The Peter Mezoian Story

If you are interested in a banjoist's life story, and you have too much time on your hands, then read this.


I am born.


I see Steve Martin live in concert.


Banjo lessons with Don Nichols. The one-hour, weekly sessions would last 5 years.


While desperately seeking any good plectrum banjo recordings I can find, the Portland Public Library collection has the one record of a banjoist who was unknown to me at that point: Perry Bechtel. My expections and perceptions would never be the same from this point.


Fate again. On vacation in Pheonix, Arizona, I hear and meet Dick Savoy, and his uncle: Jerry Allen. Like Bruce Wayne seeing the Bat, I see my destiny before me. I would spend the next 4 years trying to make contact with Jerry. It was like trying to track down a myth, or a legend. Jerry Allen would be one of the biggest influences in my career decision in life. I am introduced to the recordings of Eddie Peabody and Harry Reser. The obsession begins. Practicing becomes like breathing.


I start working professionally as a musician in various groups around Portland, Maine. It's the beginning of a 3 summer stint on local excursion boat, the Longfellow, sailing Casco Bay every night. I attend my first banjo convention, The Fretted Instrument Guild Of America where I meet many of people who would influence my career: Helen Baker, banjo maker and promoter, C.C. Richelieu,and one of the few great banjo artists of my own generation, Chris Archer.


I make my first official appearance at a banjo convention when I am given a solo spot at the concert of the Fretted Instrument Association. Amongst jamming and trying banjos I meet banjo greats Johnny Baier, Steve DiBonaventure, Buddy Wachter . Wachter's influence would become a source of conflict: the artist or the entertainer? While touring touring in New England I get to hear and meet Don Van Palta. His impact on my playing, performance and career would be momentous. At the first ever New England Banjo Society Festival I meet another banjoist who would become like a mentor, the one and only Bob Price. I win first place in the category of plectrum banjo at the U.S. Open Banjo Championships, held in North Syracuse, N.Y. The Banjo Spectacular concert held in Rochester, New Hampshire puts me in the company of banjoist and jazz icon Jimmy Mazzy.


Just before graduating from South Portland High School I spend a week of one on one intense banjo study with Don Van Palta. The doorways of technique continue to open. I make my first recording: Banjoist At Large. This unto itself was a learning experience, both good and bad. I headline one of the biggest banjo festivals in the U.S. (at that time), the Flint Banjorama, in Flint, Mi. I meet 5-string banjoist and great banjo maker, Jimmy Cox. Banjo Spectacular '86 has me sharing the stage with one of the greats: Eddie Davis. Suddenly, the aspect of musical arrangements becomes a major consideration. As my musical tastes start to change, and become harder to define I stop taking lessons from Don Nichols. Should I have filled out a college application before graduating from high school? Too busy playing banjo.


I headline the Grays Harbor Banjo Bash, in Ocean Shores, Washington. My debut as a feature cabaret act is at The Balsam's Grand Resort. While in that neck of the woods I visit with famous banjo collector and innovator, Lou Catello. I am invited to be a banjo soloist at the first Connecticut Traditional Jazz Festival. Surprising to everyone else as it was to me, I am accepted at Colby College. I start college in the fall, not knowing what I am doing. I perform at the Boston Ritz Carlton.


I perform at the Boston Omni Parker House for Colby College's 175th anniversary. I learn one of most important lessons of my college years: Charge a lot of money, and anyone will respect you. While at a banjo convention in Baltimore I meet Jim Coston. A professional banjoist and entertainer, Jim helped me to develop the business I have today. I play at one of the last "banjo clubs" still operating for over 20 years; The Red Garter Club in North Wildwood, N.J. I work on my first cruise ship. During this 4 day contract fate once again plays a hand: I am booked on the same ship with fantastic performer,: banjoist Skip Devol. His performance style truly rocked my world. I would spend years using him as the role model. The same Fretted Instrument Guild of America magazine featuring an article about me contains the obituary of my idol: Jerry Allen. After 1988 life would never be the same for me.


Junior year abroad lands me in Essex University, Colchester, England. I see the serious side of banjo festivals when I perform for an All Frets Festival, in Bristol, England. British banjoist and teacher David Price helps with culture shock. Experimental recordings done with Shannon Rose Riley. Weird stuff. New England based engagements include 3 Banjo Spectacular concerts (with banjo master, Bob Price), The Balsam's Grand Resort showroom. In Florida I spend one week performing in Southeastern Florida's Century Village Condominiums.


I am one of the headline banjo artist at the Reading Banjo Festival, Reading, England. I perform at the Fretted Instrument Guild of America convention in Palm Beach, Florida. I perform in Phillips, Maine, and at the Balsam's Resort. In October 1990 I begin my full time career as a feature banjoist instrumental act in the cruise ship industry with contracts for Regency Cruises. While I play much of the standard music my predecessors did I decide to try the Ventures' 1960's surf - rock hit "Wipe Out". The rockin' reaction makes me search for more music from the 60's to the present. It is here that I work with British comedian Freddy 'parrot face' Davis. Lots of lessons which were never taught in school are learned.


My cruise ship work expands into 42 weeks. Contracts are with Regency Cruises, Royal Cruise Lines, and my introduction to Holland America Line. My first contracts cruising to New England and Eastern Canada introduce me to what has become my favorite port in the World: Quebec City. Paradise found. In November I do my first trans-Atlantic. The samba "Brazil" is scored and arranged for my show. After the death of Don Nichols I purchase his 1931 custom made VegaVox Delux from his estate.


My work takes me to Hawaii, the Mediterranean, Australia, and New Zealand for the first time. New arrangents include some Gershwin, as well as The James Bond Theme, The Pink Panther, Tequila, and some Rogers and Hammerstein. Not every one of them worked, but I knew that I had to keep searching and trying. Banjo stolen - banjo recovered. More lessons from the school of business.


I visit China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan for the first time. I return to Australia while performing on the S.S. Rotterdam's World Cruise, along with Broadway legend, Marney Nixon. I cross the Northern Pacific Ocean. I am a featured performer for 10 weeks at Francis Golightly's Production of the Cascade Revue, at the Westcliffe Theater, in Clacton On Sea, Essex, England. The schedule, atmosphere and audience of a British theater cause me to adjust my repertoire, and monologues. Another invaluable learning experience. The 5 show per week schedule allows me to see a West End musical in London every Monday night for 2 months. After this show ends I fly to Civatavecchia, Italy where I board one of most unique ships I've ever worked on: Song Of Flower (the first vessel of the original Seven Seas Cruises). The 180 passenger ship takes me from the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal, to Egypt, Aden, Yemen, India, the Seychelles, Maldives,Indonesia and eventually to Singapore, where I fly home. After my third trans-Atlantic, a stop in Los Angeles allows me the thrill of meeting (and taking a lesson) with a present day legend: Doug Mattocks.


I start performing for Celebrity Cruises. I am featured in the production show "America Sings and Dances" for 4 weeks at the Tokyo Prince Hotel. This show presents a new challenge: backing tracks instead of live musicians.. While there I spend 2 hours with Akira Tsumura and what is the most extensive banjo collection in the World. I am privileged to be one of only 12 Americans who have seen this collection. The end of the year sees me on Holland America Lines newest ship, the Ryndam. Just like Celebrity Cruises, the ship is a bigger, newer design and the show room reflects this. I realize that my performance must also adapt to this. I notice that the audiences are getting younger by one generation. I take some 5-string banjo lessons from Jimmy Cox. Pushing my comfort zone. There is a face that looks very familiar to me sitting a Rosie O'Grady's corner bar, in St. Thomas. It is fellow banjoist performer, Murray Coleman. I was thrilled to finally meet him, and he was very kind to spend a few hours talking with me.


Two months on the exclusive Song of Flower takes me from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, to the British Isles, then up to Scandinavia and Russia. St Petersburg is my favorite. With the help of Brett Carrol I produce and record "Banjo Encore" (read review in "The Resonator"). It was a huge undertaking in many ways. The process was started in January, with just the arrangements, then between my ship contracts, I flew to Rochester, Michigan where the recording was done. After three months traveling the final recording session was completed in August. The final product was delivered to me in December. It was worth the wait. Nothing is ever perfect, including this, but I truly was proud of the entire project. It contains a few pieces from my live show, but I forced myself to try some new pieces. For me this had to be a place to grow.


I start performing for Cunard Line. I am featured on the QE 2's World Cruise along with broadway and movie great, Tommy Tune. Later that year I perform on a legendary ship of luxury, the Royal Viking Sun. Contracts also include Norwegian Cruise Line, Seven Seas, Dolphin Cruises, and I begin performing for Princess Cruises. I return to the Balsam's, and to the Fretted Instrument Guild of America Convention in New Hampshire. I also get to perform for fellow banjoists at the New England Banjo Society Banjo Fest. Music repertoire continues to expand in different directions: from "Sing Sing Sing" to Monti's "Czardas".


I am featured on the Royal Viking Sun's World Cruise along with Maureen McGovern. Luck lands me in the lap of luxury when I have my calender year filled up by Crystal Cruises. While onboard I get to meet actress Bonnie Franklin. Two months cruising Alaska was new to me. I returned to the Mediterranean in continental style aboard the Vistafjord. Cruised around Cape Horn for the first time on Crystal Harmony. During a trans-Atlantic on QE2 I meet author, lecturer, Terry Waite, and fellow musical act Herman's Hermits.


I share the stage with Bud Freidmann and his Evening at the Improve. This features the great comic and movie actor Max Alexander. I get to sail on Crystal Symphony's World Cruise where I meet the wonderful artist Guy Buffet. On the Q E 2's World Cruise I am featured along with Luci Arnez. Actor David Odgen Stiers compliments me on a fine show aboard the Crystal Harmony. I am so glad that I was able to spend a day with Frank Vodich, while I was in San Francisco. He was a good friend of Eddie Peabody's and you can hear that in his playing. Frank also taught Scotty Plummer and the incomparable Brad Roth.


My first contract on the British owned, Saga Rose has me dining with Sir Bernard Ingham, former press secretary to Margaret Thatcher. It is here that I "premier" my new arrangement of Mozart's Rondo alla Turca. I fly to New Zealand to perform aboard the World Cruises of two Cunard Vessels: QE 2 , and Royal Viking Sun. I am featured along with Marvin Hamlisch ,and Shirley Jones. After seeing me show Shirley graciously tells me: "..you do some hip stuff..." A five week contract aboard Crystal Symphony takes me from Athens, Greece all the way to Perth, Australia. Just before departing the Vistafjord, in Funchal, Madiera, I am reunited with my teacher, mentor, and inspiration, Don Van Palta. When I disembark Crystal Harmony in San Francisco I am honored to finally meet and spend some time with a banjo legend: Dave Marty. There were so many questions I wanted to ask, I didn't know where to begin.


My first contract for Orient Lines is unlike any cruise before. I am lucky enough to do the Marco Polo's last 22-day circumnavigation of Antarctica. We actually got into McMurdo Station, on the continent of Antarctica. New music in my show include an over the top arrangement of "Granada". The audiences are changing. I start performing for a new British based cruise line, Sun Cruises. It is here that I work with a man who is a true entertainer; comedian Dave Evans. Audiences are younger, and this company is ready for a new generation. I perform for Commodore Cruises. The end of the Crystal Symphony's World Cruise features myself, and Phantom of the Opera star Dale Christian. On QE 2 I am able to share the stage with someone I watched on Sesame Street, Bob McGrath. WYAR Heritage Radio allows me to produce a radio show where I can be interviewed, talk about my banjo playing, my career and then play some banjo recordings. For me it allows the opportunity to give a listener a brief, chronological background about banjo in the 20th century. I am really satisfied to play recordings of the great banjoists from 1915 through the 1950's and then continue the progress of the same instrument as my own generation redefines it.


In a search for newer music I add two pop tunes from the 1970's to my show: "Oye Como Va" and Stevie Wonder's grooving "Sir Duke".


New pieces include: The Beatles' "The Fool On the Hill" and, "Penny Lane", A swinging arrangement of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B", and the theme from "Hawaii 5-0". For the first time since that fatefull night in 1983 I am reunited with one my inspirations, Dick Savoy (nephew of the late Jerry Allen).


Simon and Garfunkel's : "Sound of Silence" is arranged and orchestrated for my show. Not wanting to forget this instrument's roots I indulge my love of pop 1920's Jazz era music. This medley has all of the cliché dynamics of a 1920's hot jazz dance orchestra. I don't use this piece on a regular basis, but it is really wonderful when presented to an audience who appreciates it.


Added to the show are Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" and Superstition", as well as a Brian Setzer style arrangement of Duke Ellington's "Caravan". Experiencing Bela Fleck and the Flecktones live in concert was stunning, exhilarating and at times scary. Do I play this same instrument? It is a new era for banjo, not just a newer, younger audience. Bela has found something that he loves, and fortuneately, that audience has found something they can feel: it is Bela's banjo playing. Thank God for this. I realize now that I can change, and evolve, and still find something true to myself. At the core of all of this is one simple concept: if you really love what you do, then people will be able to find something in it that they can connect with. I knew years ago that I would get to this point. I knew that I had to. Now, it was here, not because I had to, but because I really wanted to.


I return to Seven Seas Cruises for a really unusual itinerary that goes to L'Anse Au Meadow's , New Foundland, then two stops in Iceland before I disembark in the very northern Norway town of Tromso. Added to me song list: Simon and Garfunkels' "Mrs. Robinson" , a New Orleans street beat feel to the Al Hirt hit "Java Jones", and a tribute the swing era with "Opus One". Finally, a medley of Cole Porter songs gets into a banjo performance! I perform on the Golden Princess. Another changing point as I venture into the contemporary 108,000 ton mega ships. Changes in the bands, as well as audiences force me to really carefully reconstruct my shows.


A really syncopated, and driving Toots Theilsman arrangement of "I Love Paris in the Springtime" is on the sound track of the movie "French Kiss" Finally, I had it arranged and added to my show. "Misirlou" is originally from Armenia, (or maybe Greece or Turkey). My version is really rockin' just like the famous Dick Dale recording in the movie Pulp Fiction. Combine that with banjo, and it is "in your face!!"

Other aspects of my show are being re thought. Appearance, clothing, entrance, monologues, interaction, humor. It is a constant process. I am thrilled to be performing as banjoist accompanying the great New Orleans clarinetist, Doreen Ketchens, for her two concerts at the Saco River Grange Hall. It is a different discipline to not be the feature performer. Even though I know almost all of the songs she plays, it is like dangling over the edge of a cliff. I can't sink back into familiar arrangements written just for me. There is no written music for this job. I'm on my toes. Same thing goes for a concert in Bowdoinham, Me. This time it is the opposite end of the banjo spectrum: I am accompanying the 5-string banjo master, Jimmy Cox. This is really pushing my boundaries. I have added a new theme song to my act: "Play That Funky Music White Boy".


I step out of my confort zone with one of the most ambitious pieces I have ever tried: a funky arrangement of Copeland's "Hoedown". I will soon premier another arrangement: a medley from "Jesus Christ Superstar". This year I was invited to perform on the first World Cruise of the Queen Mary 2. I flew down to Montevideo, Uraguay to join this Grand Dame of the seas. An idea I have kicked around for a while is materializing. I wrote the arrangement. It's a medley of "You Really Got Me", "Satisfaction", then "Sunshine of Your Love". Flexibility is the key. In November I was featured at the Charleston Music Hall in "Thanks for the Memories- A Tribute to Bob Hope's USO Shows". This was a variety show format where everything that I played was fast and flashy. I have learned more about banjo construction by spending time in the shop of Cox banjos. My quest for the secrets of banjo tone never ends, but I always feel as if I am getting closer. Some visits with Dave Marty have rejuvenated my banjo obsession. Besides cruising on the newest designs of Princess Cruises, I was contracted on Holland America Lines's new, Vista Class ships, the Westerdam, and Zuiderdam. Both are beautiful and make me realize how lucky I am to be performing in this day and age. When passing through Victoria, British Columbia I have the pleasure of getting together with the great Borgy Borgerson. A great man, and a great banjoist, he reminded me of the importance of giving back. Steve Caddick and Paul Poirer were so gracious in giving me a spot in the concert at their Early Spring Banjo Fling this year. Believe me it is humbling to be sharing the same stage with Dave Frey, Kurt Abel, Cynthia Sayer, Rob Wright, and a great young banjoist Paul Dorner. My trips to Nova Scotia are always something I look forward to. Getting together at Steve Penny's house for a jam session is now a 16 year old traditon. I never tire of it. John DeWolfe keeps me on my toes! Thanks.

It was a pleasure to spend 2 weeks back in Charleston, SC while performing in Brad and Jennifer Moranz's Charleston Christmas Spectacular.


I spend some more time cruising the Hawaiian Islands, this time on the Pride of Aloha and Pride of Hawaii. While onboard the Saga Ruby, I get to hear and meet the hilarious Kev Orkian.

In June, I am honored to accompany Jimmy Cox to Owensboro, Kentucky. There the International Bluegrass Music Museum officially recognizes Jimmy, as well as many other bluegrass artists of his generation as the "Pioneers of Bluegrass". Before and after the ceremony, I get to meet famous 5-string banjoists such as Eddy Adcock, Roni Stoneman, Curtis McPeake, Doug Dillard, and Sonny Osbourne. The following day at the River of Music Park festival, I get to speak with a truly unique banjoists, Tony Ellis. The trip allows me to see some of Kentucky, including Jimmy's birthplace, Wolf Creek, as well as Cumberland Gap, and of course Hardee's (for biscuits). Along the way I get to meet well known banjo luthier, Frank Neat.

I have a great time at the Hadley's Banjo Bash By the Sea in Cape Cod. It's really gratifying to perform for many old friends of the New England banjo community at the Jazz Banjo Fest in Massachusetts.

Outstanding jazz trumpeter (and all around world class musician) Mark Tipton includes me in the first Maine New Orleans Jazz Fest. I perform with Mark, as well as the Loose Marbles, Jack Fine, and Mark Armstrong and Joel Eckhaus.

More experimenting with the song "Wake Me Up When September Ends" by contemporary rock band, Green Day.

While preparing for his headline show in Massachusettes, I get to spend a day with Dave Marty. Thank you for your generosity Dave.

A new addition: A Cox Kentucky-5 Deluxe!! Lots of lessons that they never teach you in school!!!! Be a draw!


Matt Diffee produces his "Steam Powered Hour" at "The Tank" (also known as the 45th Street Theater). The concert is starring banjo royalty, Tony Trishka. This concert is a very special occasion for me. I am able to meet and play banjo with Steve Martin. Also on the bill is outstanding 5-string banjoist, Noam Pickelyny (of Chris Thiles's "Punch Brothers").

In my first Presque Isle show, I get to play on stage with Jimmy Cox at the Norther Maine Fair.

Tim Findlen is gracious in letting me play with his group, "Over A Cardboard Sea", at One Longfellow Square as well as at Nick's in Worcester. Thank you for keeping those wonderful melodies going, Tim. Thank you for reminding me that they should not be forgotten.

Collaborations with Mark Tipton keep me focused and progressing. He is limitless in his talent, and vision. Gary Richardson puts his touch on an arrangement of "Sounds of Silence" backing tracks.

Thanks Ken for spending a few hourse with me in Anchorage, Alaska. You are doing great and you are very versatile. A reprise trip to Owensboro with Jimmy. I am sort of like the "roadie" for Jimmy during the 2 days that he records his album of all hymns, in Knoxville.

We bump into Australian banjo maker, Lloyd Grundy. It's great to see Larry again!

Gabrielle Grey has never ending patients when running the International Bluegrass Music Museum's gathering of the "Pioneers of Bluegrass" and the ROMP Festival.

I get to meet Don Wayne Reno, son of the great, Don Reno.

I've never been to Sept Iles, or the town of Saguenay, in Quebec. Both have that thing that I really love---Quebecois!

Lots of marketing. Lots of marketing. Be a draw.

Everyone in the (banjo) world comes to Jimmy Cox. I get to meet another artist, luthier, Bart Reiter, at Jimmy's Shop.


I play at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, Colorado with comedian/magician Eric Mead. (See Article)

© Copyright 2007   Peter Mezoian   All Rights Reserved