got caught up in the old time music scene during the early 80's after moving to Ithaca, New York.
By 1980, Joe
had switched from guitar to banjo as his
In 1982, equipped with a Ph.D. and a Mike Allison copy of a Whyte Ladie banjo purchased with graduation present money, Joe
headed off for post-doctoral work in Hamburg, Germany.
While in Hamburg, Joe
worked on techniques such as drop-thumbing, but most if all, he
tried to capture the joyful sound of the music from Ithaca dances and jams.
In Germany, he
mainly played with friends, but made his
first public appearance on banjo at the Blockhütte, a country bar in St. Pauli, Hamburg just off the Reeperbahn, about 20 years after the Beatles frequented the place.
In 1986, Joe
moved to Urbana, Illinois and settled into the old time music and dance scene in the Midwest.
Two years later at a Swing into Spring dance weekend in Indiana, Joe plus a bunch Urbana-Champaign dancers took a band workshop together and the Saline Ditch Stringband was born.
Within a year, they had a tighter sound, a much better name ("The Cradlerockers" after the tune, "Rock the Cradle Joe
" - everyone in the band was a parent except for Joe), and they were playing regularly for the Urbana contra dance.
Two midwestern banjo players whose playing influenced Joe
were Steve Rosen of the Volo Bogtrotters and Dave Landreth of the Allen Street Stringband.
hooked up with Ray Quigley to form the core of Squirrelheads
in Gravy shortly after moving to Texas in 1991. (Originally the Raynormalization Stringband, the band was renamed with help from former Squirrelhead, Gary Washmon, a fiddler in Denton, TX).
When Joe isn't playing banjo he is a physics professor at UT Dallas doing elementary particle physics with the ATLAS experiment at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and with the BaBar experiment at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.
When the number of fiddles in the Squirrelheads
thought the banjo section was getting short shrift, and he
made a pitch for another banjo.
Joe's bandmates had a different kind of banjo pitch in mind.
They told Joe he
played so well that there was no need for another banjo.
is mollified for the moment.
Copyright © 2005-2010 Joseph M. Izen