Back in May of this year, I had a special birthday. I turned 70! No one was more surprised that I was—not surprised that I’d made it that far (although I am extremely grateful for each of those years)—but surprised that I was SEVENTY! It seems so old, yet I feel so young! (At times!)
Son Christopher made this birthday extry-spatial (quoting Lester Flatt there; meaning extra special!) by surprising me with a CD he had conceived and recorded with 25 women who were prominent bluegrass musicians playing and singing 23 songs that I had written over the last 40 years! He did this completely on the sly, with Casey and Red and all of my sisters plus all of the musicians in on the surprise, and no one letting a thing slip for over three months!
He presented me with the CD the weekend before my birthday, when he and Red and I (with Marshall Wilborn) had a gig at the B Chord Brewery in nearby Round Hill, Va. He had an elaborate presentation all mapped out, but naturally, it didn’t go as planned!
So we’re at the B Chord early for the gig, waiting around for the sound check. I’m outside the building talking to a couple of students who’ve come to see us play. I walk back in to see if we’re sound checking yet, and I hear one of my songs playing over the speakers. I recognize the song, “I Ain’t Domesticated Yet,” but then I realize that’s not me singing it! I listen closer and I realize that it’s Rhonda Vincent singing it! I am very confused.
I walk over to Red and say, “That’s Rhonda Vincent singing my song. How is that possible?”
He says, “Go ask Christopher.”
Puzzled, I start walking over to Christopher who is standing at the back of the room, near Marty, the owner of the B Chord, who is sitting at the sound board of the PA.
Christopher, realizing his presentation plans have gone astray, is frantically signaling Red to start videoing what is happening on his phone.
[You can watch all this unfold on Christopher’s YouTube Channel.]
Unaware that I am being filmed, I walk up to Christopher with a puzzled look as I continue to hear Rhonda singing my song. I stand there shaking my head, trying to make sense of this. Then Marty, who has inadvertently set all this in motion by starting the music too early, holds up this CD with a picture of three-year old Christopher and my young, dark-haired self, smiling at each other and touching foreheads. We’re both holding instruments: me, my guitar, and Christopher, his little ukulele. It is so loving and so precious! I say, “What?” I still don’t get it. I’m clueless.
Marty hands me the CD and my almost-seventy self puts on my glasses so I can read the liner notes. Then, I stand there, looking at the names of all these songs that I wrote and looking at the names of all these women whom I revere so much listed beside them: Rhonda, Alice Gerrard, Kathy Kallick, Laurie Lewis, Missy Raines, Cathy Fink, Marcy Marxer, A. J. Lee, Kristin Scott Benson, and Malia and Gina Furtado, two of my former students! And of course, the Hicks sisters--Nancy, Argen and Laurie—along with several other women whose music I did not know, but whose voices I would grow to love.
I ask Christopher, “Is that Rhonda singing my song?”
He nods yes, with a big smile on his face, and I say, “I am frigging speechless.”
To which he replies, “Happy birthday, Momma!”
And I laugh so loud because I am absolutely stunned and so unbelievably happy. And then Christopher and I hug each other so tight—a great big bear hug!—I say, “I can’t believe this!”
Then I turn to Red, who is still filming, and say, with a laugh, “You knew about this!”
Then I turn back to Christopher and I gush, “He didn’t say a word!” I add, “You recorded all this! You made this happen!”
Christopher nods with a shy, but proud, smile and I say, “Best boy ever!” Then we hug again because there is so much love in the air and that’s what hugs are for!
We spent the next day listening to the CD together, and talking about the making of it, much of which Christopher chronicled in the “Making of…” video. I was enamored of all the details, all the trials and tribulations, and all the effort everyone had put into making this happen. And I was blown away with the singing and playing of all these women—it is FANTASTIC! I am greatly honored that they would join Christohper in helping to celebrate my 70th birthday!
Of course, the CD was so incredibly wonderful that when people heard about it, they wanted copies, so we decided to make it available. You can get it online digitally at iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora, and you can get honest-to-goodness hard-copy CDs from us at murphymethod.com. It’s called “Songs of Murphy Hicks Henry: When My Momma Sang To Me.”
A great big shout out to Christopher for all the time and hard work he put into the making of this CD. He produced it, engineered it, coordinated all 23 recordings, designed the CD package, wrote the liner notes, played brilliant mandolin and guitar on many of the cuts, and sang harmony when needed. Thanks also to Casey for all the help and support and music she provided and to Red, who as always, stepped in where he was needed.
I am one very happy seventy-year-old banjo player and songwriter. As the old hymn says, I am counting my many blessings. And, as my T-shirt proclaims at the end of the “The Making Of…” video, life is good!
See y’all at IBMA in Raleigh, September 27-October 1. I’ll have CDs with me!