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Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Instead of blogging about last night's Tip Jar Jam (wonderful though it was with Kathy H, Kristina, Heather, and David), I thought I would share some thoughts from our second Women's Banjo Camp, which was totally amazing. We're already looking forward to next year, July 24-26, 2015.

Women's Banjo Campers 2014

Women's Banjo Campers 2014 (Thanks to Peggy for the photo!)

Michigan Sue, who also attended our Beginning Banjo Camp last fall, thoughtfully provided me with today's title. Sue has made a lot of progress in the nine months since "Baby Banjo Camp" and I congratulated her on it. Whereupon she uttered this amazing sentence: "It finally dawned on me to start listening to bluegrass! It's made a huge difference." I thought that was profound so I grabbed a marker and wrote it down. Another woman added that she had been listening to bluegrass on Sirius Radio in the car "all the time" and pointed out, "It soaks into you!" Indeed it does! ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

(The title references a tongue-in-cheek torch song, Pink Toenails, from an early Dixie Chicks album, Little Ol’ Cowgirl [1992]. In my book I called it the best song on the disc.)

First off: Grandson Dalton said the name of his first banjo tune today! Was it Cripple Creek? Boil Them Cabbage? Old Joe Clark? No, he's apparently more into Ralph...

Here's the story: We were sitting on the couch this morning watching "Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales For Every Child" DVDs. (Huge shout out to these re-visioned old favorites. They are multi-cultural and sometimes gender-flipped. For example our first DVD was "Robinita Hood and her Band of Merry Chicas!") While I was drinking my first cuppa, he was barking out orders --"Take out the yellow one, put in the blue one!"-- and, in the manner of three-year-olds everywhere, picking his nose. I looked over at him inquisitively and he looked right back and said, "Big Booger." Which is the name of one of Ralph Stanley's banjo tunes! Fortunately Dalton's mother, Casey, is a Ralph freak and it is with her kind permission that I bring you this cute tale. ...continue reading

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Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Murphy blogs every month over on Banjo Hangout and we will be cross-posting these blogs so they'll be all here in one place. This was originally published Monday, December 02, 2013.

I have been writing about playing the banjo for 30 years but I have never written an article about practicing. Why not? Well, probably because I hate anybody telling me what to do and also because most of the practice suggestions I read struck me as bombastic BS--idealistic, ivory-tower imaginings that seemed useless to me or, at best, not practical for adult students with lives and families. I never followed any set pattern when I was learning, I just got up, got a cuppa, and started studying Earl at 16 rpm in my pajamas! I thought my students would figure out what worked best for them and follow their own "rules," which many of them do. But finally I have come to understand that not everybody is self-propelled and that some people desperately want and need guidelines. With that in mind, I will present my own extremely general and hopefully not too bombastic suggestions in hopes that maybe a few of these ideas prove useful.

As I pull these thoughts together I have tried to take into account real adults with real lives so...... ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

We were cooking last night! With four banjos (Ben, Kasey, Dan, Kathy G) and three guitars (Bobby, Diane, and moi), we explored several new singing songs and had a religious experience with rhythm!

One of the new singing songs was When The Roses Bloom Again Beside The River, which Bobby brought to his lesson and I incorporated into the jam. Originally done by the Carter Family (as far as I know), the song was written in 1901. (Google: words by Will D. Cobb, music by Jeff Tweedy. Will D. Cobb also wrote that great song School Days which has that line "reading, and writing, and 'rithmetic".) I tell you all that because I'm constantly ragging Bobby that this song is a "Tin Pan Alley song," written by a songwriter in New York City. I didn't know that songwriter was Will Cobb, but I could tell from the lyrics (cliches such as "rattle of the battle" and "strolling in the gloaming") that it didn't come from the pen of Bill Monroe or Hazel Dickens!  As the great historian Bill Malone wrote when talking about the songs in the country music repertoire, "The country folk didn't care where a song came from, as long as it was a good song." Who knows where A.P. Carter found this song, but it was found, recorded, and thus preserved. ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Murphy blogs every month over on Banjo Hangout and we will be cross-posting these blogs so they'll be all here in one place. This was originally published Monday, September 30, 2013.

Now that we've got the "by ear" question out of the way (non-believers notwithstanding!) (it was last months' blog post...), let's look further into the method behind my madness (or vice versa!). It's not enough to simply learn by ear--you've got to have some "method and order" to your learning. And that's where the Murphy Method comes in. I've done your homework for you. I've been teaching banjo for over 40 years now and I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't.

First of all, if you're new to the banjo, you need to start simple. And simple does not mean a dumbed-down version of Blackberry Blossom. (Don't get me started on Blackberry Blossom! Okay, I already got me started--we'll talk about that later.) The Big Three in the Murphy Method are Banjo in the Hollow, Cripple Creek, and Boil Them Cabbage Down. Why these three and not three others? Mainly because they are easy to play, sound good slow, and are well known in bluegrass circles. They are also "tried and true." I know they work because I see my students playing them! ...continue reading

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Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Murphy blogs every month over on Banjo Hangout, and we will be cross-posting these blogs so they'll be all here in one place. This first one was originally posted Friday, August 23, 2013.

Hi, I'm Murphy Henry! And welcome to my first article for Banjo  Hangout. You might have heard of my method of teaching--The Murphy Method. (I like alliteration!) We teach by ear. We do not use any tablature or written music, ever. We teach all the bluegrass instruments but, because I'm a banjo player, we are perhaps best known for our banjo instruction.

My bona fides? You want bona fides? Oh, ye, of little faith. (Yes, I was raised Baptist! In Georgia.) I am one of three women included in the book Masters of the 5-String Banjo by Trischka and Wernick. (The other two? Lynn Morris and Alison Brown.) I started playing banjo in 1973 and have recorded seven actual vinyl LPs (and numerous cassettes, eight-tracks, and CDs) with my husband Red and our band. I have taught at numerous banjo camps across the country including the Tennessee Banjo Institute and the Maryland Banjo Academy. And for years I wrote the On The Road column for Banjo Newsletter. (I still write the General Store column for Bluegrass Unlimited.) Will that do ya? If not, there's always Google!  ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Since we had 9 folks at the Tuesday jam, I wasn't expecting a big crowd on Wednesday, but durned if 6 students didn't turn up. This time we had two banjos, three guitars, and one mandolin. Gregg, on banjo, had just taken his first lesson from me so he mostly vamped. Amber is just starting on mandolin and said she preferred not to try any of the breaks she's learned so she chopped and helped out on the harmony singing. Jason, also, is sticking with rhythm guitar for now. Gregg did consent to playing the two tunes he knew, Cripple Creek and Boil Them Cabbage, which differ slightly from my versions. No matter. We played them really slow, as we do for every new student, and Gregg has such good timing that he came through with flying colors! On to Banjo In The Hollow!

Bob A put in his best performance ever last night, both with his guitar picking and his singing. He was having to do a LOT of singing, because he was the only one there who could sing in G! So he sang Your Love Is Like A Flower, Blue Ridge Cabin Home, Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms, Long Journey Home, East Virginia Blues (in C), and Wreck of the Old 97 (in A). As I've told you before, when Bob came to me for guitar lessons, three years ago, he didn't think he could sing. In fact, he'd been told--repeatedly--that he couldn't sing. But he did know the words to lots of bluegrass songs and he has worked hard on hid singing and, by Jove, I think he's getting it! ...continue reading

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Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Gotta be a quickie this morning. I've gotta have what's called a "yag" done on my left eye. Short explanation: I had cataract surgery done a little over a year ago, and a membrane has grown back somewhere in there which makes it hard for me to drive at night. So, the doc is removing it with a laser. I had my right eye done last week, and it was a piece of cake, so hope this one will go well, also. I don't even need anyone to drive me home!

We had a whopping nine people at the jam last night! Six banjos--Doug, Ben (welcome back!), Scott, Batty Betty, Kathy G, Kasey (ditto!)--along with Bobby and Janet on guitars and Kenney on bass. Batty Betty acquired that nickname right now, since I object to Bobby's new nickname for her, which is Queenie. (As in Queen of sucking up to me!) Bobby was doing some of his own sucking up yesterday on the phone. The problem is, when people say all these nice things about me to me I don't hear it as sucking up, I just hear it as them stating the facts. (!!!) So, that's what I was hearing from Bobby--he was saying he thought I had mellowed some down through the years. He's the one who called it sucking up and said, "Don't tell Betty." I told him, truthfully, I never thought of that. But since he mentioned it, naturally, I'd have to tell the world! ...continue reading

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Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Since the subject of this blog is family, I'll share this picture to start with. I took it to send to Ben who's been at the beach for the last week with all his kids and grandkids. He says he's been practicing banjo every day!

Kenney, Betty, Janet, Bobby

Kenney, Betty, Janet, Bobby

You know, the more we jam, the more we become like one, big happy family, complete with sniping. Before we even got started last night Bobby was ragging Betty about being a "suck up" for saying all those nice things about me in the blog. I told Bobby that somebody had to make up for all the grief he gives me and that I loved the comments. I said I couldn't get enough of them. So when Val posted a comment today about Kaufman Kamp saying, "What an honor to have your guidance. Thank you for another amazing week. You are an inspiration!" naturally I had to text that to Betty and Bobby! (Thanks, Val. Your singing was pretty amazing too!) Betty responded thusly: "Ha, ha. I hope he doesn't have that person's contact info." I haven't heard from Bobby yet, but I'll see him this afternoon for his lesson... ...continue reading

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Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

I mentioned in my last Kamp blog that I was going to listen to Carole King's memoir, A Natural Woman, on the long ride home. Well, I did. Carole reads it herself and it is excellent in every way. I highly recommend it.

But coming on the tail-end of my Kamp experience, I was surprised as all get out to hear her talking about improvising! So I grabbed my car pencil and marked down the location on Disc 5 and have just transcribed, word for word, what she said. I think it's that important. (To keep things legal, I give a citation at the end of the quote.)

First of all, for you non-boomers, Carole King is a fabulous songwriter, piano player, and performing artist. Her album Tapestry is probably her most famous personal recording. Her songwriting credits are legion and include You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman (Aretha recorded this) and Come On, Baby, Do The Locomotion With Me (recorded by Little Eva, who was Carole's babysitter at the time!). ...continue reading