Hilton Head Island resident Major Short was recently inducted into The National Four-String Banjo Hall of Fame. Not bad for a guy who never played the banjo.
Short played bass in a banjo-based pop trio Somethin' Smith & the Redheads from 1948 to 1966. Since Short is the only surviving member, he represented his band when it was inducted to the hall May 24 at The American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City.
"We brought back the banjo to pop music," he said. "That's really the reason I'm going into the Hall of Fame."
Short said Life Magazine wrote about the band in 1955, crediting it for reintroducing the instrument back into American pop culture. He said the group's hit song, "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie," inspired Mitch Miller to produce his "Sing Along With Mitch" albums and influenced John Denver to pursue his musical career.
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Short, along with bandmates Saul Striks on piano and Robert Robinson (the one who actually played the banjo), played some of the most popular nightclubs of the day, including the Copacabana and Mickey Mantle's club, The Dugout. They appeared on TV with Arthur Godfrey, Jack Paar, Steve Allen, Kate Smith, Dick Clark and Guy Lombardo.
"That was the era of variety," he said. "Now it's all reality, which is not real, but they call it that. ... We did the first network broadcast of color TV because we had red hair."
American Banjo Museum executive director Johnny Baier said it's important to note that the banjo had lost all its popularity in the United States during World War II. But after the war there was a nostalgia boom.
"People were kind of longing for the simpler, carefree music of the pre-World War II era," he said. "So what you found was a lot of nightclubs where they would be playing the banjo and singing the songs of the 1920s and '30s. ... The guys were longing for a time before the war. The banjo and the music from that time went perfectly with this craving for nostalgia."
Along came Somethin' Smith & the Redheads, who, Baier described as "young, humorous, talented college guys who played this music but did it with a degree of showmanship and musical expertise that a lot of the other banjo players didn't have."
He said they were good musicians and entertainers, adding that he normally can't say that about banjo players and the musicians that they surround themselves with.
Baier said the group became a recording phenomenon, particularly with their recording of "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie," which was on the charts for more than six months in 1955.
"I'm very pleased that they're being recognized by the Hall of Fame," Baier said. "They played a major role, even though it was an unwitting role. They didn't set out to play a role in revitalizing banjo popularity, but they did."
Even though the banjo isn't his instrument of choice, Short said he was happy to receive this honor on behalf of his late bandmates.
"It gives me a chance to reminisce, which I don't do much of," he said. "I haven't been on a stage in a long time."
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