Tip Jar Jam: Happy May!

Murphy Henry

I wish I could tell you what Kathy G said as she left the Tip Jar Jam last night. But since this is a family-type blog (with the occasional cuss) I will paraphrase:

Hooray, hooray, the first of May
Outdoor pickin' starts today!

We had TEN people at the jam last night, including Drew (banjo) and Reece (fiddle) and their dad, Jason on guitar. Drew and Reece are probably about 10 or 11, maybe 12, and they are doing incredibly well on their instruments. (Yeah, I know, they are kids, what do you expect!) But what I like is that they fit into the jam well, and don't have to be pampered. If I ask them to play, they play and if they can't play, they sit quietly and Drew even vamps, mostly. (I've told you about them before, and even posted a picture of Drew, but it's been a while. Glad to have you boys back!)

New at the jam last night were two songs that Kathy H debuted. Since our Wednesday group has been together for a while and the jammers are mostly at an intermediate level, I felt comfortable springing these numbers on them. One was the familiar Long Black Veil, which I allowed because no women are killed in the song! Kathy sings it in C. We had tweaked her version slightly at the Sunday jam and again at her lesson, easing it gently into the bluegrass format. Instead of singing two verses back to back and then the chorus, she now sings verse/chorus; verse/chorus; verse/chorus, which allows for more breaks. I also adjusted her chording on the last line, adding a IV chord, which is way too hard to explain! (I just deleted my explanation. It was confusing to me, and I was playing the guitar in my head!)

Since the song was totally new to the group, I started it with a "Mac Wiseman" kickoff. And what is a "Mac Wiseman" kickoff? Well, Mac, who used a pickup band when he performed, would start his songs by strumming the guitar for a few beats and then breaking into song. This gave the band a clue as to what the song sounded like, since there never was any rehearsal! (I have been fortunate to play both banjo and bass with Mac. He is the consummate performer. But he doesn't pay much--just a handshake and a thank you!) Anyhow, I set up the rhythm on the guitar and Kathy started singing. Dan (banjo) took the first break, improvising on the fly. When he got halfway through the break ("Ten years ago on a cold dark night/Someone was killed neath the town hall light..."), he played it the way Kathy had sung it and did NOT put in any extra beats before he started the second half ("The people who saw, they all agreed/That the slayer who ran looked a lot like me"). Bobby, sitting next to me as always so I can keep an eye on him, was playing rhythm guitar in the "traditional" way, which meant he put in a big fat G run right in the middle of Dan's break. It threw him out of time with Dan which caught me off guard and irked me into saying, "Dammit!" in a Very Loud Voice.

Then when Kathy came back in with the second verse, she adjusted her timing and sang it like Bobby played it, with the extra beats. So when Bob Mc improvised his break, he didn't have a clue as to what the timing was supposed to be!

I'm making the song sound like a total disaster, which it was not, because Kathy sang it well and we had some nice harmony from Kathy G and Diane and me on the choruses. But after it was over, since this is a teaching jam, I explained what the problem was: "To G run, or not to G run. That is the question." I showed them that those extra Bluegrass Beats allow the banjo to do the "tag lick" and also allow the guitar to do the G run. You don't HAVE to put the extra beats in and more experienced banjo players can deal with a "short middle" but in garden-variety jam sessions, those extra beats--with G runs and tags--really help to keep folks on track. To demonstrate, I had all the banjo players improvise a break while I hummed the tune, played the guitar, and yelled out "tag lick" when we got to the middle of the break. Doing that was a big help to the banjo players, who nailed their breaks. I then apologized to Bobby for cussing him. He responded by saying and motioning, "In one ear and out the other." To which I replied, "It goes straight through because there's nothing up there!" "10-4," he said.

Kathy's other song, I Want My Dog Back, which she actually sings in G, was another hit. The chords on this one are a bit tricky, (no surprise, since it's a Tom T. Hall song), and I'm not sure I've got them entirely right, but we'll keep working on it. It will be nice to have a "womyn song" in G. (Don't ask. I'm working a blog about women's keys which I hope to post sometime soon.)

Frederick Jam: We will be jamming this Sunday in Frederick at an earlier hour, 2-4. I've got to get back home by 6 to relieve Red of his babysitting duties so he can go to his Tuckahoe Travelers band practice.

Tip Jar Jam: We'll be jamming next week, May 6 and 7, in Winchester.

Casey in North Carolina: This weekend, May 2-4, Casey will be taking the Murphy Method to the Five-String Fest in Lawndale, N.C. That's between Asheville and Hickory. It's a big festival with lots of banjo players including J. D. Crowe, the Grascals with Kristin Scott Benson, and Chris Jones and the Night Drivers with Ned Luberecki, who just released his first Murphy Method DVD, "Start With The Melody." Casey will have plenty of DVDs along with some of my Pretty Good For a Girl books. (Which she will be happy to sign!) More info at fivestringfest.com.

Happy May!

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