By Red

Red Henry

Folks, I recently participated in couple of picking sessions that showed something about what to do--and what not to do-- in a jam. Let's call them Jam Session #1 and Jam Session #2.

Jam Session #1 was the good old Thursday evening session at Linda's Mercantile fruit stand, run by David and Linda Lay on U.S. 522 a mile or so north of Winchester. Everybody's welcome, so we always have a mix of talent. There are folks who've only been playing a little while, and folks who've been playing all their (long) lives. There are folks who know just a few tunes, and folks who know lots. So when I go pick at Linda's, I know that I'll be fitting in with a dozen or fifteen other pickers of widely varying experience and musical skill.

Usually during the evening at Linda's, I'll sing two or three songs as well as backing up and taking breaks on everybody else's numbers. What's important when playing at Linda's? At least a few things, such as:

(a.) When it's your turn to sing, pick out a song that LOTS OF PEOPLE KNOW. They'll be playing along in back of you, so make sure that you sing a song they know and can play along with. And DON'T PLAY TOO FAST. Then everybody can play along together, and the music sounds good. And the pickers (as well as the audience) like it.

(b.) When you are playing lead or backup on someone else's song or tune, always remember the K.I.S.S. principle of bluegrass music: Keep It Simple, Stupid! When play your break on a number with a wide variety of pickers, that is not the time to show how hot a player you are and how many notes you can pick. It is the time to play AS PLAINLY AND CLEARLY AS POSSIBLE so that everybody can hear what you are doing and play along. That's the way to keep the picking session sounding good.

Now, let's consider Jam Session #2. This session happened to include just three people, at an old-time music gathering where the rest of the folks were taking a supper break. The instruments present were a fiddle played by a good player, a guitar played by a non-guitar specialist, and a mandolin played by me. So, as one of just two lead players it was my turn to pick out every other tune. I selected interesting but well-known numbers that sounded good even in such a small group, and were easy for the guitar player to back up even though guitar wasn't his best instrument.

BUT... when the fiddle player picked out tunes to play, they were not like that. They were some of the fiddler's favorite rare, obscure, "unsquare" tunes, which neither I nor the guitarist knew or could play well. By the time we'd gone through each tune several times I had learned the basics of it, but the effect of a learning mandolin player and a hesitant guitar player meant that the tunes sounded a lot weaker, and to me (at least) were much less satisfying to play, than the tunes I had picked out specifically to avoid that situation and help us all sound good. I thought that the fiddle player lacked good manners.

So whatever session you're in, YOU use good manners. Pick tunes that the other musicians can play, and play them in such a way as to make it easy for the others to play along. Sometimes in advanced sessions, this means that you can play about anything you want any way you want to, even without announcing the name of the tune. But in other sessions, it means that you have to pay attention to the other musicians and help make everybody sound good. Think about it.

Red

The Murphy Method's very first Women's Banjo Camp is under way! The campers are already enjoying their first workshops with Murphy and Casey. Meanwhile Red, the designated babysitter, is hard at work giving Dalton his afternoon nap!

Red Henry

That's right, folks! By customer demand, our Bill-Monroe Style Mandolin DVD is now available by download, the high-tech modern way to do things.

Click here to go straight to it in our digital catalog.

Bill Monroe-Style Mandolin: Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass, is also the father of the Monroe-style of mandolin playing. Our son Chris Henry—who has been called a “fire-eating Monroe acolyte”—grew up on the sounds of Bill Monroe, not only from records but from the sounds of his own father’s playing. (With some David McLaughlin thrown in for good measure.) In other words, Chris knows the Monroe style. Having grown up in a Murphy Method home, he also knows how to teach it, note by note.

Here we present four Bill Monroe tunes along with a bluesy Monroe-style break to “Man of Constant Sorrow.” If you’re ready for some hard-core bluegrass mandolin playing, you’ve come to the right place! No Tab. 83 minutes.

Big Mon, Bluegrass Breakdown, Raw Hide, Wheel Hoss, Man of Constant Sorrow.

 

More details and a sample are here on our site!

 

Folks, the Murphy Method Banjo Camp is coming up this weekend here in Winchester, and guess who is Casey's designated babysitter for the weekend! So while all the Murphy Method students are having fun learning banjo licks from Murphy and Casey and having fun playing together, the youngest banjo player in the family (Dalton Henry, age 7 months) and I will be having fun playing together too!

The music involved, of course, might be a little different. For the Murphy Method students, it will be Banjo in the Hollow and Cripple Creek and tunes like that. For Dalton and myself, the music will include "Go Tell Aunt Roady" and "Way Down Yonder in the Paw-Paw Patch." But a good time will be had by all!

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Yes, folks, as we mentioned last week, Christopher's song "Walking West to Memphis" is up for the "Song of the Year" award at SPBGMA. (That's the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America.) Everybody attending the convention is eligible to vote, so if you're going to SBBGMA, PLEASE VOTE!

"Walkin' West to Memphis" is getting lots of airplay, and is now #3 in the National Bluegrasss Survey in the new edition of Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine! I believe that's up from #4 in January.

For those who enjoy good songs and original mandopicking, here's Chris singing and playing W.W.T.M. with Shawn Camp at the Station Inn in Nashville:

Red

Red Henry

This last weekend was the Murphy Method Banjo Camp, run and taught by Murphy and Casey. This particular camp was just for beginning players. The campers were all real good folks, and everybody had a fine time.

And so, what did Red, the aged, tottering, grizzled patriarch of the family, do for the weekend? As previously noted, he took care of Casey's baby, namely Dalton Henry, who is two months old and mighty cute. Even if he couldn't stay awake for Halloween.

I mentioned before that Dalton is a beginning banjo player, because he can't help it. But there's more he can't help doing too, over the next few years, which includes learning to talk. And how children learn that is HIGHLY relevant to learning to play music.

How does a child learn to talk? By listening and imitating people whom he hears. When you see the slogan "Talk to your baby!" it's important, because babies have to hear words before they can say them. A baby listens and listens before it learns to talk.

And would anyone say that a baby should learn to READ before it starts to talk? Of course not. That'd be ridiculous.

So what does this have to do with bluegrass? Only everything. If you're learning to make sounds (play music, that is), learn those sounds-- the notes-- BY EAR. Then practice. A lot. As Murphy says, "Listen, listen, listen, and play, play, play."

Don't try to learn to play bluegrass music from a piece of paper. Do you want to know what the notes should sound like? Yes. Can paper show you that? No.

Casey won't make little Dalton read before he can talk. That's not how people learn!

Take a hint.

Red.

Red Henry

Folks, the Murphy Method Beginning Banjo Camp is this weekend! We'll have students coming in from all over the country to learn from Murphy and Casey. This is our first camp specifically for beginners, so both Murphy and Casey will be teaching, demonstrating, and encouraging new banjo players for three days.

And what use, you may ask, will Murphy's husband be while all this is going on? He (that is, me, myself and I) will be chasing the family's newest banjo picker around the house. He's Casey's son, named Dalton Henry, age 8 weeks yesterday:

Morning Cheer

--and how does a person that young get to be a banjo picker? That's easy: he's already heard more banjo notes than more people. For 9 months. At close range, too. The kid can't help playing a banjo.

Red

P.S. -- Oh, I'll get over to the camp each evening, too, to help Murphy with jam sessions and sing-alongs... with all those OTHER beginning banjo players.

Red Henry

Folks, what's the easiest and most enjoyable kind of practice? Naturally, it's the kind that doesn't seem like practice at all: PLAYING music. So I got a lot of easy practice last weekend.

Friday night, there was Old-Time picking at the Cabin. That's the "Cabin" with a capital C, the one where the Old-Time pickers play. And how do you get there? Well, it's way out in the woods on little crooked roads. In fact, in order to find it, you need to already know how to get there. (That sounds like circular reasoning, doesn't it? Well, we do play around with the tunes. Stop it, Red.)

The Old-Time pickers (call them OTP's for short) generally like to play a lot in one key before changing. When we started Friday night, we were in the key of A-- all three of us. In fact, I wondered if I'd come there on the wrong night. But people kept drifting in and in an hour or so, we had ten players-- all pretty good players, too-- three or four each of fiddle and banjo, plus guitar, bass, and two mandolins: a good mix. And what did we play in the key of A? Good stuff-- not only the familiar tunes, but also some oldie goodies like Old Mother Flanagan, Pretty Little Dog, and June Apple. After a couple of hours, we got into the key of D and played some there too-- more good stuff.

On Saturday the music was a hair more serious because I was playing a party gig, with a three-piece band including my friends Scott and Cousin David. We played a mix of bluegrass songs and old-time tunes for a delightful outdoor event in Clarke County, Virginia. Scott played guitar and sang, and David switched off from banjo to lead guitar, while I picked a little mandolin. Everybody had a good time.

Cousin David is a very versatile musician. Between sets, he was playing some new-age music on his old-age guitar. A mischievous band member said, "Play 'Wipeout'! and he did. Then the same person said, "Now play 'Hey, You, Get Off of My Cloud!'", but David wouldn't play that. Spoilsport.

Sunday afternoon's music was back in the traditional groove, playing with the OTP's at a country church in West Virginia. There were  eight of us there, again a well-matched ensemble, with three fiddles, three banjos, bass, guitar, and mandolin. We played in the key of D: Cowboy's Dream. Yellow Rose of Texas (not the one you know). Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine. Mississippi Sawyer. Hard Times Come Again No More. More good stuff.

When the Sunday music was finished, it was time to go home and collapse for a while. As one of the OTP's said as we packed up, "Now I've got to go to work this week to rest up for the weekend!"  But you know what? I was in practice.

It was easy.

Red

Red Henry

Folks, I'm writing this from Nashville, Tennessee. Murphy and I are over here for a few days to visit with Casey and her brand-new son, Dalton Whitfield Henry.

Of course this means that Murphy and I are having a great time seeing Casey and the baby. But it also means that nobody's at home right now, sending out DVDs! But keep on placing your orders, because I should be back at work on Monday, sending them out. Till them, play a tune for little Dalton.

Red

Red Henry

For those who haven't seen the announcements on various music lists, the great bluegrass fiddler Kenny Baker died yesterday in Nashville. Kenny was probably the most influential bluegrass fiddler of our time, having played with Bill Monroe for over 15 years (in itself a record for Bill's sidemen). He played fiddle on all of Bill's classic albums from the late 1960s to the mid-'80s, a nearly-indescribable wealth of bluegrass music which included Bill's great "Uncle Pen" and "Master of Bluegrass" LPs. Kenny's tone, timing, and note choice were the best anywhere, proven not only on his performances and recordings with Bill, but also by the six or seven LPs he recorded on the County label.

Kenny was a grand gentleman, and he loved to pick. He said he learned from other musicians all the time. During his tenure with Bill Monroe's band, he often got out in the parking lot at festivals and played for hours with people like you and me. He said that sometimes people gave him trouble for that, saying "That's not professional!" -- and that got his dander up. He would reply to them, "Who's tellin' WHO here, what's professional?"

The first time I picked with Kenny was at the Lavonia, Georgia festival in July, 1970. I've forgotten just how the session started, but suddenly Mike and Polly Johnson and I were picking in a circle with Kenny. I think we'd just played Bill Cheatham when Kenny, always encouraging to young players, said his first words to me: "That's good mandolin pickin', buddy."

Top: me, Polly Johnson, Mike Johnson. Lower left: Kenny Baker.

I often picked with Kenny after that. I lived on the East Coast from 1972-74, attending as many festivals as I could, and during that time Kenny and I often closed out festivals on Sunday night by picking for hours at my campsite. He was a terrific inspiration for this young picker, and I learned a great deal from him. His talent was amazingly diversified--he could play jazz as well as bluegrass and old time tunes, and occasionally groused in private about being restricted to playing "this MON-roe stuff" for a living. On one occasion, Mike Johnson and I and some friends got Kenny away from a festival at Brasstown Bald, Georgia, and brought him to Mike's cabin nearby to pick. We played for a long time that night, and away from the bluegrass crowd Kenny played some real hot fiddle before we had to take him back to the show.

Kenny Baker left a huge legacy of music both on record albums and in our memories. Thanks, Kenny! Keep on fiddling.

Red