by Maggie Van Ostrand
We don't need Meredith Willson's "Music Man" up here on the Mountain. We have our own music man: Ron Edsall.
Sitting on his living room couch with one leg folded beneath him, flanked by a framed photograph of himself dressed in Scottish kilt, and a banjo resting on a pillow, Ron found time between teaching 30 students to chat with us.
Ron plays banjo, bagpipe, drums, whistles, harp, guitar, mandolin and fiddle. He has played both professionally at places like Café Tarzanas in Encino, and for his own pleasure, on a bench in Frazier Mountain Park. It was while playing on that bench that a woman approached and asked Ron if he could teach her how to play like that, and she became his first student.
Ron came to Frazier Mountain 15 years ago from San Angelo in West Texas, but he didn't arrive as the crow flies, unless the crow had the same sense of direction as "Wrong Way" Corrigan. (Corrigan, you'll recall, meant to fly from New York to California in 1938, but inadvertently ended up in Dublin, Ireland.)
Ron's trip was even longer and more circuitous than Corrigan's. He came to Frazier Park via Laguna Beach, San Francisco's Haight Ashbury, Venice and Redondo Beach, not as a musician, but as a portrait artist.
His abiding love for music began back in Texas where Ron was exposed to country and western music and the hymns of both Pentecostal and Nazarene faiths, plus what he calls "Honky Tonk," explaining the richness of his style.
His first-grade class attended a symphony concert one afternoon, and Ron spent intermission doing things boys do, like pulling girls' hair and throwing spit wads. However, during the second half of the concert, a pianist sat at the solitary grand piano on stage, lifted the lid, and began to play. Little Ron had an epiphany.
"Everything else in the room disappeared," remembers Ron, "and something inside of me came alive. From that day to this, I wanted to play music." He had a long wait before realizing his ambition.
Fate hit the pause button in Ron's plans when his large sports-loving family talked him into becoming a reluctant fullback on Edison High's football team. Most folks thought Ron was big for his age, but he says, "I just prematured." Because of his size, he could "carry two or three guys across the goal posts ... and it didn't hurt that girls were attracted to football players," he recalls with a grin.
Ultimately, Ron's creativity took over in the form of drawing. At the time considered by his family to be an eccentric black sheep, he relocated to Laguna Beach's art colony. He was able to earn a living painting portraits, stained glass windows, and sidewalk art, in various media from oils to blowtorches to mud. Ten uneventful years passed.
And then one day, somebody gave him a banjo.
If you're wondering who taught Ron to play, he taught himself, inspired by the soundtrack of the 1972 movie "Deliverance," which he played constantly on his Walkman. Many think that Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs performed "Dueling Banjos" but it was actually played by two session players, Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell.
Ron, who limits himself to reading music history, tells us that the banjo was brought to this country by African slaves. Names that are related to the banjo, are "banjar", "banjil", "banza", "bangoe", "bangie", "banshaw". The first documentation of this instrument was made in 1620, though it is believed to have been around since the Thirteenth Century.
After fasting and meditating in a quest for spiritual guidance, Ron began to play his banjo in church, at the invitation of a guitar-playing friend, and they were soon joined by a buddy with a mandolin. Ron's career took off from there and is still going strong. Today, Ron Edsall is a happy man.
When asked if he could advise people who might be unhappy with what they do for a living, Ron said, "If you'd rather be doing something else, go do it."
Works for him.
Reprinted by permisson of Maggie Van Ostrand
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