Interview – Ross Nickerson – The Banjo Gazette

The Banjo Gazette – London, England

by Phil Morley

As I was so impressed with Ross’s CD I had to get an interview with him. So I wrote and sent him a copy of BG with his CD review in it. Ross kindly sent back this interview plus a tab for San Antonio Rose. This tune is one taken from Ross’s CD and if you haven’t gotten it yet. I suggest you do it’s fantastic.

BG. When did you start to get interested in the banjo?

RN. A good friend of mine in High School played the guitar and he encouraged me to buy a used one. I really got interested after I went to the Union Grove Fiddlers’ Convention in North Carolina.

BG. At what age did you start playing?

RN. I was 16 or 17 when I began playing.

BG. Who were your main influences?

RN. I was influenced and inspired early on by the Will The Circle Be Unbroken album which included Earl Scruggs and John MCuen. I thank all the great players and publications that have made tab available to learn from.

BG. What was your first banjo and what is now your current banjo?

RN. The first banjo I had was a Kay. I’ve had a variety of other banjos including Mastertones, and a Stelling. I now play a Goldstar. I call it the Masterclone. I also have a Deering Crossfire that Deering made custom for me.

BG. Did you play in bands as you were developing your style?

RN. I was in a band after only playing the banjo for nine months. Playing with others helped me progress more than anything. Also I practiced a lot in the first year.

BG. What style would you say mostly ( Scruggs, melodic, etc..?

RN. I play a mixture of Scruggs, melodic, and single string. I use whatever technique best fits the material I’m playing.

BG. What gauge strings do you use?

RN. I use 11,12,13,20,11.

BG. What height bridge do you use and type of action?

RN. 11/16 or 3/4.

BG. What gauge finger picks do you use?

RN. I use shelor picks with the cobalt coating from Bob Perry and a variety of thumbpicks. I cut down the blade and cut the lip that wraps around the thumb back so it won’t catch in the strings.

BG. How many hours of practice do you do?

When I first started, I practiced about four hours a day. Now I practice on an as need basis. For instance, if I have an upcoming gig or recording session I practice specifically for that.

BG. What advice would you give someone who is starting out?

RN. Practice a lot. The banjo masters credited with developing a style named after them such as Keith, Crowe Adcock, Fleck etc. are all quoted as practicing 8 or more hours a day.

BG. Do you listen to other forms of music other than bluegrass?

RN. I grew up on a normal diet of Rock and Roll. I got drawn into a love of bluegrass through my interest in the banjo. I’ve been able to use the many influences I have in different band situations I’ve been in.

BG. Do you play any other instruments?

RN. I play electric guitar and some Dobro but banjo is my main instrument.

BG. Do you read music notation or do you play from feel.

I started with a little tab, by tape and sharing licks. Then I learned a lot from tab. Now I play mostly by ear.