Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches
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Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches

New York City, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2016 | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2016
Band Americana Folk




"Get Us Out of Fearland (Album Review)"

For those who have followed their progress until now, it ought to be apparent that Nick Russo and Betina Hershey, the husband/wife duo best known as Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches, aren't content to be confined to any particular genre. As their excellent new album, "Get Us Out of Fearland," easily attests, they ably mine vintage trappings with an eye towards contemporary credence. Folk, jazz, Americana, blues and ballads all find a place in their merry mash-up of sounds and styles.

Indeed, within the expanse of a mere nine songs, the duo and their able compatriots run a gamut from the rousing tones of the aptly titled "Soar" to the sheer exhilaration and gospel-like revelry of "Needed Now" and the title track, with a ready retreat into the acoustic arrangements and supple slide guitar that grace "I Wish the World Knew Why" and "Don't You Follow Me." Then for good measure, they retrace the traditional trappings of the solitary standard "A Hundred Miles" as if to prove the point. Russo, a seasoned session player in their native New York, handles the majority of the music, modestly credited on the cover as "fretted instruments and more." For her part, Hershey - who pens all the original material - comes across as the ideal chanteuse, with just the right blend of sass and sophistication to provide more than ample to the proceedings. No wonder then that the group sound so consistently confident in every outing they offer.

The other factor that helps assure success is personified by percussionist David Pleasant, who adds rhythms and vocals to the freewheeling finesse. Ultimately it all adds up to a celebratory sound, one that's free-spirited and enthusiastically employed. Indeed, when taken in tandem, "Get Us Out of Fearland" amounts to one of the most exhilarating efforts imaginable. Lee Zimmerman - Country Standard Time

"Exclusive Interview: Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches on Their Unique Sound"

Although their name sounds like a charming Saturday morning cartoon show, or maybe an over-the-top action movie like The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches is a band from New York made up of Nick Russo (banjo, guitars, vocals) and Betina Hershey (lead vocals, guitar).

What makes the duo unique is its sound, which encompasses folk, Americana, world music, New Orleans jazz, Gullah Geechee rhythms and scat singing, and what I call good old hoedown music. The duo's forthcoming album, called Get Us Out Of Fearland, drops June 15. - Seattle PI

"Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches Eclectic group helps Get Us Out of Fearland"

PREMIERE: Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches
Eclectic group helps Get Us Out of Fearland
Music News | February 26th, 2018

Betina Hershey, Emiliano Valerio, Nick Russo
If your musical vocabulary is extensive, you know the the Gullah/Geechee tradition, descendents of enslaved Africans brought to the New World to work the plantations of coastal South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida. Because they now reside on the barrier islands, Gullah/Geechee people have retained many aspects of their heritage intact. New York City’s Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches are likely the only band today infusing elements of Gullah-Geechee and world rhythms with folk traditions, Americana, New Orleans influences, and 1920s jazz. Their forthcoming album, Get Us Out Of Fearland, builds upon the multicultural exuberance that made the band’s debut, Very Next Thing, a breath of fresh air.

Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches’ members are as varied as the music they play. Nick Russo (banjo, resonator, guitar, electric bass plus organ, Rhodes and harmonium) played with sir Paul McCartney at Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s home, performed on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and appears in the film Away We Go and The Chaperone. Betina Hershey (vocalist, guitarist, composer) has appeared as a principal dancer in Disney’s Enchanted and Mona Lisa Smile with Julia Roberts, and performed in Broadway shows including “West Side Story” and “Phantom of the Opera.”

Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches (L-R) Emiliano Valerio, Nick Russo and Betina Hershey
Betina’s in-demand original children’s musicals have been continuously performed nationally and internationally. Emiliano Valerio (cajón/percussion) studied Afro-Cuban percussion at La Escuela Nacional de Arte in Havana, Cuba, founded 15-piece Latin band, and was musical director/percussionist/guitarist for the OBIE Award winning Off-Broadway show Tap Dogs. Joining the core trio on Get Us Out Of Fearland, Dr. David Pleasant (Gullah-Geechee percussionist and composer) has performed with Wynton Marsalis, Paul Simon, Cecil Taylor, and on Nickelodeon and TED talks. Miles Griffith (voice and composer) uses his voice as a percussive instrument, has performed with Max Roach and T.S. Monk, and others played the lead role in Wynton Marsalis’ jazz oratorio ”Blood On The Fields,” which premiered at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.

It is fitting that such diverse talents can bring together diverse traditions to create something so new and exciting. BN&WS co-founder Nick Russo told Elmore “My musical life has always been surrounded by an eclectic combination of unique musicians and scenes, so naturally, this band is a melting pot. Inspired by the current social, political environment and world rhythms of the indigenous, Get Us Out Of Fearland gives hope that all of us join together as sisters and brothers and truly unify as Peaceland.” - Elmore magazine


By Frank Kocher, January 2017

From New York, Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches have a sound that is, well, unique. The band is built around Nick Russo (all manner of banjo and guitars, vocals) and lead singer/guitarist Betina Hershey. Add David Pleasant’s drums, harp ,and vocals, and additional vocal contributions from Miles Griffith, then add doses of unusual scat singing from the Gullah-Geechee culture, and some down-home New Orleans jazz chestnuts. The combination is at times cluttered and unfocused, but it’s unlike anything most listeners will find elsewhere.

Very Next Thing offers ten tracks, mostly covers of jazz vocal standards. Tracks like “Freight Train” and “Sweet Georgia Brown” are mostly notable for Hershey’s clear-as-a-bell swing jazz vocals. On “You Are My Sunshine” and “Jock-a-Mo,” Griffith joins on vocals for call-and-response and scatting, add West African-feel percussion, and the flavor of the tunes turns from clever jazz to an Island music/blues hybrid. The two singers are so mismatched that these songs take some getting used to.

“I’m Gettin’ Married” motors along on some blazing banjo picking, all about how wedded bliss means “Now my sin is perfectly legal.” Even better is Hershey’s “I Don’t Believe in Love.” Full of double entendre and good humor, it is the best track here. While the disc is full of elaborate arrangements, the band sounds best when just guitar, banjo, and Hershey’s arresting vocal takes on a classic like “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” - San Diego Troubadour

"David Amram"

“Just a few words about Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches, an amazing group which a lot of us dreamed would happen some day where the different genres of music all get together and they all fit together because everybody is great at their genre and also has the ability to be with the other genres in harmony. That’s what they call making music.

“They play up a storm! They are terrific. And anybody could come. This is the kind of thing that you could bring your five-year-old child and your great grandmother and everyone will dig it. Just a joy to hear you, play with you. I recommend everyone come to hear this group wherever they are, and get their CD.”
– David Amram - David Amram's quotes about Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches

"Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches"

Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches
NYC based band, Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches are proud to be touting their new CD, Very Next Thing. Their music is an eclectic assemblage of country, bluegrass, western swing, rockabilly, blues, traditional jazz, dixieland, old-time music, folk, roots music and Americana.

banjonickThe band is led by multi-instrumentalist Nick Russo who comes from a very musical family. His dad, Rich Russo played in a heavy metal band in the 1960’s called The Scarecrow. “They were a Kiss era band,” he said, “Even sharing the same manager. They were on Columbia records and even notched a couple hits, as well as toured with Sly and the Family Stone. Dad even played for Chuck Berry,” Nick said.

As a kid, Nick played drums on some of his dad’s session in their basement studio. His uncle Mike was also a prolific musician and exposed Nick to a lot of the early rock and blues music of the day. When it came to considering music as a career though, Nick says that an emphasis on education was always important. “I was always brought up with the notion to go to school and get a master’s and go into something more stable,” Nick quipped. “So I was always under the idea I was going into science. But half way through my pursuit I took my first Jazz guitar lessons with Dr. David Belser after being self taught for so many years. I was just so inspired by that.”

It was through some of those early Jazz gigs that he realized you could actually play music for a living. He also began studies in Classical music and says he was immediately drawn to it. “I just knew I had to find a way to make a living at this,” he said. Nick was pre-med at Stony Brook at the time, and decided to do a double major to allow himself the opportunity to pursue this music professionally.

Nick eventually left the Classical roots behind but stayed heavily invested in the Jazz scene, and it was a call from a festival in Brooklyn that led to the incarnation of Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches.
To find out more, visit - Americana Rhythm Music Magazine

"WFUV FM Live"

Banjo Nickaru and "Sunday Supper" host John Platt

by John Platt

Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches is a most unusual NYC band. Led by banjo/guitar player Nick Russo and singer-songwriter Betina Hersey, they have an appetite for all kinds of music: folk, blues, country, 1920s and '30s pop and jazz, and roots music in general, expressed in both originals and cover songs.

Their real wild card is a Gullah-Geechee accent brought by percussionist David Pleasant. Pleasant wasn't with them for this visit to Studio A, but they did bring veteran percussionist Newman Taylor -Baker on washboard and Neal Murgai on sitar.

Listen to what they add to Elizabeth Cotton's classic "Freight Train." This is a band that must be heard to be believed! Check them out in this fun session or at Rockwood Music Hall on April 11 for "On Your Radar." - John Platt's Sunday's Supper

"Banjo Nickaru and Western Scooches draw on a variety of influences"

Get him talking about his musical journey, and Nick Russo rattles off names that are staggering in their talent.

There’s Jimmy Heath, the jazz sax blower, arranger and big band leader whom Russo describes as family; there’s the late Jimmy McGriff, for whom Russo played guitar on the road; there’s Jim Nolet, former violinist for the Jazz Passengers, with whom he toured as a “young lad.”

Ratzo Harris. Gullah/Geechee purveyor David Pleasant. Jazz singer Miles Griffith. Keeping track of his peers and influences is a demanding challenge, but Russo — who performs tonight at Barley’s Maryville as Banjo Nickaru — doesn’t drop names for the sake of prestige. If anything, he does so to point out that each and every one taught him something he carries with him today.

“I just tend to always be a student,” Russo told The Daily Times recently. “I always love to learn new things, and my tastes have always been very eclectic. I was blessed with parents who embraced all cultures. I was never exposed to any racism because my parents were colorblind, and they never judged anyone because of the way they were, so I think that transcended to my taste in music.”

His folks were into blues and R&B, Motown and country, folk and rock. As he began to find his own footing, he was as likely to spin John Coltrane records one afternoon and Indian classical movement the next. He joined a Moroccan band as a young player, was whisked away to South America and the Caribbeans as a player for one of Wynton Marsalis’ ex-girlfriends; he toured through Russia and lived in Japan for a month, playing in a jazz quartet. But it was while living in Queens that he met Betina Hershey, who plays by his side as Western Scooches.

“She was walking to a gig, and I was walking to move my car, and she was dressed like a hippie,” he said. “I said, ‘Are you by any chance a musician or artist?’ She said yes, and she’s always asked me what I would have said if she’d said no, and I tell her I would have just kept naming occupations.”

At the time, he was performing in the off-Broadway show “A Jew Grows in Brooklyn,” while Hershey had toured with such musicals as “Phantom of the Opera” and “West Side Story.” They hit it off musically and romantically, and on one of their first dates, Russo jammed with her father, a classical trumpet player who’s performed with the New York City Ballet and on Broadway.

“She was a composer, learning jazz and reading a lot of standards, and I was encouraging her to learn in different keys,” he said. “And she reminded me of all this great music. I had always loved Joni Mitchell, and she gave me more exposure to those folk and country elements.”

The two later discovered they had met before, back when Russo ran a jazz jam at the New York jazz restaurant Cleopatra’s Needle; after moving in together, she discovered one of Russo’s business cards he’d given her that night, and he found an old jam session list with her name on it.

Today, Banjo Nickaru and Western Scooches play a unique blend of country and hot jazz; it’s difficult to adequately describe the effervescence and energy of the group’s sound without hearing their version of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” featuring Russo’s scat-playing on the banjo and Hersey’s Big Mama Thornton-like approach to the vocals. It’s a good time, he said, that translates well in a live setting.

“I think I’ve always been an audience member as well as a musician, so anyone who comes out is going to hear some ’20s tunes, some New Orleans groove and some second line jazz; but then there’s some world music in there that might have a sitar or Indian flavor,” he said. “We’ll have a setlist, but we don’t have any music out in front of us because we know it well, and we’ll immediately react to the audience and the vibe of the room.”

Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times.
Contact him at or at 981-1144,
follow him on Twitter @TNRockWriter and “Like” Weekend on Facebook at - The Daily Times

"Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches Retrace the Roots"

Veteran musicians Nick Russo and Betina Hershey are well versed in a variety of instruments and musical genres, from jazz to folk to blues and ballads. So it’s especially significant that on their band Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches’ latest EP, Very Next Thing, they go back to basics. In truth, with ten songs, this is much more of an album than an EP, with songs that bask in roots and tradition. Jazzy honky tonk and bluegrass reboots of familiar standards such as “You Are My Sunshine,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “This Little Light of Mine” and “When the Red, Red Robin” flesh out the familiarity factor while giving the entire set an archival feel. However, it’s the band’s instrumental dexterity which makes each of these entries a singular standout regardless, Russo, a much in demand session player, takes on the bulk of the playing duties, not surprising given his proficiency on guitar, five string banjo, tenor banjo and resonator guitar. Likewise, the way he freely blends his voice with wife Betina’s adds an extra dose of homespun allure. As one pundit noted, classical jazz is, at its essence, folk music of the purist variety, and Very Next Thing illustrates that in a way that the less skilled would be hard pressed to emulate. Ultimately, this is Americana music at its purest and most impressive, making it indeed a lesson for the learning.

SEPTEMBER 29, 2016 - No Depression

"ALBUM REVIEWS Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches Very Next Thing"

Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches
Very Next Thing

It’s apparent that the husband and wife musical team of Nick Russo and Betina Hershey are well versed in a variety of genres. Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches’ latest EP, Very Next Thing, spans a variety of genres, from jazz to folk and blues and ballads. They go back to basics with songs that bask in a genuine roots regimen and a sense of timeless tradition. Jazzy honky tonk and bluegrass reboots of familiar standards such as “You Are My Sunshine,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “This Little Light of Mine” and “When the Red, Red Robin” create a familiarity factor while providing the music with a distinct archival feel. However, it’s the band’s remarkable musical dexterity which makes each of these entries a singular standout.

Russo, a well-regarded New York session player, handles the bulk of the instrumental duties, not surprising given his proficiency on guitar, five string banjo, tenor banjo and resonator guitar. Likewise, the way he freely blends his voice with Betina’s adds an extra dose of homespun allure. So too, percussionist David Pleasant adds a remarkable array of percussion effects along with adding his vocals to the astute harmonies. If it’s true that classical jazz is, at its essence, folk music of the purist variety, then Very Next Thing makes that point clear throughout. Very Next Thing makes it clear that the “thing” in question is equally at home in the past, present and future.

—Lee Zimmerman - Elmore magazine

"Banjo Nickaru and Western Scooches play a tune"

They have traveled from New York City to play at the Folk Alliance International Conference. Banjo Nickaru and Western Scooches play an eclectic mix of country, bluegrass, western swing, rockabilly, blues, traditional jazz, dixieland, old-time music, folk, roots music & Americana. - NBC affiliate Kansas City Live TV

"Video Premiere: Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches “I’m Getting Married”"

New York City's Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches can be fairly described as "the only band infusing Gullah-Geechee rhythms with folk, roots, 1920s, country and originals. " Tomorrow night, September 30, at 7 PM, Rockwood Music Hall Stage 3 will host the group's CD release event in support of their new album, Very Next Thing (Tickets are available here and include a copy of the album).

The four members of Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches each bring impressive pedigrees and varied skill sets to the project. Bandleader and composer Nick Russo, has worked with Jimmy McGriff, Teddy Charles, and Antonique Smith. Vocalist/guitarist Betina Hershey has appeared as a principal dancer in such films as Enchanted and Mona Lisa Smile and also in the touring companies of such shows as Phantom of the Opera and Pump Boys & Dinettes. Gullah-Geechee percussionist and composer, Dr. David Pleasant has performed with Wynton Marsalis, Paul Simon, Cecil Taylor and many others. Miles Griffith, who utilizes his voice as a percussive instrument, joined Max Roach, Reggie Workman and T.S. Monk over the years and he also took on the lead role in Wynton Marsalis' jazz oratorio ''Blood On The Fields,'' which premiered at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall.

Today we present the premiere video of their original song, "I'm Getting Married," which Russo wrote on the occasion of his marriage to Hershey. He explains, "Betina and I recorded an entire wedding album to give to our family and friends each a CD as a "take home" gift at our wedding. We wrote 'I'm Gettin' Married' for our wedding as a fun song with the lyrics literally describing how we met. I actually learned 5 string banjo for "I'm Gettin' Married" and had to really shed for the recording and our wedding!" - Relix

"Review Fix Exclusive: Banjo Nickaru’s Nick Russo and Betina Hershey Talk ‘I’m Getting’ Married’ And More"

Review Fix chats with Banjo Nickaru’s Nick Russo (banjo/resonator/guitar/vocals) & Betina Hershey (vocals/guitar) who discuss their creative process, origin and standout song ,”I’m Getting’ Married.”

Review Fix: How did the band get together?

Nick Russo: Miles (Griffith) and I met while working on our masters at Aaron Copland School of Music (at Queens College) and have been playing together for over 17 years. I met David (Pleasant) through playing with Miles’ group, “New Ting.” The three of us have been playing together for over 15 years. Betina and I met in 2006 when my first CD “Ro” was released and I was playing a lot of progressive, experimental jazz with North Indian classical influences. At that time, I was playing guitar and tenor banjo, but not 5-string banjo.

Betina Hershey: Through the years we’ve played together in many different genres, contexts and gigs but in 2007 Nick started playing the 5-string banjo and we started getting more and more interested in playing bluegrass, Americana, and roots music.

Russo: A different incarnation of the band, called “Banjo Nickaru & His Western Scooches” has been playing together since 2013 when we were called for “Strawberry Festival,” an outdoor concert in Brooklyn. We performed as a septet with fiddle, lap steel, another female vocalist, upright bass, and drums plus Betina on guitar/voice and myself on 5-string banjo and guitar ( Then, after performing at NERFA (Northeast Regional Folk Alliance) last year as a sideman with fiddle player, Efrat, and playing Americana gigs with Betina & Dr. David Pleasant (on spoons and drums), I was inspired to form a Gullah-Geechee influenced folk version of Banjo Nickaru & His Western Scooches. We shortened the band name to Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches, and added Miles as the second vocalist and improviser.

Hershey: I’m loving the interplay between Miles’ scatting, David’s Gullah-Geechee influence, Nick’s rhythmic guitar and banjo style, and my own love of lyrics, melody and traditional music. We came up with the name Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches because someone we know would call Nick, “Nicka,” and we just added the ru. The Scooches came from Nick’s Italian grandfather (also Nick Russo) who always called him a “scooch,” meaning he was a little rascal, which Nick definitely was!

Russo: Actually, anyone in our family “bothering” someone with a longing for attention, loving but annoying way was called a “scooch!” So I wasn’t the only rascal in our family! By the way, my er pop pop (grandfather), trombonist-mandolinist-guitarist, played with Red Nichols & His Five Pennies as well as Spike Jones!

Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?

Hershey: Often one of us starts to play a song and everyone else jumps in. If we record it, sometimes we grab onto arrangement ideas from our improvisation and then solidify a few key moments we want to keep, always leaving room for movement, change, interplay.

Russo: We listen, we react organically and spontaneously. I prefer for the music to develop naturally and as Betina mentioned, when we record, we’ll sometimes grab an idea from the previously improvised arrangement. Miles, David and I improvise off each other in such a magical, unique, free way and Betina, often as lead singer creates a vibe allowing us to have that freedom.

Review Fix: What’s your standout original song? How was it written?

Hershey: ‘I’m Gettin’ Married’ is a playful tune Nick & I wrote together in our living room. I was writing the lyrics from Nick’s perspective and he was jumping in and adding some of the lyrics, too. It was an easy, fun collaboration.

Russo: ‘I’m Gettin’ Married’ is our personal story how Betina and I met. It’s a true story and others who listen can relate to their own lives. I especially like the line we wrote, “Almost every night I would order out, now I’m buying groceries and seasoning trout. Used to hang out late, jammin’ with the boys, soon I’ll get up early and play with baby toys!” We wrote this before we had kids! ha ha.

Review Fix: How do you determine which standards to re-imagine? What’s the process for working up arrangements?

Hershey: We play so many standards and when one gets under our skin, we start to call it on all of our gigs, and it becomes one of the ones we really want to record. We don’t sit down and plot or plan an arrangement. It almost always comes out of the group, from performing it many times, and it evolves into the rendition we record. Even after we record it, it usually continues to evolve. Jock-A-Mo is a tune that we recorded live on video and had no pre-planned arrangement, but when we were editing the video, we ended up loving the arrangement, and now we almost always perform this specific arrangement. We all had to learn it by listening to the edited recording, and then allow it to breathe, change.

Russo: I agree with Betina, it’s such an organic process. We feel what tune to do in the moment or often, one of us will just start playing and all of us will listen and jump in. When we play for a live audience, they are part of that process. Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches play to the vibe of the room, to the folks listening and even to people not listening but being present. I love how Miles and Betina draw someone new in that maybe previously wasn’t listening. It’s always a good time!

Review Fix: Who are your influences?

Hershey: So many. My earliest influences came from my mother and I listening to records and dancing in the living room to Tammy Wynette, Emmy Lou Harris, Dolly Parton, Allison Krauss, Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Janis Ian, Joan Baez, Stevie Wonder, Prince, James Taylor, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan.

Russo: My earliest influences were from my dad (founder/member of pre-Kiss group, Scarecrow who toured with Sly & The Family Stone and played with Chuck Berry)

We had a recording studio in our basement and since I was 6 or 7 years old, I was playing drums and guitar on my dad’s home recordings, including bands my dad was recording and producing.

I grew up listening to a lot of blues, R&B, classic rock, pop and folk music: Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Ray Charles, Santana, ZZ Top, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Rush, Dire Straits, Richie Havens, Mandrill, Sky & The Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, and Bob Marley, just to name a few. As I grew as a young musician, I mainly listened and studied jazz and classical music, such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Stravinsky, Bartok, Albeniz, and Carcassi.

When I joined Vince Giordano’s Night Hawks around 2005 I revisited the 1920s and 1930s standards I had learned from my grandfather and re-learned the tenor banjo. I had played tenor banjo on a 3-week long gig in Japan seven years prior (1998). However, playing tenor banjo and guitar regularly in Vince’s Night Hawks gave me a tremendous experience, exposing me to a lot of the music of the 1920s. This influenced my playing and helped me to develop my own voice on the tenor banjo. As I first learned 5-string banjo in 2007, I ventured more into roots, bluegrass and country, revisiting music of Earl Scruggs, Allison Krauss & Union Station, Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Reverend Gary Davis and other influential musicians.

As as a group, Banjo Nickaru & Western Scoches’ influences range from Gullah Sea Islands (Gullah-Geechee) to music of New Orleans to 1920s to folk, encompassing calypso, bluegrass, country, blues, Americana, R&B and world music.

Review Fix: How do you want your music to affect people?

Hershey: I want them to feel dancing in their bones, their souls wanting to communicate, love, feistiness, rebelliousness, and fun. Although I also really love how music can bring out sadness, troubles, and let us think a bit more deeply about world issues.

Russo: Fusing all of these genres, sounds and influences as we bring people together makes me happy. We would like to break down some more of the racial, social, local community walls and be open-minded, spiritual human beings, present as a global community on planet earth with open ears, hearts, minds and souls. Every music can be world music that we listen, move and groove to!

Review Fix: What are your goals for the rest of 2016?

Hershey: Banjo Nickaru & His Western Scooches will be traveling around promoting our album, performing, I’ll be writing another children’s musical (I write an original children’s musical every year), sharing my love of music and theater with children through the joy of teaching, learning more music, and writing more!

Russo: We are so honored and excited to start our tour to promote the new album, ‘Very Next Thing’ which releases September 30. Here are the dates, with more to come:

8/22 – Johnson City, TN @ WETS 89.5 FM (5pm)
8/22 – Johnson City, TN @ The Acoustic Coffeehouse (8pm)
8/24 – Knoxville, TN @ WDVX Blue Plate Special (12pm)
9/09 – Kingston, NY @ Alley Cat (8pm)
9/11 – Upper Montclair, NJ @ Joltin Joe’s Radio Nowhere (WMSC 90.3FM)
9/19 – Lexington, KY @ WoodSongs, Lyric Theatre (6:45pm)
9/30 – New York, NY @ Rockwood Music Hall (Stage 3) [Record Release Show]
11/5 – Boston, MA @ Alternate Root TV - Review Fix

"Acclaimed Guitarist NICK RUSSO Reimagines “Hot Jazz Jumpers” As “Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches”"

New Group Infuses Elements of Gullah-Geechee Culture With Folk Traditions, New Orleans Influences and Music of the 1920s

10-Track ‘Very Next Thing EP’ Includes High-Spirited Renditions of Classics by Elizabeth Cotton, Fats Waller & Clarence Williams

Instrumentation Includes Voice, Banjo, Resonator, Guitar, Bass, Drums, Harmonica, Trumpet, Trombone, Clarinet & Piano

Special Guests Include Trumpeter, Gordon Au, Pianist, Air Hirahara and Bassists, Essiet Essiet, Mamadou Ba & Nathan Peck

New York City’s Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches are likely the only band infusing elements of Gullah-Geechee culture with folk traditions, New Orleans influences, and music from the 1920s. Their brand new album, Very Next Thing, includes 10 songs and will be released on September 30.

Gullah-Geechee was developed by Africans on the islands and coasts of Georgia and South Carolina centuries ago. They introduced traditional instruments (banjo, fiddle) and novel playing styles. Drums were banned—so they used their hands, feet, stick, and mouths to create drum sounds. This strong influence on the band gives a distinct sound. Dr. David Pleasant plays 8 out of 10 songs on percussion that have Gullah influence. David is an esteemed African-American culture bearer. He uses his body, voice, and a drum set made of tambourines.

“This powerful and strong influence for our band brings spiritual energy to our shows,” says Nick Russo. “My musical life has always been surrounded by an eclectic combination of unique musicians and scenes. So naturally, my own band has been a melting pot of many different cultures, genres, instruments, and sounds!”

7/15 – Brooklyn, NY @ Pete’s Candy Store
7/16 – Oyster Bay, NY @ Planting Fields
7/17 – Oyster Bay, NY @ Planting Fields
8/22 – Johnson City, TN @ The Acoustic Coffeehouse
9/09 – Kingston, NY @ Alley Cat
9/30 – New York, NY @ Rockwood Music Hall (Stage 3)


Nick Russo leads the charge as bandleader and composer. He plays banjo, resonator, and guitar. Russo had the honor to play with Sir Paul McCartney while performing at Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s home. Nick has performed on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and appears in the Sam Mendes film “Away We Go.”

Percussionist and composer, Dr. David Pleasant has performed with Wynton Marsalis, Paul Simon, Cecil Taylor, and many others. He has also performed on Nickelodeon, TED talks, ABC with Ted Koppel, Broadway, and around the world.

Betina Hershey (vocals, guitar) has appeared as a principal dancer in Disney’s Enchanted and Mona Lisa Smile with Julia Roberts. Hershey performed on international and national tours of Broadway shows including “West Side Story” and “Phantom of the Opera.”

Rounding out the band is Miles Griffith. His non-traditional use of the voice as a percussive instrument, combined with an uncanny harmonic sense makes a singular force in the ensemble. He has performed with Max Roach, Reggie Workman, Paul Simon, and others. He played the lead role in Wynton Marsalis’ jazz oratorio ”Blood On The Fields,” which premiered at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.

“My mom used to sing ‘You Are My Sunshine’ and I loved singing harmony with her. She passed away three weeks after Nick and I got married and she’s had a huge influence on my musicality since she loved country, bluegrass, and so many genres of music,” says Betina.

“‘I Don’t Believe in Love’ is a saucy flirtation of a song. I do believe in love, but it creates all kinds of pressure. By the way, we didn’t get married in Spain, but we did have a musical honeymoon there.”

“Elizabeth Cotten’s ‘Freight Train’ had to be our first track,” says Nick. “The vibe Betina creates with this tune with my added slide fills, and David’s harmonica playing creates a beautiful texture. The way Elizabeth Cotten sings and plays guitar is a masterful part of our country’s African-American heritage.

“We started playing ‘Jock-A-Mo’ (Iko Iko) as a band because of a New Orleans gig we played in Manhattan a few years ago,” says Russo. “We added Miles Griffith and he improvised a vocal line and Betina harmonized during the interlude section and an arrangement was born! On a second studio recording date, we improvised yet another version with Mamadou Ba on bass and I’m playing resonator with a brass slide. We used a short version for Very Next Thing.” - Review Fix


Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches: 

Get Us Out Of Fearland (2018)

Very Next Thing (2016)

Hot Jazz Jumpers CD/DVD: "The Very Next Thing" (2015)

Nick Russo +11 "Ro" (2006)



NYC based Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches is perhaps the only band fusing world music with folk, roots, Americana, music of New Orleans, 1920s and originals.

Band members have played with the likes of Paul McCartney, George Benson, Jimmy McGriff as well as performed on ABC's 'Good Morning America,' Kansas City Folk Festival main stage, Folk Alliance International Conference, NERFA Semi-Formal showcase, Club Passim (NERFA Mid Winter Festival), Isis Music Hall (Aug 26, 2018), WoodSongs Old-Time Radio HourBlue Plate SpecialExtended Play Sessions (The Alt. Root), Relix featured video (Misfits' Halloween), Horses Sing None Of It TV show, Sunday Supper on WFUV FM, John Platt's On Your Radar, Westchester Round Up TV show (Feb 2018) and appeared in movies such as Mona Lisa Smile (with Julia Roberts)Sam Mendes' Away We Go, Disney's Enchanted and PBS Masterpiece, The Chaperone.

Band Members