. Excelsior is a collection of Alan’s original music written to showcase his strong remembrances of people or places he encountered in his 50-plus years of music.

It might seem a disadvantage for a fledgling bluegrass banjo player to grow up in Norman, Oklahoma far from the hotbed of East Coast bluegrass, but his region offered a heavy exposure of non-eastern country music from the likes of Bob Wills, Hank Thompson, Lefty Frizzell, Buck Owens, Tennessee Ernie Ford, along with local and regional artists. Alan recalls, “I would watch anything or listen to anything that had a guitar in it.” The Lawrence Welk Show was a favorite because there was often a guitar feature during the show.

The search for a guitar teacher led him to a music store owned by jazz guitarist Mike “Slim” Richey who was a friend to music makers of all kinds. During the heyday of the folk music boom of the early 1960s, Alan was attracted to the banjo and, in turn bluegrass music that featured the fancy banjo of Earl Scruggs and other three- finger pickers. It wasn’t long after before he bought his first banjo at Mike Richey’s Guitar Center and began searching for area bluegrass banjo players to get started. Alan was fortunate to locate Eddie Shelton who became an important banjo mentor and friend.

During his years at the University of Oklahoma, Alan played with fellow student and world-class fiddler Byron Berline at many functions and fiddle contests. After graduation in 1969, Alan met Wayne Stewart and Sam Bush and began his long career by recording the seminal album Poor Richard’s Almanac.
Alan received his draft notice shortly after the session and returned home. He was rejected by the Army, and spent that summer doing odd jobs with music as a sideline. Following an exploratory trip to Nashville, Tennessee, in late 1969 Alan auditioned for the bluegrass heavyweight Jimmy Martin and was offered a job in his band The Sunny Mountain Boys.  Alan enjoyed a two-year tenure touring and recording with the band. Leaving Martin in late 1971, Alan reconnected with Byron in California to help form the contemporary bluegrass band Country Gazette.

Alan has been a part of several “if you’re in the know, you know” recording events that are part of the extreme bluegrass pickers collection. As a follow-up to Poor Richard’s Almanac, Alan and Bush recorded the highly regarded duo project, Sam and Alan, Together Again For The First Time. After that he held down the banjo chair on several historically remarkable recordings such as The New Kentucky Colonels, Live In Sweden 1973 featuring Roland, Clarence, and Eric White; Country Store, Live in Hugo, Oklahoma featuring a youthful Keith Whitley; and legendary fiddler Bobby Hicks’s Texas Crapshooter (also featuring Sam Bush, and Roland White). In addition, he recorded many of his own albums including the ground-breaking debut album Banjo Sandwich. He’s been there when “being there” was important.

Beginning in 1986 he became an educator teaching in the Creative Arts Department at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas for 20 years. He is counted as one of the most influential players of Scruggs and Keith-melodic playing, which he continues to teach at music camps across America and Europe. In 2022 he was inducted into the American Banjo Hall of Fame in recognition of his many contributions to the banjo world. The Hall of Fame might have wanted to give him a whole wing of their museum if they had waited on Excelsior.

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