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September 22, 2008

Jim Mills Disappears in African Jungle Hunting Legendary Prewar Banjo

Jim Mills, seen here preparing for his last great banjo hunt, has recently disappeared deep in the Congolese wilderness.

Jim Mills, seen here preparing for his last great banjo hunt, has recently disappeared deep in the Congolese wilderness.

AFRICA — Jimmy Mills, renowned prewar instrument expert and banjo star of Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, has lost all contact with the outside world and vanished somewhere deep in the former Belgian Congo.

Through a years-long program of aggressive pursuit and acquisition, Mills accrued the most impressive collection of vintage Gibson Mastertone banjos ever assembled and earned a reputation as the world’s dominant banjo headhunter.

From 1930-1942, Gibson Musical Instruments of Kalamazoo, MI, manufactured its Mastertone line of banjos, the most noble and glorious instruments ever made. But all production ceased with the onset of World War II, and populations of wild prewar Mastertones have dwindled steadily as collectors such as Mills have sought to possess as many as possible.

“If you were ever even barely thinking about the remote possibility of buying or selling a prewar banjo, Jim Mills would somehow find you,” said one Nashville banjoist.

As Gibson’s coveted vintage species became increasingly over-hunted and rare, Mills’s exploits took him further and further from his North Carolina home. His last successful banjo hunting safari took place over 8000 miles from Appalachia in South Africa and yielded two prized 1930’s flatheads, the most rare and coveted of all Mastertones.

But according to sources close to Mills, his prewar banjo obsession had become increasingly dark and monomaniacal in recent years, with the hunter fixating on Africa as the last untapped refuge for prewar instruments.

“When he came back from Africa that first time he was changed. It’s like there was this weird darkness taking over his heart,” said a source close to Mills.

Following the total plunder of all South African flatheads in 2007, Mills received word of a legendary 1937 five-string Mastertone Granada possessed by a small aboriginal tribe deep within the Congolese jungle. Concerned friends and family repeatedly warned Mills against returning to the Dark Continent, but he could neither be stopped nor reasoned with.

In a brief email sent from Mills upon his arrival in Africa, he described the scene in the Brazzaville airport:

“The word ‘banjo’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse.”

That email communication would be his last.

Comments

6 Responses to “Jim Mills Disappears in African Jungle Hunting Legendary Prewar Banjo”

  1. Jianggai Zhang on July 21st, 2010 6:33 pm

    Dear sirs,
    How are you?
    We specialize in making string instruments for many years in China. Our main products are violin,white violin,color violin,electric violin,viola,cello,double bass, guitar, bows,bow parts,brass instruments and all kinds of tools and accessories, especially our bow hairs are very popular in the world markets
    The high quality materials and our experts’ unique inspiration and rich experience make the products not only graceful but also very excellent.our products will say themselves.If any item is interesting to you,please feel free to contact us .
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  2. trevor agus on August 15th, 2009 12:21 pm

    15-8-2009 has jim been found yet from his african banjo safari if not why is no one looking for him,a concerned anxious picker

  3. Jessica Wang on July 30th, 2009 4:05 am

    Dear sirs,

    How are you?

    We specialize in making string instruments for many years in China. Our main products are violin,white violin,color violin,electric violin,viola,cello,double bass, guitar, bows,bow parts,brass instruments and all kinds of tools and accessories, especially our bow hairs are very popular in the world markets, for details,please visit our websites: http://www.katamusic.com.cn (http://www.katawindinstrument.com).

    The high quality materials and our experts’ unique inspiration and rich experience make the products not only graceful but also very excellent.our products will say themselves.If any item is interesting to you,please feel free to contact us .

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Thanks & regards,
    Jessica
    Kata Music.Co.Ltd
    Tel:0086-318-7877110
    Fax:0086-318-5181851
    Web: http://www.katamusic.com.cn
    Email: katamusic.accessories@yahoo.com
    Msn: wangjianhua71@hotmail.com

  4. Béla Fleck in Afrika « Mastertone's Blog on June 14th, 2009 7:47 am

    […] nach Afrika scheinen außerdem gerade Mode zu sein?! Auch der bereits erwähnte Jim Mills ist laut The Bluegrass Intelligencer seit einiger Zeit im afrikanischen Dschungel verschwunden – auf der Suche nach einem […]

  5. Michael Kovick on April 20th, 2009 6:52 pm

    Poor Old Jim
    He was always such a wheeler Dealer. I guess it’s time to spill my guts.
    It was a 3-way trade that took place in my shop called ” High Strung” in Durham,N.C. must have been in the early 90’s. Jim would regularly come into my shop to see if any vintage Martin or Gibsons had shown up. So I got to know him a bit I believe that we did a few trades. Jim had a beautiful old German violin that I wanted badly. Leo Lorenzoni had A Martin D-28 that Jim wanted. And I had a 60’s Gibson J-45 that Leo wanted . It was
    a righteous trade. I played that fiddle for about 3 years.
    I have a habit of trading fiddles every 2 or three years so as it was that when it came time to let this one go one of my luthier buddies was on his way to Southebys Auction house with a restored Harpsicord and he stopped by. He was absolutely bonkers about this fiddle and insisted that it was the lost Vonschukeraker Violin that Adolph Hitler had played while in art school. I wasn’t convinced until I saw the check.
    A long time has passed since then and I never even got the chance to thank Jim. I should have called him at least. Hell I would have bought him a vintage mastertone if he’d asked. I’ll go to my grave with this guilt. M. Kovick

  6. Tom Thorpe on October 24th, 2008 8:46 am

    Okay, I just knew this would be Jim’s downfall. On a trip this past year to the wilds of Troy, New York, Jim met with Dr. Bob “Livingston” Altschuler, a fellow antebellum flathead hunter. While we were there in a tiny backstage room of the Troy Music Hall, the two Mastertoneheads discussed their plans for future exploits into the deep, dark underworld of 5-stringed artistes. Even then, I feared for their lives (and wallets!). A friend of mine, a Walstreet speculator, believes however that the two may be on to the fix of this sour economic climate. Invest in prewar Gibsons – they appreciate faster than the gold standard and hold their value better than IBM, GM, GE and the other Fortune 500 companies’ stocks. If Jim isn’t discovered soon, Ricky and Sharon will form a posse to go in after him! Dr. Bob “Livingston” Altschuler, however, may not be so fortunate. Stay tuned for further developments….

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