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Expert banjo player picks his tunes

Five-string master to play Saturday

POSTED: July 25, 2013 1:00 a.m.

As someone who has performed with the best and most famous bluegrass and country players, James McKinney is a highly skilled master of the five-string banjo.

A specialist of the Scruggs and Reno style, McKinney also knows a thing or two about jazz music. He was mentored by the jazz educator, David Baker, and Henry Ferrel, who taught artists such as Chet Atkins and Jethro Burns.

The master banjo player will perform a club concert at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 27, at the Grant Street Music Room in Clarkesville. Other musicians are expected to join in for a dueling banjos finale to wrap up the performance. These will include The Chattahoochee Chain Gang, an Americana-bluegrass band from the South, who will provide a modern take on traditional bluegrass.

McKinney has played with musicians such as Bill Monroe and John Hartford. He also has toured and played with artists like Johnny Cash, Dixie Chicks and The Grateful Dead, to name a few familiar names. He is also a longtime friend of the famous fiddler Vassar Clements, with whom he formed the touring group, The Vassar Clements Band.

In the 1980s, McKinney lived in Dallas and recorded with the touring band Danger in the Air. He later moved to Nashville to record with many famous artists.

He mastered the banjo earlier than many pick it up. When he was 15, he won the South U.S. Banjo Championship. In 1982, he became a champion player with his win at the National Banjo Championship in Winfield, Kan.

Through the years, McKinney has won several first-place prizes at state and regional championships. He has also appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, “The Porter Wagoner Show” and the stages of Opryland at the age of 19, as part of Smoky Mountain Sunshine.

In addition, he has worked for and taught many large banjo camps and workshops all across the United States and Australia to help further education in banjo playing.

Today, McKinney lives in Atlanta and has formed a new acoustic group called The Night Travelers with bassist Niki Portmann. They tour and perform throughout the southeast. Their first album, called “Campfire,” will debut soon.


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