I thought I’d give you an update on some of the custom lessons I’ve been doing lately. The songs that people request never cease to amaze me. Some of them I never would have thought of. Then sometimes I think, “Oh, yeah, that’s a great song!”
As you may know, I wrote about doing these lessons in April’s Banjo Newsletter. I made the comment that no one had yet asked for Kermit the Frog’s version of “Rainbow Connection.” Sure enough, before the article was even published, someone emailed asking for that very song. Unfortunately I had to tell him it was too hard (it has many, many chords in it and he hadn't started Beginning Banjo Vol. 1 yet). The same day I got that request another one came in for “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I thought two rainbow songs on the same day was odd. I’m still working on an arrangement for that one.
One song that I really enjoyed learning, and teaching, was “Eastbound And Down,” which is the theme song from the movie Smokey and the Bandit. I taught a fairly simple break to it, but it also has a lot of chords! I bought the recording of it from iTunes and loved hearing Jerry Reed sing it. Murphy told me who played banjo on that recording, but I have now forgotten.
My next three lessons, coincidentally, were fiddle tunes: “Little Liza Jane,” “Lost Indian,” and “Chicken Reel.” Someone requested Ralph Stanley’s version of “Chicken Reel,” like he played it on the old Rainbow Quest television show. (There’s rainbow again. Hmmmm.). We had the show on video when I was young, but now there’s a clip of it up on YouTube. Chick Stripling does a flatfoot dance to it that is absolutely brilliant. Vaudeville meets bluegrass. You can’t see much of Ralph’s hands in this clip, but I figured out what he was doing the best I could.
Today’s project also has to do with a YouTube clip. On the same show (I think) Ralph plays his most famous tune, “Clinch Mountain Backstep.” Luckily for the banjo players of the world, the camera focuses on his hands the entire time. Although this tune is on our Ralph Stanley Style DVD, Ralph’s version is significantly different than the way we teach it. (The tune’s not different, just the rolls.) So today I’m studying Ralph!
Also on my list to tape in the coming days are: “Get In Line Brother,” “Dusty Miller,” “One Teardrop and One Step Away,” and “Whitewater,” which is a Bela Fleck tune. Wow, those songs really run the gamut of bluegrass history—Flatt and Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Reno and Smiley, and Bela Fleck. And because I know you want to know, “Whitewater” is for Murphy’s student Logan. What? You think SHE plays any Bela Fleck tunes? Ha!
As always, if you're interested in any of these lessons, just email me (email@example.com). They're $30 each.