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BIOGRAPHY

Roger Sprung is one of the founding fathers of the folk music revival of the 1950's in New York City. His deft adaptations of Scruggs-style blugrass banjo picking to a broad range of musical material eaned Roger the title of 'The Godfather of Newgrass banjo".

Roger has influenced many notable musical acts, from the Kingston Trio and Doc Watson to Tony Triska, Bela Fleck and Jerry Garcia.

He is a master of not only of Blugrass banjo, but also clawhammer style. His influences include Dixieland Jazz, Celtic and English folk music, classical music, and boogie-woogie, along with Bluegrass and Appalchian old-time music.


Born in New York City August 29, 1930, Roger was enamored with boogie-woogie and began playing piano in that style. His older Brother, George, convinced him to go to Washington Square for a Sunday folk music gathering in 1947 and Roger was hooked.

Roger pored over early recordings of Earl Scruggs and taught himself the Bluegrass style. Soon he was a sought after teacher, being the only Scruggs-style player in the northeast. Roger taught many notable performers including Erik Darling, Chad Mitchell (of the Chad Mitchell Trio) and Frank Hamilton, a Chicago folk music player.

Throughout the folk boom of the 50's ans 60's, Roger was a central figure - always there in the park, leading jams and performing. His first band was the Folksay Trio, started around 1954. It included Erik Darling and Bob Carey (later of the Tarriers). They were recorded on the Stinson label. It was from this recording that the Kingston Trio learned their mega-hit "Tom Dooley".

His next band was called "The Shanty Boys" and was recorded on Electra. This band included Mike Cohen (brother of John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers) on guitar and Lionel Kilberg on washtub bass. They performed at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center several times.


Starting in 1950, Roger began traveling south to collect music from the Appalchian players and to attend music festivals. There he fell in with the greats of the Old Time music scene - Bascom Lamar Lundsford, Samantha Bumgarner, Buell Kazee, Jean Ritchie - and performed with a stellar line up of the Bluegrass greats, from Bill Monroe to Peter Rowan and everyone inbetween.

In 1970 Roger won World Champion at the Union Grove Old Time Fiddler's Festival with a rendition of Whiskey Before Breakfast that he learned from Tommy Jackson. He has been attending the Galax Old Fiddlers Convention annually since 1965 as well as the Clifftop festival.


Roger has many recordings, both with The Progressive Bluegrassers and with other artists. Five of his albums are on the Smithsonian-Folkways label and are considered classics. See Roger's complete discography on the Recordings page.

He continues to perform and travel. In 2009 he performed at the ROMP festival at the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky where he was honored as a "Pioneer of Bluegrass". Roger was a featured act at a 2010 reunion show for the artists of Gerde's Folk City in New York. He also performs annually at the Galax Old Fiddler's Convention. For his schedule see the Calendar page or Contact us for bookings.


Roger Sprung lives in Newtown, Connecticut with his wife, two daughters and 45 pets (including donkeys, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, ducks, geese, ferrets and a miniature pig).

 


'Tis the gift to be simple, 'Tis the gift to be free, 'Tis the gift to come round where we ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right, It will be in the garden of love and delight...

 


Roger Sprung in the 1950's

 

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