Tip Jar Jam: Three Bobs All In A Row

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

I just realized I should have taken a picture of the three Bobs: Bob Mc, Bob A, and Bob V! In lieu of that, I will paraphrase a nursery rhyme: 

Murphy, merry, quite contrary
How does your jamming go?
With Silver Bells and three-ply shells
And three Bobs all in a row.

Not my best effort, to be sure, and no one in the jam plays a Silver Bell banjo, but I'm guessing there are some three-ply rims!

We welcomed back banjo-picking Bob Mc who now lives in Florida but still makes the occasional foray back to God's country! With Bob A and Bob Van on guitars, that was quite a collection of Bobs. And, for a time, they were all sitting in a row. And then they were sitting in a row with Kathy G in the middle, a rose among the thorns, as we say here.

The entire Campbell Family--Jason, Amber, Drew, and Rhys--was present. I've been working with them as a group, helping them to get ready for their first-ever gig (at a family reunion), and they have all improved by leaps and bounds. Casey had showed Drew the Roly Polys at his lesson last week and he was off and running...er, picking! Last night he Roly Polyed his way through every singing song we did which included Circle, I'll Fly Away, Wreck Of The Old 97, Mountain Dew, Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms, Blue Ridge Cabin Home, and Chuck's second and much-improved rendering of Bury Me Beneath The Willow.

Drew and Rhys, happy after another successful wowing of the adult jammers!

Drew and Rhys, happy after another successful wowing of the adult jammers!

I was rehashing the jam this morning with Bob Van who was asking some really good questions (for a guitar player!) about the Roly Polys. His main concern was, "There didn't seem to be a lot of melody there." So I told him he was exactly right (always a good idea and one I learned from Kathy H!). I told him the Roly Polys provided a way for beginning banjo players to play SOMETHING in a jam, even if it is a no-melody break--and that was better than having to vamp all the time. Boring! Knowing that you are going to have to take a break also keeps you more engaged with the song. You HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION to the chords and therefore you have to listen to the song. You cannot sit there mindlessly wondering what you are going to have for a bedtime snack!

Drew is a perfect example. Before he learned the Roly Polys, he had to vamp through all the singing songs that he didn't know. Now, he can play on most of the songs we do. As can Kathy G. And newest student Gregg is starting down that same path. It's wonderful to me to see all the banjo players actually PLAYING BREAKS. Remember: The Roly Polys are merely the first step on the path to more complex breaks which, eventually, will have more melody.

Rhys, on fiddle, also made a stab at improvising on a song he'd never played a break to, Blue Ridge Cabin Home. I'm not his fiddle teacher (David McLaughlin is) so I didn't have a chance to help him in any way other than to say, "Listen to Bob's singing and see if you can find any of the melody notes on the fiddle." He found a bunch of them, and the ones that weren't melody were in the right chord, so his break sounded wonderful.

Furthermore, he provided fodder for this blog when he said, "That sandwich has made a wonderful aroma all night!" He'd been looking at the hamburger Gregg and Chuck has brought me for supper and which I'd been trying to nibble on during the jam! (I didn't get very far! But the French Fries were good!) I was particularly impressed by his use of the word "aroma."

Then when I was writing down what he said, using the top of my guitar as a desk, he said, "What if that Sharpie bleeds though the paper onto the guitar?" YIKES! Never thought of that! Luckily, the guitar was saved from another battle scar by the thickness of the old thank-you card I was writing on.

That thank-you card just happened to be from Ben and Kasey Smelser. They gave it to me last year, on the first anniversary of the Tip Jar Jams. Ben wrote, "One year you've put up with me! Thanks! You've made me a better banjo and bass player all because of the jams." And Kasey wrote, "Thanks for all the good times and the ones to come." Guess you'll have to be getting me a TWO-YEAR anniversary thank-you card pretty soon, Brother Ben! I'm looking forward to more jamming as we soon move into our third year of Tip Jar Jams

And speaking of Kasey: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GIRL! The big ONE-FOUR! Next year: learner's permit! You can practice your banjo playing while you drive! And then the next year: drag racing!!! Get ready, Ben!

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