Tip Jar Jam: New Territory! New Territory!

Ben Smelser

Ben Smelser

[Note from Murphy: Once again Ben Smelser steps in to help me out with a blog. Between getting my wisdom teeth pulled and shooting a DVD with Ned Luberecki this week, my blog time is non-existent. Thanks, Ben!]

Okay, the title of this blog comes from an old gentleman who used to spend countless hours riding with me throughout the region while I looked at trees for customers. Everytime we'd hit an old dirt road or back mountain byway that we had never traveled he would sound off with "Alright, new territory, new territory!" After more than seventy some odd years of life he still got excited at seeing something new. Head hung out the window just taking it all in.  So basically that was our jam last night. I would have to say it was all new territory from start to finish. Thanks to Al Landis for planting the new territory slogan in my head. I miss you dearly.

So here goes it. We were few few in numbers last night, Kenny, Janet, Kasey, Murphy (of course), and myself (Ben) which gave us two banjos and two guitars and a bass. Right off the bat Murphy noticed that Kasey had her 4th string tuned down to C because she had been playing Soldier's Joy, a new song for the both of us, Kasey and myself. I haven't had a Casey-given, one-on-one lesson on this yet but after this past week's misbehaviors I thought I would try and redeem myself.  Murphy had us play it through to see where we stood and of course Kasey stood a little better than me.  Then she had us capo up two frets and spike at the seventh fret. Now we are playing in D and I'm still a little confused about that. We all took individual breaks, Kasey, myself and Janet and I think Murphy took one. It went off pretty good for not ever playing it before.  [Note from Casey: Wait. Wait. Wait. You learned Soldier's Joy on the banjo when we haven't done it in your lesson yet?? You are in so much trouble!!] Janet made the comment that the song sounds different with the guitar and banjos playing together, especially the B part, which she said caused her some confusion. She was right from my view point because I studied this song for the past few days on YouTube with different arrangements and it does sound different. A good one to watch is the MidWest Banjo Camp video in which there are numerous instruments taking breaks. Plus you get to see Casey Henry's break and later you see her looking down at the floor at something as if "what the heck is that!" Good video!

We then went back to G with Lonesome Road Blues and I was able to get through singing Dream of a Miner's Child. [You didn't mention the good harmony singing by Murphy or the fact that she told you you should occasionally make eye contact with your singing partner, just so she knows she is welcome and appreciated!] 

Now right when you think you did good this past week by working on all your jam material in the keys of G, C, and A and you think this will be a good night well, guess what? Not only was Soldier's Joy new territory but Murphy says, "Lets go to the key of B!" Just great! More new territory. Janet takes off with Somebody Touched Me and I'm over here trying to get my hand to work around the fifth string tuner.  Kasey plays fine, I struggle through my break because it just doesn't feel right, and Janet sings it beautifully as always. Other songs in B were Will the Circle be Unbroken, Bury Me Beneath the Willow, one that Murphy sang which had the same break as Bury me Beneath the Willow. What was it called, Murphy? [I'm On My Way Back To The Old Home.] Also Kasey sang I Saw The Light and she and Murphy and Janet harmonized on the chorus. I have to say these women at our Jams sound so beautiful together. It's one thing to hear something that sounds good but it's another thing to hear something that makes you feel good! Kinda like backing your backside up to a hot woodstove on a cold winter day and saying God this feels so good!! My interpretation!  We then played John Hardy in G. I won't comment on my playing that.

We finished the night with me asking Murphy if I could sing Fireball Mail. Since I'm forbidden to play it on my banjo per my teacher Casey, I'm stuck with singing it ,which she instructed me to do.  Why am I forbidden? Well, I've never quite got my break right so she told me NOT to play it anymore. This was a few months back. Well this is where I screwed up! I trust her teaching my daughter as well as myself but I failed to trust her when it came to this song. I kept trying it at home and in turn that took time away from songs I should've been playing. I sent Casey a video of myself playing it at home which still had my normal mistakes. Being the great teacher she is she enlightened me with, "I thought I told you NOT to play this song!" Well I felt horrible for not minding her and being dishonest. So I will sing it and sing it only. Like Murphy said,  it will allow the song to get embedded in my head and then the melody which is played to a T on the banjo should come easy.

Having both Murphy and Casey involved in our playing is a tremendous help because believe me they share information on their students with each other which allows them to find and know our troubled spots. Thank you both.

One more thing. Kenny played a few songs before bailing to the couch for a short siesta.  I thought about going over there with him.  I heard Kenny apologize to Murphy for bailing on the Bass and taking a much needed rest.  That's a good man! Probably one of my best Jams ever last night!! Love New Territory! Since Murphy is fighting the loss of some WISDOM due to her wisdom teeth departures I thought I'd blog for her!


PS: There will be no Jam next Tuesday, March 4. And PROBABLY no jam on Wednesday, March 5. Check with me before coming to the jam, please! I may be stir crazy from sitting around recovering from teeth pulling and having to eat all that ice cream and watch all those DVDs I'm gonna get!

3 thoughts on “Tip Jar Jam: New Territory! New Territory!

  1. Betty Fisher

    Very good writing Ben. Had I not been working I would have been at the Tuesday evening jam. I did make the Wednesday jam…….but……. never mind. I don’t even want to talk about it. Ha ha. Miss you guys. February was crazy! I need to laugh with you guys again!

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