Featured Artist: Fred Simon

TheBanjoMan.com is pleased to present French banjoist Fred Simon. I became aware of Fred through Rod Newland, an ex-patriate Englishman now living in France. Fred represents the emerging generation of banjoists, bringing us inventive, new music blazing new trails for the banjo.

Fred Simon – Biography
Fred Simon was born Toulouse, France January 11th, 1965. He began to play the banjo at the age of 13, self-taught by studying the methods of Earl Scruggs (Earl Scruggs and the Five String Banjo), Bluegrass Banjo à 5 Cordes Methode, a book co-authored by Bill Keith and Jean- Marie Redon, published in France, plus books by Pete Wernick, Tony Trischka etc. Practicing with his school friends, he formed the group Melting Potes. Potes has two meanings in English and French. This plays on the English word, “pots”––for cooking etc. and “potes”, a familiar French expression for “old chums”.

Fred participated in the Toulouse Bluegrass Festival, which was his opportunity to see and hear live performances by “the greats”: Bill Keith, Tony Trischka, Béla Fleck & David Grisman. Their influences allowed him to develop and further his own style.

At the age of 20 he studied the tenor saxophone, which brought him in contact with jazz players and inspired him to absorb and incorporate jazz into his banjo playing.

Fred has recorded a goodly amount of material, and made an album with Melting Potes called Jour J. Here’s the personnel on Jour J:

Melting Potes:
Fred Simon: Banjo & Vocal
Bernard Minari: Mandolin, Mandocello & Vocal
Patrick Portales: Guitar & Vocal
Daniel Portales: Mandolin & Vocal
Nam Ngothien: Dobro & Vocal
Jacky Grandjean: Bass

He participated in popular French singer Pierre Vassiliu’s album La vie ca va. He formed his own group Camel Ride and devoted himself to arrangements and compositions.

Fred has also studied Celtic music and played with various groups such as Pate à Celte. He plays duets with Philippe Beautes (guitar and vocal), with varied repertoire encompassing pop 70’s, bluegrass-Irish-etc., and also bluegrass-Irish music in a trio with Philippe Beautes (guitar and vocal) and Léonard Zandstra (violin and vocal).

He plays jazz standards and compositions with the double bassist Lionel Milazzo, and with Gerry Carter’s group, more Irish music, on a recently recorded album. His banjo appears in the new album by Bombes2bal, danceable folk music, occitan (from the west of France) and faro (a Portuguese/Brazilian language blend, used for ballads and rural music), and in an acoustic popfolk song-rock duo with Guillaume Precheur (guitar and vocal). Fred plays classical pieces as part of the programs in concerts with the different bands, further evidence of his versatility.

Fred is interested in all types of music and tries to brings banjo interpretations of many musical genres to his audiences.

With his new CD with Camel Ride, Ange du désert he is hopeful an impending departure on a world tour will soon come to pass!! Here’s more information about the CD and the personnel:

Camel Ride:
Fred Simon: Banjo & Composer
Jean-Michel Roitero: Bass & Double bass
Nasser Soltani: Percussion
Leonard Zandstra: Violin

Fred’s banjo is a magnificent Steve Huber top-tension Black Gold model, built in 2000, which he acquired in December of 2005. He also plays an electrified Deering Crossfire banjo, with midi-equipment, and a 1983 Gibson RB250 which he modified by adding eight resonant sympathetic strings. The French luthier Gérard Beuzon made him a small folk guitar which looks like a Martin 001. Fred played it on the title tune Ange du désert on the Camel Ride Quartet CD.

Further Trivia and Influences
Fred recorded Jour J (the Melting Potes album) on a 1927 Gibson Mastertone once owned by Béla Fleck and sold to French banjo player Pierre Jeanblanc. Fred met Jeanblanc at the Toulouse Bluegrass Festival organized by director Joel Herbach. The banjo was lent to Fred for his recording for an entire year!

Fred has fond reminiscences of Bill Keith’s master class in Toulouse. Bill taught the circle of fifths and much more about the inner workings of music and the banjo. “It was amazing!”, he says.

Of course the meetings with Béla Fleck and Tony Trischka were a dream come true for him and Fred vowed to follow the banjo road, finding his way to his destination: truly mastering his instrument!

The Future
Fred sincerely desires a career with his band Camel Ride. He hopes to tour the USA, sharing the stage with great musicians. His first priority is to find an agent to promote his music and a label to produce his album.

Playing jigs in the south of France, he finds that audiences are enthralled by the power and fullness of the music. Consequently, the band is spurred on, more enthused to go on playing everywhere.


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