Tip Jar Jam: Musing on Words

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Just when I was thinking that we'd have the same folks for the Tip Jar Jam that we had last Tuesday (Janet, Kenney, Doug, Betty) in walks Bob Mc. He was here for his last jam before he heads back to Florida. I was going to call him a "snowbird" but he actually lives down there full time now. He just came back for our Apple Blossom Festival. 

Betty, bless her heart, had a terrible case of laryngitis and literally could not talk. We used hand signals to decide which tunes she would play. At one point, I said, "Hold up one finger if you want to play Worried Gal and hold up two fingers if you want to play Two Dollar Bill." She held up one finger but it wasn't the finger I was expecting! She got the message across! She is eloquent even when she can't speak aloud. 

Since she held up one finger, Janet and I sang Worried Gal. Janet was having trouble remembering to say "gal" instead of "man." You'd be surprised at how difficult this is. You get used to singing something one way and it's really hard to change. I remember when I first realized that I wanted to sing the song as Worried Gal rather than Worried Man. It wasn't that long ago. (On our Misfits DVD it's Worried Man!) My singing the words "worried gal" sounded really strange to my ears. For one thing, in Georgia we didn't use the word "gal" much. To me, that was a Northern word. My Aunt Jill, from Massachusetts, was the only person I remember using it. I'm more used to singing "worried gal" now, but sometimes I backslide!

The song I still have trouble with gender flipping is I Saw The Light. "Just like a blind man I wondered alone..." I've tried "blind girl" and "blind gal" and I don't really like the way those "sing." I mean, "blind man" as a phrase is sort of embedded in the English language, much like "orphan girl" (instead of "orphan boy.") I know that what sounds "good" and "right" to my ear is generally based on what I'm used to, which makes it even harder to change the gender. So currently I'm working on singing "blind soul": "Just like a blind soul, I wondered alone..." It still sounds strange, though. (Why bother to flip the genders? For the simple reason that it makes the song more relevant to me.)

And speaking of words, Kathy H was singing Will The Circle last Wednesday to a jam group consisting of Bob, Bob, Bob and me. ("Just call me Bob," Kathy said.) She usually includes this extra verse: "Oh we sang the songs of childhood/Hymns of faith that made us strong/Songs that Mother Maybelle taught us/Hear the angels sing along." Well, last week she made a substitution and sang "Songs that Mother Murphy taught us..." Naturally, as a words person myself, I caught the change immediately. Nobody else noticed. Kathy mentioned the word change to the group after the song was over, but since the Bobs didn't know the words to start with, it was a lost cause. I think Kathy was disappointed. I understood.

It took me a long, long time to realize that most folks in the audience don't actually hear the words to the songs you are singing! I can only guess that they are responding to the sound of the music, the presentation of the band, the reaction of the audience, or perhaps just the emotion in the song. So all those detailed story songs that I've written are probably not connecting with folks unless they are listening to them repeatedly on CD. Sigh....Such is show biz.

We had a guest picker last night in the person of Chris L, a long-time high school friend of son Chris. Chris plays guitar and sings and I'd run into him recently when my Chris was home. I invited Chris L to join the jam and he took me up on it! He brought his gorgeous twin daughters, who are 8 or 9, with him and they sat quietly on the couch for two solid hours, playing with some sort of small electronic devices. When the jam was over, one of his daughters walked up to her daddy and asked him in a very quiet voice to sing Walking Shoes, a song he had written. I was up for one more song, especially one Chris had written, so he capoed up to B and let 'er fly. Walking Shoes only has two chords, I and V, and a set of simple words but it's a really good bluegrass song. I helped him out on the tenor and took a banjo break. It was a lovely way to end the evening, as we all put on our walking shoes and headed home.

In answer to a question about coming to the Jams: Yes, yes, yes! If you are traveling through the area this summer on a Tuesday or Wednesday, you are welcome to drop in and join us. We play from 7-9 pm. You do not have to call ahead, except for directions! Call the Murphy Method number 800-227-2357 or email me personally at nmhenry@visuallink.com. Suggested "tip" is $20. We welcome players of all levels and we always try to get you involved by playing some songs you know, at your speed. Hope to see you!

2 thoughts on “Tip Jar Jam: Musing on Words

  1. Diana

    Murphy….because I got to spend a week with you in 2012 at the Kaufman Kamp, I can hear your voice and see your smile as I read your blogs. You are my hero….for 5-years my banjo teacher would only teach tablature…then I discovered you. When I turned 62 and received my first Social Security check I was determined to save my money, fly from Oregon to Tennessee the next year to thank you, give you a hug and a kiss on the cheek……you received all three very well!
    There you have it!
    Hugs, Diana MacKenzie

  2. Betty Fisher

    So good to have Bob Mc drop in. He and Doug were very good together. It was especially nice to get to meet Chris and have him sing. I still can’t believe I did the weird capo thing! What the hell? That’s right…..prednisone…..how nice to have an excuse. Anyway it was a great jam as usual. Thanks.

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