Tip Jar Jam #35: Guest Starring Nancy Pate

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

You might have noticed I didn't blog last week. (Thanks for noticing!) That was because Red and I were deep into babysitting Dalton while his mama, Casey, was teaching banjo at Bluegrass Week at Augusta Heritage in Elkins, WV. I didn't even have time to do a catch-up blog that weekend because I was at the West Virginia Square Dance Convention. Tip Jar Jam regulars Janet and Kenney and I played music at our hotel Friday and Saturday nights after the dance to a rapt audience of about 20-25 people. (Thanks to Ron for the Wild Turkey!) Saturday night we even had a clogger! With steel taps on his shoes. Much fun was had!


This week at the Tip Jar Jam, we were happy to welcome my sister Nancy who had driven up from North Carolina to be Dalton’s' official Murphy Method Babysitter for two days while Red and Casey and I shot a new DVD. This is our first-ever performance DVD--we didn't do any explicit teaching, but played and sang a bunch of songs and told some stories about the songs and laughed a great deal at our many mistakes which will make for some good bloopers! We had an amazing backup band: Marshall Wilborn played bass on both days while Tom Adams played guitar on day one, and Scott Brannon played guitar on day two. I hope to blog about that soon....but don't hold your breath!


When we ended our shooting on day two, I grabbed my banjo and rushed out of the house (we were shooting in our studio) straight into my Wednesday lessons, not even stopping long enough to take off my makeup! And I never wear makeup except for shooting these DVDs! ("You look really pretty today, Murphy," said Kathy H. when she came in for her lesson. "Thank you," I said, "I guess it's because I'm wearing ten pounds of makeup.")


Knowing Nancy was in town, Kathy had asked if she (Nancy) could come to her (Kathy's) lesson to sing the Alan O'Bryant song Those Memories Of You which Kathy is learning to sing. As I told Kathy, Nancy and I been privileged to hear and learn that song from Alan O'Bryant himself (of Nashville Bluegrass Band fame) when he was playing with the Front Porch String Band which was powered by the awesome singing of Claire Lynch. We (Red and Murphy & Co.) worked many shows with them and the duet between Claire and Alan was absolutely stupendous. It's a crying shame the band never recorded an album when Alan was with them. Nancy sang this song again at the jam and also sang a couple of her original songs, Safe At Home and Georgia. I've been listening to Nancy sing all her life and her voice, always excellent, keeps getting better and better. I think she's singing the best she's ever sung. Her voice is richer now with more vocal nuance. She, too, has written some amazing songs although none of hers (so far) has been picked up and recorded by Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, as Alan's was. ("How do you think I bought this house?" said Alan.)


And speaking of houses, we had a Full House of Tip Jar Jammers last night--thirteen folks counting Nancy and me! (Missed you, Scott! You're lucky I accidentally deleted the text picture you sent or you'd be seeing it here!)


One highlight of my evening involved the ongoing "discussion" Bob A and I have been having about what key he should sing New River Train in. [Comment from Bob Van: "Why do you call it a "discussion" with him and a "fight" with me?"] Bob A had sung the song in the jam before, and I thought I remembered "A" as being too low, and "C" as being just right. He disagreed. He said when he sang it at home "A" felt comfortable. And, to be scrupulously fair, when he sang it in his lesson this past Tuesday, "A" sounded okay. However, from my vast personal experience--some of it painful--I know that when you sing on stage or in a jam, your voice often needs a higher key. Bob was rather adamant that "A" was the right key. I bet him that he was wrong, but we did not "put any money on the mahogany" which is a lawyer phrase I learned from him. "Okay," says I, "you can try it in A, but if it's the wrong key I'm gonna stop you. Are you all right with that?" He said he was.


So, at the jam, while we were up in the key of C (capoed 5), I gave him one more chance to try it my way. But he said, again, that he'd wait and try it in A. [Are all Bobs this hard-headed or is it just the three that come to the Tip Jar Jam???] So when we got down to A, I said, "Okay, Bob, want to try New River Train?" He was more than willing, and he gave it a good try, but he just couldn't find his pitch (his starting note) in A. Why? Because the key was too low for his voice, given the excitement and adrenalin rush of the jam. Unfortunately, we couldn't go back to the key of C because with that many banjos (six), un-capoing and re-capoing becomes a time-consuming chore. As a consolation prize, I asked Bob to sing another song he'd been learning, John Henry, which worked out fine singing-wise, but was a bit hard for banjo improv. (So much G!) However, before I let him start I said, "I need to hear something from you, Bob." "What's that?" he asked." "You know," I said. "About New River Train." Well, as a long-time married man, he knew the drill and uttered the magic words: "You were right." "Thank you," I said, accepting the mellifluous syllables with humility and grace as is my wont. "Now you can sing John Henry."


And before I end, let me brag on Kasey, she of the silver sparkle shoes, one more time. She is improvising up a storm. Father Ben said she came into the room where he was practicing this week and asked him to play a break to any of the singing songs we are doing. Then she played a completely different break to the same song, making it up right on the spot. She totally "gets" it! And now, she's not afraid to try a break on just about anything. I keep telling Ben to copy her, but he doesn't like the Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arm lick, which Kasey uses to good effect in almost every break she makes up. That lick eats up a powerful lot of turf--in either G chord or D chord. It's a good 'un.


It's hard to believe that this was our 35th Tip Jar Jam! I am so proud of all of the jammers for the progress they are making! Thanks for hanging in there, folks!