Tip Jar Jam: In Between Talking We Pick!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Well! The recent snow storm knocked us out of two jams--the Sunday jam in Frederick, Md., and our Tuesday jam in Winchester.

Decorated by Dalton, or at least at his direction!

Decorated by Dalton, or at least at his direction!

However, we were hard at it again at this week's Wednesday jam as Ben, Kasey, Kathy H, Bobby, and Bob Mc all pulled their chairs in close for a cozy jam in front of my gas logs. Actually Ben gave up his chair to play bass after the first tune, Lonesome Road Blues, following Bobby's comment, "You want me to kick off Blue Ridge Cabin Home on the guitar when there are four banjo players sitting here?"

Maybe it was the cold weather giving us too much time to think, but this week a lot of philosophical musing broke out between songs. Bob Mc and I are both huge Pittsburgh Steelers fans so I asked Bob what he thought about Coach Mike Tomlin getting fined $100,000 for stepping onto the field of play as an opposing player was running down the sideline. Bob said that Coach got off light, that he could have been suspended. I said I might be naive but I didn't think Coach Tomlin did it on purpose--I thought it was accidental. (There was much discussion about that.) Then Kasey told a story about a basketball player being asked by his coach to throw a cup of ice at him (the coach) to stop the clock since his team was out of time-outs and the refs would have to take an official time-out to clean the floor. This struck me as being unethical on the coach's part so I asked the group what they thought. If the player felt that throwing the ice was unethical, should he have obeyed the coach anyway? Most folks seemed to think that the player had to obey the coach, that it was like being in the military where you had to do obey your commanding officer whether you liked with it or not. Kathy H also pointed out that in an instance like that, a player would hardly have time to think. Ben said he had been in the military and had done things that he was told to do, but that later in life he wished he hadn't done them.

I had forgotten the whole discussion and would have written the blog without it except that Ben sent me a text that said:

"Really good jam last night. A lot of different conversation. You never know what will come from it. Made me do a lot of thinking last night and today."

When I asked him if he was talking about the basketball coach question, he elaborated a bit (I'm not quoting it all):

"Just try to be a better person today than you were yesterday. You can't go back and fix it. Period! I love the Jams! That's why I don't miss 'em. You'uns are good people!"

[We also had a long discussion about regional words like "warsh" instead of "wash" and "Warshington" instead of "Washington" and "tar far" instead of "tire fire." Ben, on visiting in-laws in Tennessee, had been surprised by their use of "you'uns" instead of the more correct "y'all."]

In between all this talking, we actually did quite a bit of playing!

Kathy H kicked her playing up a notch after I challenged her during her lesson. She was wanting a new song, so I said, "Okay, we'll play a  bunch of your old songs and I'll see how you do. It will be a test." As she told us during the jam, she is very competitive, so my throwing down the gauntlet made her rise to the occasion. I wasn't the only one who noticed how well she was playing--Ben noticed and so did Bobby. She was owning those old tunes (John Hardy, Old Joe Clark, Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms) and her newer ones also (Daybreak In Dixie, Glendale Train, Purple Robe). In fact, she had just improvised a break to Glendale Train right before the jam--using the barre A chord for the first time--and it stayed with her during the jam. She is learning to trust her hands. And, because she has worked hard and laid a good foundation, her hands will play what they should. And sometimes they will even surprise her! But none of this can happen without a solid, foundation. It's all about the foundation.

Kathy and I both had a "words malfunction" during the jam. I screwed up the words to Glendale Train, mixing up the two verses and singing "Charlie Jones was the engineer and she dearly loved her job" when it was clearly Amy White, the baggage girl, who dearly loved her job. I kept going, of course, because that's what I tell my students to do. As Mama used to tell me, the oldest of five girls, "Murphy, you have to set a good example." Still doing it, Mama!

Kathy's words malfunction came at the start of Wagon Wheel, our closing number, when she got her geography mixed up and led off with, "Running from the cold up in New England" instead of "Heading down south to the land of the pines." She also kept going and I was proud of her for that. After the song was over, she was talking about getting the words wrong but my teacher-self felt compelled to point out that nobody except me had even noticed! Bobby said he was too busy trying to figure out the chords, Ben said he was totally focused on trying to play bass in C, Kasey was texting (!) or maybe she was ordering some boots online (!!) and Bob Mc was in his own little Bob McWorld. So it goes. I keep telling you'uns this and I know it's hard to believe but almost nobody hears your errors, even when you mess up the words. How can anything that feels so embarrassing be so unimportant? I'm sure there's a lesson there somewhere...

We will be jamming in Frederick, Maryland, this Sunday, December 15, IF THE WEATHER BE GOOD, as the old song says. Please call me before traveling. 800-227-2357.

Then next week, December 17 and 18, we will have our last two Winchester jams of the year. If you've been thinking about checking out the jams, now's the time. We will resume on Tuesday January 7 (the day after Earl's birthday) and Wednesday January 8 (Elvis's birthday). I think we should play Blue Moon Of Kentucky in honor of Elvis, since he recorded it. Be prepared, folks!

Portland People: Don't forget our workshop January 10-12 with an all-women jam Thursday evening January 9, and private lessons all day Friday January 10. More details here.  Can't wait to see all y'all!