Rick Shubb was born in Oakland, California. He took up the
5-string banjo at the age of fourteen, inspired by the playing
of Earl Scruggs. In those days bluegrass music was a rarity
on the West Coast, and Rick became one of a handful of pioneers
who planted its seeds and nurtured a music scene. for several
years he balanced a music career with an art career, and his
dance posters and comic book art are still in demand by collectors.
Rick was a charter member of San Francisco's most venerable
bluegrass band, High Country, and while still in his teens,
became the regular banjoist for the powerful bluegrass vocal
duo, Vern and Ray. His work is prominently featured on their
album "Sounds of the Ozarks."
While in his early twenties, he teamed up with mandolinist
David Grisman to form a band. Some of their mandolin-banjo duets
were harbingers of the style of acoustic string music which
Grisman went on to develop and popularize.
In his mid twenties he formed a musical partnership with guitarist
Bob Wilson: an association which still exists today. It was
with Wilson that Rick Shubb found a framework in which to further
explore the potential of the 5-string banjo. Ignoring stylistic
stereotypes, Shubb and Wilson delved into jazz, ragtime, country,
standards, and swing, blending these influences with the bluegrass
usually expected from the banjo.
Throughout his twenties Rick continued to play the San Francisco
music scene. Fronting his own band, the Hired Hands, he held
forth three or four nights a week at such SF institutions as
Paul's Saloon and Mooney's Pub. During this time he also strongly
influenced West Coast music as a teacher. The 5-string banjo
was at the height of its popularity, and Rick's students numbered
in the hundreds. Many have gone on to become professional musicians
themselves, while the playing styles and musical sensibilities
of legions more were molded for all time by Rick's teaching.
Eventually a particularly compelling project would lead him
away from the path of performing. For several years he had tinkered
with improvements to musical instruments. He had collaborated
with his friend Dave Coontz to bring two innovative banjo accessories
onto the market, but keeping up with the demand for these could
easily be done in his spare time. However, in 1980 he and Dave
came up with a guitar accessory which would take the world by
storm. The device was a capo; a clamp that goes onto a guitar
neck to raise the pitch. The new Shubb Capo quickly became so
popular that meeting the demand soon turned into a full time
job, and Rick's playing career was placed on the back burner.
You might say that the rest is history. The Shubb Capo remains
the industry standard,
and the job of supplying them has given birth to a flourishing
company which Rick Shubb runs on a daily, hands-on basis. He
and his company continue to develop new products for musicians,
including a line of computer software which Rick has developed
While the name Shubb has become a household word to guitarists
throughout the world, most identify it with a device rather
than a person, and are surprised when they discover that its
namesake and inventor is himself a world-class musician.
In the early '90s a hand injury prevented Rick from playing
music at all for more than two years. For an instrumentalist,
this is an eternity. Content with his successful business and
other creative projects, he had made the difficult decision
to not pick the banjo back up again. But friends in the musical
community were not content with his decision, and urged him
to get his instrument back out of its case. Touched by their
encouragement, he began the uphill climb to regain his chops.
Today Rick Shubb's banjo playing is not only back, but it's
better than ever. A CD of his music — Bodega Sessions — has recently
been released, featuring long-time partner Bob Wilson on guitar
and bassist Charlie Warren, and showcasing the uniquely personal
banjo style which has been a West Coast legend for many years.