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Singer-songwriter Brad Fielder began his banjo journey with a middle-school instrument swap

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Brad Fielder | Photo Marissa Johnson / provided - MARISSA JOHNSON
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  • Brad Fielder | Photo Marissa Johnson / provided

Norman-based roots and folk musician Brad Fielder released The Banjo Tapes in April, but the album could arguably be traced to a pair of inquisitive junior-high musicians and a spare trumpet.

Fielder is known as one the metro’s most engaging songwriters and often performs acoustic sets at venues around the state. The Banjo Tapes was recorded at a leisurely pace in just over a day.

The songs required only a couple of takes each, if that, adding a rough-and-real texture over Fielder’s already relatable lyrics, many of which chronicle the role of alcohol and relationships in everyday life.

Fielder said the album concept arose after a friend suggested he record a full-length banjo project. He sometimes plays banjo during his acoustic gigs.

He traces his relationship with the banjo to his days as a middle-school band trumpet player.

A friend had a banjo, and Fielder had never played one before, so he worked out a trade for one of his trumpets.

“I just started getting into banjo music here and there, mostly the old-time stuff,” Fielder said. “As you can hear [on The Banjo Tapes], I’m not a bluegrass banjo player by any means.”

Fielder tunes his instrument to an open G chord, a standard five-string banjo setting.

“It’s not a whole lot different [than playing guitar],” he said. “You just have to remember the different chords. I play more of a fingerpicking style — some strumming here and there.”

The youth on the other end of Fielder’s fateful deal used the trade as a way to foster a larger interest in brass instrumentation.

“He was a guy I was in a couple of bands with years and years ago,” Fielder said. “Like me, he’s just a guy who was always exploring instruments and wanting to learn anything and everything.”

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  • Image provided

New work

Fielder, who works by day as a real estate photographer, began his musical journey with grade-school piano lessons.

“That gave me a great basic knowledge of how notes work and how music and chords can be arranged,” he said.

He moved on to a variety of instruments, including guitar and banjo. Fielder said he has always had a natural curiosity about music and how it is played.

The Banjo Tapes was recorded in less than two days, and many of Fielder’s other projects were produced in a similar, do-it-yourself fashion.

This summer, however, he decided to spend a little more time recording a yet-to-be-released solo studio album at Norman’s Breathing Rhythm Studio.

In August, he worked alongside bassist Charley Reeves, fiddler Kent Graber and drummer Mike Jenkins from Norman outlaw country tribute band Empty Bottles.

The project included several other contributing instrumentalists, including Beau Mansfield on keys. The resulting tunes carry a full country band sound with a hint of blues-rock.

“It’s not really a band I play out with a whole lot. There’s some stuff I have done in the past with them, but not a whole lot; it’s more of just a studio band,” Fielder said. “In the past, some of the other things I have on Bandcamp, like The Banjo Tapes, I recorded all myself here at home. I’ll just do it really fast and put it out there. With the studio recording, we made sure we did it right, and I’m definitely not trying to rush this at all.”

Finding inspiration

In addition to the solo project, Fielder spent the last year and a half focusing on booking more gigs. In the last month, he has toured through New Orleans, Louisiana, and Austin and Fort Worth, Texas. He’ll play Chicago, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri, in January.

His travels and the three to five days a week he spends driving around the metro taking pictures of real estate sites are fuel for his songwriting. Fielder said he has taken inspiration from many things, including his family and the differences between urban and rural living.

Fielder grew up in and around Enid, and he said a lot of his material examines the duality that existed between his days on the farm and his experiences going into town.

The musician will take out his phone and jot quick notes when he sees something at a bar or restaurant that interests him. He tries hard to remember various lines he hears spoken throughout the day or thoughts that occur to him while dealing with his surroundings.

“Everything is a potential song or story,” he said.

Fielder performs an acoustic set Dec. 22 at McNellie’s The Abner Ale House, 121 E. Main St., in Norman.

Visit bradfielder.bandcamp.com to buy or stream The Banjo Tapes or bradfielder.net for more information.

Print headline: Good pluck, Brad Fielder’s youthful musical curiosity developed into a lifelong passion and career.

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