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"Mary Z. Cox interview in MelBay Banjo Sessions"

Mary Z. Cox!

by Twain Berg

There is a reason for the exclamation point in the title. Mary lives on a different planet than most of us. It has to be a planet with at least 36 or 48 hours in a day. Her accomplishments and interests are so great it would be would be difficult to know where to start and harder to know when to stop. So, I’ll just introduce this fantastic lady as a multitalented banjoholic from Tallahassee, Florida and get right to the questions.

TB: Hi Mary. After listening to and enjoying your music for sometime, it is great to be able to talk to you. I asked some banjo friends what they would like to know about you and above all, two questions came up over and over.

First, what does the Z stand for?

MZC: Zaruba! My Dad' s family settled in Palm Bay, Florida on the Indian River in the early 1900s as part of the Indian River Catholic Colony. My Mom and brothers live there today and the Zaruba name is still associated with the early settlement of Brevard county.

Also, I was once hit by lightening while descending a dormant volcano crater in Costa Rica, and the Z reminds me of the lightening bolt. Although I was not scorched, I experienced increased creativity in music and writing after being struck.

TB: Second, how does a banjoholic with severe BAS tell his or her spouse that he or she just bought a $31,000 used banjo? We need guidance here.

MZC: The Gabriella is a beautiful banjo and the Brazilian rosewood is top quality. I was fortunate to buy it from a guitar dealer who had bought it as an investment and was not playing it. Most old time players are not interested in this banjo because it is flashy and bright. That does not bother me because I usually close my eyes when I play. I have to spot other players with it, because I have had two men get dizzy and almost faint when they played it.

I intend to play it at some concerts and to record on it soon. There are a few other Gabriella's out there, but they are locked up tight, and no one ever gets to hear their voices. I am moving slow on this, but you will get to hear it soon.

TB: Mary, I would guess that you could have been an excellent musician in any genre. How did you become directed to claw hammer banjo, mountain dulcimer and folksy music in general?

MZC: We were poor and could not afford a piano that was in tune, or lessons. There was a neighbor girl that made a cardboard keyboard for me and would show me what she learned in her lessons each week, but I never was able to enjoy a silent keyboard of cardboard.

When my parents saved and bought me a banjo from the Sears catalog it was a happy day. The strings moved under my fingers and the banjo rang with a happy sound. My granddaddy Thompson was a professional banjo player, so my Mom was always in favor of someone in the family playing banjo.

TB: Let’s talk about banjos for a moment. You have a great collection and show off their different voices very well in your CD’s. Can you pick a few favorites and talk about what you like about them? (We’ll include some pics here of those if possible)

MZC: Here is what I currently own: Deering Gabriella, Deering custom White Shell Laydie, Deering Old Tyme Wonder, Gibson RB250, Cedar Mountain A2, Custom 12" Lee, Goldtone Elite Classic, Ramsey Woody, 1920's Bacon Professional, Hunchback Wunder banjo, Jeff Menzie's gourd, Joe Masel cigarbox banjo, 1950's Framus.

The Gabriella and the custom Deering White Shell Laydie are in a class by themselves. Many old time players think they are too flashy and the tone is too bright and clear. I think they are the finest banjos made in the world today. The Gabriella is Brazilian rosewood of a quality that we'll never see again. The fingerboard is pearl and fingers like glass. My oldest son has promised to care for it and see that it gets as far into the 21st century as possible when I am gone.

I have found that very few folks (other than banjo collectors) ever get to see or hear the wonderful banjos coming from the Deering custom shop and are surprised and delighted when they do. The White Shell Laydie began as a GDL, but has so many exquisite additions that it is more like the Gabriella than a GDL.

Another favorite banjo is the new 12" custom banjo from Chuck Lee. He really outdid himself when he chose the walnut for the neck. It is one of the prettiest necks I've seen in awhile. It has a Tony Pass ancient wood rim, and he customized his girl sitting in the moon and playing the banjo inlay to include a basset hound floating on a cloud. This banjo has the nicest old time woody sound I have ever heard. I can't wait to get it in the studio and record a tune on it.

The truth of the matter is that every banjo I have has a special and unique voice and I feel fortunate indeed to have many banjo voices to choose from when I try new tunings and tunes for our recordings.

Lo Gordon and I just recorded a banjo duet o - Twain Berg

"Mary Z. Cox & Bob Cox in Dabney Hall"

Mary delighted a large audience in her first Caltech appearance in 2005. She came to the Folk Music Society's attention when we were contacted by her son, who is a Caltech student. It turned out that she was an award winning banjo player from Tallahassee, Florida, who had not really performed in the West, though she was an established player in the Southeastern United States. She's won banjo contests in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Alabama, and she plays mountain dulcimer as well. She is steeped in old time string band music, as this music has been in her family for three generations. She performs with her husband, Bob on guitar, and she has five recordings to her credit, including her newest one, Banjo Dreamin' : Swannee Nights."

(Rex Mayreis/Cal Tech Folk Society) - Cal Tech Folk Society Web Site

"Florida Banjo Review/Bluegrass Music Profiles"

Florida Banjo Review by Deborah Wilbrink
"Soothing is not the word usually applied to banjo music, but I find Florida Banjo's approach to old-time very relaxing. Mary Z. Cox moves through 14 traditional instrumentals and one Florida original, Ponce de Leon, with ease and flow, much like the backwaters of a Tallahassee swamp inhabited predominately by water birds and only sunning, sleepy gators. Her champion dulcimer and banjo lines are predominant, with guest musicians Kerry Blech, Bob Cox, Jim Crozier, Ellen Sheppard and Lo Gordon contributing fiddle, guitar, bass, mandolin and yes, more banjo. It must be the Coxes' awareness, as teachers as well as players, that adds the wonderful teaching dimension to this recording. Notes fall solitary and distinct in both clawhammer and frailing traditions. Florida Banjo not only relaxes, but also dances, a stimulant for study and imitation. " - Bluegrass Music Profiles / Nov/Dec 2008

"Florida Banjo Review/Old Blue Bus"

Florida Banjo is the latest CD from one of our favorite old-time banjo players. Mary Z. Cox has introduced the art of pre-Scruggs style banjo to an entire generation. Through her workshops and classes she has unleashed a vibrant community of old-time banjo and dulcimer players on a musical world that had all but forgotten the beauty of clawhammer style banjo. As usual, Mary has also provided tabulature for the songs on Florida Banjo available as a book for aspiring banjo players.

The fifteen songs on Florida Banjo not only showcase one of the most amazing practitioners of old-time banjo, but some other mighty fine musicians as well. As expected, Mary's husband Bob Cox adds his delightful flat-picked guitar. The sounds of Bob's guitar and Mary's banjo intertwine so effortlessly, as only a duet with decades of musical intimacy can. Other guest artists adding to this thoroughly enjoyable album are Kerry Blech, Jim Crozier, Lo Gordon and Ellen Sheppard.

Mary Z. Cox was interviewed by Larry Wines for his syndicated radio and television show "Tied to the Tracks." The show has yet to air, but the interview is available online (video here.) Be sure to watch all five segments, each featuring a wonderful performance by Mary Z. Cox, often accompanied by Bob Cox.

For those of you that already own Mary Z. Cox's CDs, Florida Banjo is a must-have, as I don't know of anyone who owns only one Mary Z. Cox CD. All six of Mary Z. Cox's CDs are cherished treasures in my own collection. Those of you not yet initiated, give a listen to the track below and watch the video above. Then follow one of the links below to start your collection.

Mary Z. Cox - Wind That Shakes the Barley.mp3
beautifully performed on her custom Deering GDL Banjo.

Artist: Mary Z. Cox
Ttile: Florida Banjo
Artist Website:
Mary's blog: A Secret Life of Banjo
CDs and downloads available at:
CD Baby
County Sales
Elderly Instruments
or your local independent record store.

posted by Ed at 10/20/2008 09:05:00 PM

- Old Blue Bus

"Mary Z. Cox web TV interview"

interview by Larry Wines' on his "Tied To the
Tracks" radio and TV show. He taped it last June when we were in LA, and it will be ready for national syndication soon.
- Tied To the Tracks/Larry Wines


New---Florida Banjo!
15 fresh versions of traditional tunes on clawhammer banjo, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and bass.

Also available Cds:
Vintage Banjo (1999)
Walkin' That Banjo Home (2001)
A Secret Life of Banjo (2004)
Banjo Dreamin' Suwannee Nights (2006)



Mary Z. Cox, a banjoholic with 17 banjos, has been playing since she was 12, and is a two time Florida champion. She has won old time music competitions on banjo, dulcimer, and string band in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee and was chosen by Banjo Newsletter readers in 2006 as the fourth favorite clawhammer banjo player in the world. She has recorded six CDs, has written five banjo tab books, and has been published in Banjo Newsletter, Studio Magazine, and Old Time Herald. Her music has been played on BBC and National Public radio and is available on itunes worldwide. **********************************************************************************
Mary Z. is also a dulcimaniac with 11 mountain dulcimers. She is a Florida mountain dulcimer champion, as well as the first place winner in the 2006 Uncle Dave Macon Days in Tennessee and two time dulcimer champion at the 2006 & 2007 Transylvania County (North Carolina) Old Time Music Competition. **********************************************************************************
Mary Z. and guitarist husband, Bob, have entertained audiences with dulcimer and banjo concerts and workshops from coast to coast. Mary Z. and Bob enjoy introducing students of all ages to new tunes, techniques, and the dulcimer and banjo.
New for 2009--Mary will be bringing her new 5-string cello banjo to concerts and workshops in the Southeast.
Mary Z. Cox additionally offers concerts, workshops, and dances with her new world and Americana music group, "Drumming On the Edge Of Banjo" featuring Southern Banjo styles with the Afro/Caribbean drumming of Yazid.