Howdy! I’m Anton (Tony) Ullrich, and I welcome you to BanjerProductions.com, the home of one-on-one, private Bluegrass banjo instruction here in Houston, Texas, since 1972. Yup! That’s 45 years of teaching folks to pick their banjos with clean, correct technique.
I bought my 1st banjo here in Houston, late in 1958. Yes, it was a pawn shop banjo! Paid $30.00 for it. And it cost me $35.00 to have it put into playing condition. I was on my way!
I teach with my own learning system, which I began creating in early 1980. I struggled with common tablature, because it was just too slow for me to learn from. My system, BanjerTab, is an easy numerical system. I have told folks for years, “If you can count to 5, you can learn all the banjo classics you have ever heard and wanted to play.”
Also, if seeing folks play fast causes you to pause in buying yourself your 1st banjo, I would say, “If it’s so hard to play, why is it I can play so fast?” All that is required in learning to play great, fun banjo, it to learn correct picking technique, then apply that knowledge to fun, relaxed practice.
Call me, and let's get to pickin'! (281) 807-6355
For my in-person students, we focus on what YOU want to learn. I have my own arrangements of many popular tunes, in addition to teaching you to play exactly what's on your favorite recordings.
This comes from many years of careful listening, and using whatever techniques have been available to slow the recordings down and pick out exactly what they played -- and how they played it!
So come learn to play what you love, from the many years of popular bluegrass, country, and gospel music, and learn to play with great technique.
A "hot licks" banjo player, that's all I wanted to be. I don't know if the term "hot licks" had been coined then, but I do know, in fact and truth, that's all I wanted to do. That's all I could see. I wanted to be able to pick all those super-fast instrumental classics by Earl Scruggs, Don Reno, Allen Shelton, Billy Faier, Dick Weissman, Marshall Brickman, Eric Weissberg, Bill Keith, and the few others whom I had heard at that time.
I attained that goal, and when I got there I was left with this empty feeling because I noticed all those folks in jam sessions just having the most wonderful time, playing and singing vocal songs, and I couldn't participate because I knew no "back-up."
Because I had remained totally focused on learning how to be a "hot licks" picker, and had not taken time to learn any "back-up," there was a huge hole in my banjo soul. I could not participate in what I now know and see is the most important and most fulfilling part of picking Bluegrass banjo: picking with other folks, in jam sessions. You can do that only by learning to be a well-rounded banjo picker through learning to play good, clean, solid "Back-up."
Can I get an "Amen" here? Does this not just reach way down to the depths of your banjo being?
It's true! We are creatures of habit. There is a physical aspect of picking banjo that you may never have taken time to consider. Literally, you will play what you practice!
It's TECHNIQUE! The word literally means "the manner in which basic physical movements are used to accomplish a desired goal."
The violin was invented somewhere around 1564 (by Andrea Amati), so today a beginning violin student has about 450 years of developed violin "technique" already created, developed, and in use. Earl Scruggs, the father of Bluegrass style banjo, hit the stage of The Grand Old Opry as a new member of Bill Monroe's band in 1945. We banjo pickers have less than 60 years of developed Bluegrass Banjo technique.
For our friends not close enough to take lessons in person, we've created an online teaching site focused on learning the classic licks and developing excellent technique. Take a look at 5stringbanjer.com if you're interested.
From whatever corner of this world you are reading this, I am here to help you by email and I am available to you to answer any and all questions you may have as you go through the lessons. I urge you to please take this offer seriously. I have enjoyed meeting folks from all over the world, and I will do my best to help you along in your quest to be the Bluegrass picker you want to be.
I will do my best to help any and all. That of course, is ... "The Cowboy Way!"
Over the years I have been a reseller for both Geoff Stelling and the Deerings. In 1986, when Texas celebrated her Sesquicentennial, I designed the Texas Banjo and worked with Greg and Janet Deering to manufacture it. Only 150 will ever be made, with the serial number of each banjo representing one year in the 150 years of the Sesquicentennial. One of these, number 1905, was given to the Alamo by the Gary Henderson family of Pinehurst, Texas; it has a Texas flag carved into the upper heel, the American flag in the lower heel, and in between a yellow rose. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas graciously accepted the gift for the Alamo collection, setting aside the normal rule that everything accepted by the Alamo must be at least 100 years old!
When the Kerrville Folk Festival began in 1972, Rod Kennedy invited me -- I was President of the Houston Folklore Society at the time -- to help promote it and be on staff for the event. Besides Lyndon Johnson, Darrell Royal, and other Texas celebrities, I crossed paths there with Country Gazette, Byron Berline, Alan Munde, Roger Bush, Kenny Wertz, Michael Murphy, John Inmon, R.M. Stone, Chubby Wise, Howdy Forrester, Little Roy Lewis and the Lewis Family, the Osborne brothers, Geoff Stelling, etc. Additional work on the Western Swing festivals that Rod produced brought opportunities to meet Leon McAuliffe, Johnny Bond, and Merle Travis.
After taking advantage of the "open microphone" at the Old Quarter one night, I was invited to go on the air with KPFT, the Public Radio station in Houston, and a 20 year career began during which I broadcast Bluegrass, blues, and the music of the Old West, often adopting a voice similar to Gabby Hayes and populating my studio with a dozen mythical characters causing unending trouble during the broadcasts.
In 1970 I returned to Houston and joined the Houston Folklore Society, meeting John A. Lomax, Jr., Mance Lipscomb, Bill Northcutt, Bill Bonner, and Robbie Shipley (of Shipley's Doughnuts). The Houston music scene was growing, with performers such as Townes van Zandt, Don Sanders, Steve Fromholz, Jerry Jeff Walker, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band performing after hours at The Old Quarter for 30 - 40 people after playing the big shows at the Hofheinz Pavilion.
After college, I spent a year in Austin and had the good fortune to meet Jerry Jeff Walker, Bill Moss, Marty Javors, Allen Damron, and Rod Kennedy, all to ultimately make their marks in the world of music. After two years trying to settle into the life of a banker, I gave it up, and with $400 dollars in my pocket, and a U-Haul behind the Camaro, I took off for Nashville and stardom.
At Texas Tech University, I met H. John Deutchendorff, later known as John Denver, formed "The New Bluegrass Quartet" with Dow Patterson, Bill Shultz, and Pete Richardson, won a talent show and in 1963, began teaching people to play the banjo.
The next problem was how to learn to play. There was almost no instructional material available; when I found Pete Seeger's 5-string banjo instruction 10 inch record album with a booklet enclosed, I inhaled the lessons. It was Pete Seeger's booklet that taught me how to slow recordings down and extract the musical sequences note for note, and I have used that technique to learn to play the classic songs exactly as recorded - mistakes and all!
I fell in love with the banjo upon hearing the first Kingston Trio album in 1958, searched out an old Gretsch banjo at a Houston pawn shop, paid $35 for it, and never looked back.