George Stavis: A Closer Look

By Jeb Backe ’19

This Friday, Kenyon College’s Horn Gallery will be visited for a rare performance by a man named George Stavis. It is fairly difficult to find a lot of information on our visitor, so I took it upon myself to do some investigating to provide you all with a culmination of all that I have learned. I can say with certainty after my searching that he is a man worth knowing about.

George Stavis is a mystical 5-string banjo player. He is an individual of myth and legend with many interesting tales of him dispersed across the internet. I’m not entirely confident in the validity of these stories, but they sure are interesting. One such anecdote, according to last.fm, being that supposedly George Stavis went a up to Bela Fleck, an extremely famous professional musician, regarded as possibly the best banjo player (though Stavis’ playing may refute that), after a Fleck concert. Apparently Fleck’s immediate reaction to meeting Stavis was, “I know who you are — you’re the guy who started all this!”

To give some background, George Stavis was in a band called “Federal Duck” that release one self-titled LP in 1968 under Musicor Records. After this, Stavis released a solo project. This LP is titled “Labyrinths” featuring Tim Ackerman on percussion. This album came out in 1969 under the Vanguard record label. Many years later, George Stavis released another LP with musicians, Darol Anger, Alex DeGrassi, Mike Marshall, Stan Poplin, and Bob Stern. This album is titled “Morning Mood” and it came out in 1986 under Aspen Records. Stavis’ song “Goblins” off of  “Morning Mood” was also later featured in Volume 3 of a series of compilation albums titled “Imaginational Anthem: Essential Guitar.” All of these albums are amazing.

George Stavis breaks down the conventions of what is considered typical banjo playing in his work. Instead, Stavis provides an incredibly unique and creative sound mixed with great technical ability. There have been many labels ascribed to Stavis’ music. His sound has been described as Folk, Psychedelic, World, Country, Appalachian, and more. On the back of Stavis’ album, “Labyrinths,” he calls his music “Occult Improvisational Compositions for 5-string banjo and percussion.” Listening to George Stavis’ playing is a unique experience that in some ways words cannot touch.

Come see George Stavis perform this Friday (11/13) at the Horn Gallery @ 8:00pm. He will also be offering a master class at 5:00pm, open to all!!!