Tip Jar Jam #38: Is That Somebody You Know?

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

And thank you, Beulah Land Bob, for today's title. Bob was singing John Henry at the Wednesday jam and was doing what we had talked about in his lesson which was to hold his head and chin up higher so his voice would project more. At the lesson this had put him looking directly at me (uncomfortable!) so I told him to look past me, to look over my shoulder, to look somewhere else! At the jam, like the good boy he is, he was singing with his head held high while he was looking across the room. (I was safely outside his line of vision!) After the song was over, Kathy Hanson and I both complimented Bob on how good--and loud--his singing sounded. He pointed to the picture across the room and said, "I was looking at the girl in glasses. Who is that? Is that somebody you know?"

No, it wasn't somebody I knew. It was Janis Joplin. 

I like Janis Joplin's music. In high school I had an 8-track tape that had Me and Bobby McGee and Oh Lord Won't You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz on it. I memorized the words to both and Red and I sometimes performed Bobby McGee at casual gigs like parties.

But I digress.....

We were six students strong Wednesday night, including Will, a newbie that Bob Mc brought along. Will trotted out a banjo, a guitar, and a mandolin. He took a banjo lead on Cripple Creek but otherwise played rhythm guitar, mandolin chords and fills, and stayed in the background. He doesn't take lessons from either Casey or me (yet!), but Kathy Hanson told him, "If you keep coming to the jams, we'll make a convert out of you!" To which I added, "Yeah, we'll even sing Just As I Am for your conversion experience!" [Those of us who were Raised Baptist laughed.]

After the jam, Will was asking about the "learn by ear" thing, and said he didn't think he could do that. To which I replied, "Of course you can. All these people learned to play that way!" I think he was somewhat amazed at that. He mentioned lessons and I told him to call Casey because, per our deal, she gets first dibs on new banjo students! (A condition of her moving back to Winchester! Little does she know that she could have asked me to start recycling and I would have done that too! Too late now, Casey!)

Since Bobby and Scott had jammed on Tuesday, we were without our Key of G singers, so Bob A had to step up to the plate, which he did with gusto. In addition to the aforementioned John Henry, he also sang Beulah Land (the Do Lord clone), Blue Ridge Cabin Home, New River Train, and Life's Railway to Heaven (in D!). Kathy Hanson, one of our Key of C singers, did Circle, I'll Fly Away, and Wagon Wheel. I took over Kasey's I Saw the Light and also did Somebody Touched Me.

As always, we were happy to have Kristina on mandolin. She's doing a great job of moving her G breaks to the Key of C, by shifting "up" or "over" a string (depending on how you think of it). She's also thriving on the I, IV, V chord idea and understands that the chord progressions in songs (especially singing songs) tend to fall into somewhat predictable patterns. I call one of them the "criss-cross" pattern (I, IV, I, V) and I love it that she "gets" that.

We fleshed out our singing song repertoire with instrumentals: Cripple Creek, Banjo in the Hollow, Boil Them Cabbage Down, and Old Joe Clark. When we were down to time for one last song, I ask Bob Mc if there was anything he'd like to play. Since he is a long-time married man he immediately knew that that was a no-way-for-him-to-win question. So he simply declined to choose! I realized that I was, in fact, asking him to read my mind and choose a song that I would approve of (duh!), so I rephrased: "Which song would you like to play: Foggy Mountain Breakdown, Lonesome Road Blues, or John Hardy? There is no wrong answer!" He chose Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

Since there were only two banjo players, I said, "Great. You and Kathy can be dueling banjos." That reminded Bob that he had, at one time, been able to play Dueling Banjos. So he strummed those first distinctive notes, and I answered him on the guitar. Alas! The spirit was willing the flesh was weak! It had been too long! The fingers refused to cooperate. Even when you learn by ear you have to occasionally revisit your old tunes or they will leave your butt high and dry in the dust! My guess is Bob will be doing some wood-shedding on that tune this week.

After the official jam was over, everyone took some time to "ooh" and "ah" over Kathy Hanson's brand-new, blonde bass. Yes, Kathy is adding bass playing to her list of accomplishments. But, as I told her, "No lead guitar!" Only because having too much on her plate will take away from her main interest, the banjo.

And so ended another successful Tip Jar Jam. I confess, I did miss the solid foundation of the bass but as we say here "I done it to myself" by splitting the jam into two nights. Still and yet, the smaller jams are better for everyone. But there's always room for one more, so come jam with us!

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