Tip Jar Jams: Don’t Speed Up!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

I trust you all had an excellent Thanksgiving. The Murphy Method entourage (Red, Casey, Chris, Dalton, and I) went down to North Carolina to be with all my sisters (four), nieces (four), nephew (one) and bros-in-law (three, one of whom was AWL [Absent With Leave] to be with his 90-something mother, a bluegrass bass player!). We ate turkey, drank wine, played Taboo, and watched The Best Little Whore House in Texas (with Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds) at niece Helena's request! Helena, who frequently wants to inject a little "culture" into the family, had gotten a recording on which Dolly sang her great song Hard Candy Christmas. Helena fell in love with the song and found out that the number was in the movie. Hence, her push to share her new-found joy with the family. The movie was a hoot and it was funny as "aitch-ee-double L" (as Tammy Wynette sang!) to hear my feminist nieces rip the ending to shreds. "Why did Burt Reynolds have to pick Dolly up and practically throw her in his pickup truck and take her off to get married? She was going to do just fine on her own!" I love my family!

But I digress....if one can digress before one gets started! I was trying to tell you why there were no blogs last week, but you probably already figured that out!

This week's Tuesday and Wednesday jams went great guns. The blog title is courtesy of Betty, our newest banjo player. We had already played Banjo In The Hollow which she had started. Well, in true jam session fashion, by the time Ben and Kasey had played it and it had gotten back to Betty, the tune had sped up considerably. Naturally, it was Ben's fault, since Kasey, our resident fashionista, can do no wrong! So when Betty kicked off her next tune, Cripple Creek, she said to Ben, in no uncertain terms, using her "hospital" voice (she's a nurse), "DO NOT SPEED UP!" To which Ben meekly replied, as he should have, "Yes, ma'am!" He didn't, either!

Wednesday both Kathy G (formerly known as Kathy Holliday--she consented to go by her birth initial "G" for this blog to avoid confusion) and Kathy H debuted new breaks. Kathy G play the low break of Foggy Mountain Breakdown for the first time, playing in unison with Kathy H and Scott, who both unobtrusively moved to vamping when they realized she would do just fine on her own. She did! The greatest thing about Kathy G learning FMB is that she now can use that last 4-beat D lick, the one that starts on the open fourth string, as an improvising lick! She did that, too, during the jam, pretty much adding it at will to her forward-backward roll breaks. Since she also uses the tag lick easily, her "simple" improvised breaks sound REALLY GOOD.

The more I work with students at these jams, the more I'm beginning to realize that these "simple" improvised breaks, based on forward-backward rolls, is a direction I'm extremely interested in exploring further. Having beginning banjo students taking improvised breaks to lots of songs in jams is flat-out wonderful. I'll keep you posted.

Kathy H, at my request, played Daybreak In Dixie for the first time and came through with flying colors. Since she was kicking it off, I asked her if she wanted to take that last third break. (If you kick it off, you get to end it.) She said, "There's only one answer to that: yes!" But, realizing she really might not want to take three breaks on a new song I said, "Well, you could ask everyone to play with you for the last break." Grasping at that suggestion as if it were a life preserver, she said, "Yes! Great!" The moral to that little story is there is always some way to save your butt, you just have to be inventive!

You may remember from a previous blog that I had recently asked Kathy H to sing tenor to a song she'd never even heard before, Purple Robe. Well, she went home, found a version of it on YouTube, and worked on the tenor part. Now, that is dedication! I was so impressed, not to mention happy. (The version she found was of the fabulous Margie Sullivan, whom I profile in my book, singing a solo lead with the Sullivan Family. Check it out.) So, we worked on it some at the lesson and I showed her how to go up higher with her voice when I went high and lower with her voice when I went low. Once we made those little tweaks, our harmony sounded really good. Naturally, Kathy wanted to try it in the jam, so we did. And naturally it was hard to recreate the same sound we had during the lesson because singing harmony, like everything else in music, takes lots of practice. But we got close and it was fun. After the song was over, we practiced the harmony and got it tighter again. Then Kathy had me record myself singing the lead so she could practice to my voice. Then I had her record us singing together, with her doing the tenor. (I love cell phones!) After we'd left the jam, she apparently was listening to the recording because she texted me (not while driving I'm sure!): "That harmony sounds freakin' amazing. It might be our best work yet!" I agree. I'm looking forward to trying it again at our Sunday jam (December 8 ) in Frederick.

Come jam with us. You can see what a good time we have! If you need more info on any of the jams, just email or call us. Beginners welcome! We always slow down so you can play your songs. And vamping through the rest of the songs is some of the greatest practice in the world! See ya!

PS: And you Portland People: Don't forget I'm coming out there in January 10-12 for a weekend workshop! And for the first time, on Thursday, January 9, I'll be holding an all-female jam. All levels, all instruments, all ages welcome at the jam. We'll do some "womyn singing" in womyn's keys. Bring a capo!! Check our website for complete details!

2 thoughts on “Tip Jar Jams: Don’t Speed Up!

  1. Ralph


    Please tell me more about your tip-jar jams as I am intrigued/interested with how you work with a wide range of ability groups. I participated in your Oct 2012 beginners workshop/camp and my wife (Mary) and I came to your awareness day/fundraiser for Alzheimer’s (though I wasn’t brave enough to bring my banjo and play).

    I am not local to you but might be able to share ride with others from the DC area occasionally to join in on your jams. (I live in Woodbridge.) But I don’t know how to initiate that proposal/conversation with others from this area.

    I believe there might be somebody or two from the camp I participated in that attends these jams, but I don’t “know” them to try and coordinate this and thus am wanting to ask for some assistance in this approach if you think it viable. I would like to think that there are probably several , if not a small amount of several folks that you have worked with over the years, from this area, that are interested in participating in these jams that could be organized to participate regularly. But for me, I have to stress this as an occasional occurrence for me as my work demands often override extracurricular/evening activities.

    Thanks for any and all help.


  2. admin

    Hi Ralph,

    In answer to your first paragraph, just read the past entries (Especially about the first few tip-jar jams). http://blog.murphymethod.com/tag/tip-jar-jam/ That will answer your question as well as it can be answered without you actually going to a jam and seeing how it’s done.

    As far as organizing a ride with someone from DC, I’d contact Kathy Hanson about the Sunday tip-jar jam at her house. She gets a bunch of DC people. I’ll send you her email.


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