David StephensI was born on July 4th, so perhaps it's only natural that I should become a player of the only truly American instrument: the 5-string banjo.

My musical instruction as a child had been limited to singing in church, two piano lessons when I was seven years old and a rather embarrassing period of my middle school career when I “played” trombone, mostly to get out of having to take physical education. Middle school band was the lesser of two evils, in my mind. In my one year of marching band, I was incapable of marching and playing at the same time so a rather frustrated band director took my mouthpiece away.

I began hanging out a coffee shop not far from my hometown in Foley, AL called Southern Lights Coffee House and Bookstore. There I was exposed to singer/songwriters from all over the U.S.: Bob Cheevers and Neil Fagan from Nashville, Melanie Hammet and Shawn Mullins from Atlanta, and, later on, a banjo player from New Orleans who would have a distinct influence on my life.

I traded that trombone in for an Oscar Schmidt guitar. I spent all my time in my bedroom learning Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul & Mary songs. I took a folk guitar class as a college freshman and, in true over- achiever fashion, wrote my first song by the end of the course. Since I was playing a lot of folk music, I was also listening to a lot of folk music, which included the canon of Pete Seeger. His banjo playing triggered an initial interest in the quirky instrument. Knowing nothing about them, I bought a used banjo, which lead to some beginner's discouragement because of the banjo's poor quality.

Then I met Mike West.

David Stephens

Mike was a scraggly-haired, thin-as-a-rail banjo player and songwriter from New Orleans who played at Southern Lights. Friends had been telling me about his music for some time before I was actually able to see him play. Those shows were revelations for me both as a novice banjo player and songwriter. At the time, the owner of Southern Lights allowed me to fill the musician breaks with short puppet acts. Mike wanted to include the puppets in his sets, thus our friendship began. He gave me my first and only formal banjo lesson.

Several years passed and I had written a batch of songs. Occasionally, I'd send tapes of them to Mike to get his input. This eventually led to an invitation to his home studio to make my first album of songs: “Played By the Rules.” To date, we've made four subsequent albums of my original songs: “Family Album,” “Far Cry,” “Postcards From Sadness,” and a band effort for Fat Man Squeeze: “Authentic Frontier Gibberish.”

David StephensI moved to Atlanta, GA in 2004 and met bassist Will Robertson in the months leading up to my move. We both liked each other's playing and the formation of Banjolicious soon followed. We have been playing together ever since in Atlanta coffee shops, bars, the Atlanta Botanical Gardens and private parties. Will  is also an extremely talented engineer and record producer who produced two of my albums: “Sunday Best,” and “A Year and Some Change,” which chronicled my time spent living, loving and pickin' in New York City. From time to time, we're joined by Matt Phillips on mandolin, cornet and tenor guitar and Rhett McAllister on guitar.

Career highlights include: opening for the Kingston Trio at Troy University (1998); “Wal-Mart Song” used on BBC report (2002); soundtrack on PBS series, “SeeMore's Playhouse” (2007); soundtrack for Truth anti-smoking national television commercial (2007); opening for Danny Barnes at Eddie's Attic (2008); invited musician on Muppet Performer, Jerry Nelson's album, “Truro Daydreams” (2009);