Tip Jar Jam: Look, Ma, no Fifth Strings!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

We had quite a crowd at the Wednesday night jam this week including  the young brothers Rhys on fiddle and Drew on banjo with their parents Jason on guitar and Amber on mandolin. Can you say "family band in the making?" I hope so!

So this story is about Drew: Somewhere in the middle of the jam, I decided we needed to get into the Key of B, so I could sing Katy Daley, that great Ralph Stanley song that Dan has been learning on banjo. (Casey's Custom Lesson!) Dan was the only one taking breaks, so all Drew had to do was vamp. After we finished that one--with Dan doing a jam up job on the banjo--I asked Diane to sing Do Lord in B, so we could do one more song there without having to fool with the banjo capos and the inevitable retuning. Do Lord is a song that Drew knows how to play, which was one reason I chose it. The problem was  that Drew doesn't have spikes in his banjo yet so he couldn't tune his fifth string to the requisite B note. Taking a page from Casey's book, I took his banjo and tuned the fifth string so it sounded just like the first string. (Off the cuff, I have no idea what that note is, not that it matters. I think it's an F-sharp. But that sounds scary!) I told Drew that the break would sound a little strange with the fifth string tuned like that. I even played it for him so he could hear the strangeness. It did sound pretty weird.

So, Diane kicked it off on guitar. (She is really getting good at picking out her own breaks on guitar! Thank you Bobby, Janet, and Bob for paving the way! Jason is also coming on like a freight train in the guitar-picking department!) Dan took a break, Bob took a break, and then it was Drew's turn. He launched into his break just fine and because of the fifth string issue, I was watching him closely. I could see that sometimes his thumb was going up to catch the fifth string, but I didn't HEAR any fifth strings! Then on some of the licks, I saw his thumb was NOT going anywhere near the fifth string. I could conclude only one thing: He was purposely avoiding hitting the fifth strings!

When the song was over, I asked him if this is what he was doing. He readily admitted it, because to him it was NO BIG DEAL. The rest of the "grups" (old Star Trek word for "grown-ups"!) were sitting there with their jaws on the floor! No only would we not have thought of doing that, there is pretty much no way we could have executed it, even if we had thought of it. But, since there was no one to tell him he couldn't do it (paraphrasing one of the bluegrass women in my book), he just did it! And his break sounded fine. Only someone with an eagle banjo ear could have detected anything even slightly amiss! You go, Drew!

Shout-outs also to Chuck for singing all four verses to Will The Circle Be Unbroken (with some slight prompting from Diane, who was paying that forward!), to Gregg for trying the Roly Polys, to Bob A for taking so much of the singing load, to Rhys for some mighty fine fiddling, and to Amber for being willing to jump in with so many mandolin breaks.

NOTE: I keep meaning to blog about this but have overcome my cultural resistance to using a capo on the mandolin ("Bill Monroe didn't use a capo!") and now strongly advocate using the capo. Thank you, Kristina, for opening my eyes to that! My break-through thought was this: Why should beginning mandolin players have to sit out half of the jam songs because they can't capo? So, I got a capo for Kristina, and she was off and running. As is Amber. I guess sometimes an old dog--meaning me!--can learn a new trick or two....

And the final quote of the blog comes from Diane. I put this in here especially so Bob A can show it to Wanda, his Wonderful Wife. As I was calling on Bob to sing yet another song, Diane said, "I love to hear Bob sing." Got a pipe, Wanda? I think it's time to put some Beechnut in there and start smoking!

We'll be jamming next Tuesday and Wednesday, August 26 and 27, 7-9 pm. All Murphy Method students, current and former, "live" and mail order, are welcome! Suggested contribution is $20.

There will be NO JAM on Wednesday, September 3. Casey and I are going to visit the great banjo picker Larry Perkins in Daytona Beach! We gonna talk about Earl and Louise! More on that later. Gotta run!