Tip Jar Jam: Fast, Fast, Fast!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

I don't know what got into us last night but from the git-go, we were playing fast, fast, fast! I finally had to suggest we slow things down!

Dan, the prodigal son (for whom we killed the fatted calf, metaphorically speaking), started things off with Cumberland Gap. That's not a tune we play a lot (for some reason) but since last night's group comprised experienced jammers, I figured we could skip The Big Three. [I hope I used "comprised" correctly. That's a tricky one!] {Editor's note: yes, you did!} Since Ben and Kasey both went wide-eyed when I said we'd play Cumberland Gap I decided on the spot that the banjos should all play lead together to give them a chance to remember their breaks. I let Dan set the tempo, and buddy he blistered it! After a few fumbling fingers, everyone got on board and we were cooking! I mentioned afterwards that this is one of those tunes that really doesn't sound like much until you speed it up. That's when you can start to feel the guitars and the banjos coming together in that tight pulsing rhythm, which is the essence of the tune--and the essence of bluegrass.

Next, I asked Bob A to sing I Saw The Light, which I thought would slow us down. Not so! I think Bob was still under the influence of that fast first tune because his guitar kickoff was close to stage tempo. In hindsight, I could have stopped him and told him he needed to slow it down, but Mean Murphy was at the helm and she just let him--and everybody else--slug it out. It wasn't pretty.  But, perhaps it was a lesson learned? Who knows.

Later on Kathy H took the opposite approach and kicked off I'll Fly Away too slow. (Perhaps the over-all tempos evened out and the Universe was in balance!) Mean Murphy just smiled because Kathy had done this before on this same song and had commented afterward how hard it was to sing. This time Kathy noticed my smile and asked later if  I was smiling because the tempo was so slow. Yes, I was! But then, taking advantage of a teaching moment, I told her that if you accidentally kick off a song too slow in a jam you can stop the song, admit that you kicked it off too slow, and start again. But, in this case, the slower tempo gave everyone a chance to play their breaks better so it actually worked out fine.
Kathy and I have been doing some good harmony singing lately and last night we rocked on Purple Robe, I'll Fly Away, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, and Worried Gal, which she'd never sung tenor on before. Nice job, Catalina! Somehow our voices have that edgy, bluegrass blend. Sometimes she sings tenor to my lead, and sometimes I sing baritone to her lead. And the more we sing, the tighter we sound. (Just need you on baritone, Tim!)
Other high points of the jam were Ben putting in a great bass run on I'll Fly Away and Circle in the key of C. In fact, I just asked him to send me the jam pictures he is supposed to be taking and here is his reply:

"Go ahead and shoot me. I forgot to take any. I was too busy soaking up all that glory of my runs on the bass. I finally did something right. Thank Casey again for me. That lesson put me over the hump!"

So no pictures from Ben! Which is too bad because Kasey, who looked stunning as always, was really belting out Rocky Top. If the good Lord's willing and the crick don't rise, she'll be performing Rocky Top and a couple of other numbers with Casey and me at our Intermediate Banjo Camp. Last night I had Kasey and Kathy working on splitting the break to Rocky Top--sorta like Sonny and Bobby Osborne did it on the original recording, with Sonny kicking off the verse on the banjo and Bobby coming in with the mandolin on the chorus. (You can hear that right here on YouTube. The break starts at 1:28.) In fact, if memory serves, I think they did a three-way split with Sonny coming back in and taking the last part of the chorus on the banjo. Splitting breaks really adds interest, action, variety, and student anxiety in a song!

Bobby's Pie

Bobby's Pie

Since we have no pictures from Ben, we'll make do with one from Bobby. He just sent me a picture of a PEACH PIE. I asked him if he made it and he texted back, "Well, it damn sure didn't come from Ms. Smith's." He had made it this morning! (No, in answer to the all-important pie question, he didn't make the crust. But I'll bet he could!) I told him I thought he was trying to out-do Ben in the cooking department. Ben had brought me two quart Mason jars full of tiny potatoes that he had canned! Wish I'd saved those pictures, but I had no idea I'd be needing them! Who would have thunk that these West Virginia hillbillies (I say that with affection!) would be into cooking. In fact Ben told us last night that the only thing he asked his mother for was her pressure cooker. Which she gave him! Which he used to can those potatoes! Help! Stop me! This is turning into a cooking blog. I feel like Julia Child!

Earl, Earl, Earl, Earl! Whew! That helped!

We'll be Tip Jar Jamming this Sunday, February 23, in Frederick, Maryland, 3:30-5:30. Call, text, or email if you'd like to come and need directions.