2012 Prize Winner: Mark Johnson
Celebrated banjo player Mark Johnson is the recipient of the 2012 Steve Martin Banjo Prize. Johnson differs from the first two years’ winners in that he focuses on a style of playing called clawhammer rather than Scruggs style or three-finger. He has blended the two styles of playing into one approach he calls “Clawgrass.” During the day, he is the director of Levy County’s emergency operations in Bronson, FL, and attends to his banjo playing on weekends and holidays.
A native of Yorktown Heights, NY, Mark now hangs his hat in Florida but learned his trade from Jay Unger while living in New York. It was in the early 1970s that Mark learned from this consummate fiddler the basic technique of clawhammer banjo. He also learned the three-finger style of bluegrass picking as his familiarity with the instrument unfolded. Mark moved to Crystal River in Florida in 1981 where, per chance, he met the Rice brothers, Larry, Tony, Ronnie and Wyatt.
Mark was working at the local power utility with Herb Rice, Larry and Ronnie and through that relationship, his manner for style and creativity in composition and performance was forever changed. Mark’s unique style doesn’t really fit into a strict category. It’s very bluegrass but has overtones of traditional folk, progressive acoustic, new-grass and old-timey all mixed into one.