I do not plan recording projects: an inspirational irruption draws a response. The sound of an instrument may provide a kinesthetic sensibility for a musical feel, in this case, a classic banjo made by Temlett of London. I commenced to play a shanty melody employing 3-finger rolls so to explore the waxy tone of nylgut strings, a strong contrast to my Vegavox plectrum banjo. So, to compare, I recorded both, mixing the plectrum far left and the classic far right. Unexpectedly, their simultaneous sounding suggested the image of the creaking of an old wooden sailing ship. The open middle of the mix was perfect to add a vocal. Since all three tracks were carrying the melody, cello banjo was added for counterpoint. The effect of the three banjos was a bit busy with rhythmical chatter. Countering that affectation, I employed fretless bass banjo to play slow moving and calming foundational tones. The further addition of infectious rhythmical patterns on the cajon provided power and measure to the beat. The successful creation of this musical feel through the unique blending of banjos proved perfect for sea shanties and ballads. And now artist and listener are to be brought together in the sound space of SEA BOUND.

Gary Backhaus

Sea Bound





Gary Backhaus
Sea Bound
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GARY BACKHAUS: Vegavox Plectrum Banjo (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10); Classic 5-String Banjo (1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10); 12-String Banjo (2, 7); Long-Neck 5-String Banjo (3, 9); 17-Fret Irish Tenor Banjo (2); 8-String Mandolin Banjo (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10); 4-String Cello Banjo (1-10); Bass Banjo (1-10); Percussion: Cajon (1-10), Tambourine (2-10) and Cabasa (6); Violin (1, 4, 7, 8, 9); Viola (7)

CRAIG MAYERS: English Treble Concertina (1-10)

VOCALISTS: Gary Backhaus (lead and chorale lead); Chris Bentley (bass and all other parts); Jonas Goldstein (tenor); Nick Sheets (baritone); Carroll Swam (baritone); John Vaeth (tenor); Drew Vervan (chorale lead)


Greenland Whale Fisheries
Lowlands Low
The Mermaid
Go to Sea No More
Jackie Tar
Roll Bullies Roll
Maid of Amsterdam
Quare Bungle Rye
Whup Jamboree
The Boys of Killybegs

WATER—a primary element, the moistness of living things, the oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, storms, fish, sea mammals, shore birds, eels, sea plants, barnacles, harvesting the sea, water transport, canals, harbors, navigation, tides, waves, currents, hydraulics, holy water, therapeutic springs, AND SO MUCH MORE!

The CULTURE OF SAILING SHIPS and the SAILOR’S LIFE continues to have a meaning for us, for the ways that as land mammals we engage our blue watery planet profoundly forge our identity and orientation. This collection of sea shanties and ballads provides illuminating glimpses into the rich cultural history of those who made their way in the AGE OF THE SAIL and of those who still make a living from the sea.

I first took an interest in sea shanties and ballads while as a fiddler playing dances sponsored by the Baltimore Folk Music Society back in the mid-70s. Informally, some member would initiate a shanty and others participated by improvising various harmony parts. I then discovered recordings by the likes of Louis Killen, Jeff Warner, Gordon Bok. In the late 70s, I performed sea ballads as a member of a traditional Irish band. The Clancy Brothers’ Sing the Sea album and sea ballads recorded by the Dubliners were attractive to me for the instrumental arrangements had become an important aspect of the presentation. The recordings of Ewan MacColl sparked my interest, especially the BBC documentary, Sing The Fishing, as social science, cultural history, and musical art are interfaced. The 1961 recording, Sea Shanties, by The Men of the Robert Shaw Chorale sets a high bar for shanty vocal arrangements. Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony employing the poetry of Walt Whitman is inspirational because of the programmatic nature of the score that captures the varying moods of the sea. All of these influential sources in some way or other comprise the background for this work, SEA BOUND.