I grew up playing drums and piano, but the drums really stuck. My brother began teaching me at 7, but it wasn’t until high school when I started playing in a rock and roll band that I became obsessed. I played rock, Jazz, and blues, and took a private course at the Berklee School of Music.
In the 70’s I began to listen to fiddle music, and started lessons on the violin. Then I discovered rhythm bones and everything changed. I was taught to play rhythm bones by Percy Danforth, one of the last exponents of the Minstrel Show style of rhythm bone playing, 43 years ago. Since that time I have been privileged to know some of the great rhythm bones players of the 20th Century Including Ted Goon, Russ Myers, John Burrill, and many others.
I have been the Executive Director of the Rhythm Bones Society for the last 17 years, A non-profit organization dedicated to the continuation of the art of Playing the traditional rhythm bones. In 2003 I won the All Ireland Bone Playing Championship and repeated as champion in 2004. In 2016 I was invited to judge the contest, the only American to have done so. I have taught rhythm bone playing at festivals and workshops across the US and in Ireland. In addition I have lectured about rhythm bone playing and the history of it at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
In the early 80’s I began making rhythm bones out of the shin bone of the cow. I was advised early on in the process by Merchant marine sailor, Milton Shapanka, and gradually refined the process. I’ve consulted with Nicholas Driver, a 4th generation rhythm bone maker from Suffolk England. Rhythm bones that I make are played by Dom Flemons, formally of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and a number of traditional Irish musicians including Mel Mercier, Tommy Hayes, Cathy Jordan and Junior Davey. I also make rhythm bones out of wood.
Letter to the Editor – 2001. I was standing in front of my bones booth a the New England Folk Festival having just given a workshop for 50 or so people, ably assisted by Norm Conrad, Tim Rielly, and Rob Rudin, trying to sift through the folks with questions, when I was approached by a young looking guy with a beard and pony tail. I was mid conversation with Jan Cornish discussing John Burrill’s meeting with Percy Danforth at that festival in 1985. He pointed to his name tag which read, “Jonathan Danforth” and I laughed, “Not related to Percy I’m sure” I remarked. “He was my Grandfather” he said. “Wow!” After regaining my composure, we settled into long reminiscences of Percy. It was a real treat! He is living in Fall River, Ma. and does play the bones a bit, but it is not his main instrument. He intends to attend Bones Fest V! We never know what (or who) is just around the corner! Steve Brown.