This Soundie is for my good buddy Jim, a burgeoning talent in bluegrass banjo.
Self-taught, multi-instrumentalist Eddie Peabody began performing on the vaudeville stage in 1921. While best known as a banjo player, Peabody was also proficient on violin, guitar, and mandolin. Peabody was continually before the public for the next five decades, and his film appearance demonstrate why he was known as the “King of the Banjo.”
Peabody was featured on film, radio, and the variety stage, appearing in four Vitaphone shorts in the 1920s and heard on radio, theater stages and recordings throughout the 1930s. It is important to note that Peabody was not a country or bluegrass musician. Rather, he used his amazing technique to perform novelty interpretations of well-known songs.
Eddie Peabody spent the war years as musical director of the Great Lakes Training Station near Chicago. After discharge from the Navy, Peabody returned to vaudeville and recording. In later years, Peabody was often seen on television where a new generation was able to experience his technical genius and versatile inventiveness. Peabody continued to perform until his death on stage in 1970.
In 1942, as a cost cutting measure, the Soundies home office shut down all filmmaking in Los Angeles and moved production to Chicago. A few key members of the Los Angeles film staff, including producer Sam Coslow and director Josef Berne, relocated to Chicago where they struggled with somewhat primitive production facilities. In addition, another unit was established by Soundies publicity direction, William Forest Crouch. Crouch would become the most prolific of all Soundies directors.
“Banjo Mania” was one of three Soundies produced by William Crouch’s unit that featured Eddie Peabody. Filmed on a simple stool in front of a curtain, this Soundie reflects how Peabody might have performed on a theater stage. In this short he performs two songs, “requested by members of the audience.” “Oh Susannah” is the familiar anthem by Stephen Foster. Equally famous is W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues,” although Peabody’s lyrics have nothing to do with the actual words to the song. Peabody has carefully arranged the music to spotlight his amazing technique. The quirky and somewhat eccentric nature of his performance may seem a bit dated today, but it certainly fits comfortably in the World of Soundies.