Red Henry

"When should I change my strings?" That's a question we often hear. New strings usually sound better, but there are as many answers to this question as there are musicians. Some things that you can consider are:

1. There's no 'official' time to change strings. I used to change the strings on two guitars and two mandolins every day when we played bluegrass festivals, but Bill Monroe changed his strings once a year-- at New Year's-- and from then on, he just changed them when they broke (which was pretty often, by summertime).

2. Some people like the sound of old strings. Our Cousin David loves the sound (or lack of it) that old strings have, and would probably prefer never to play on new-sounding strings. I think that brand-new strings can sound a bit tinny, myself, but sometimes-- such as when I have a big stage show to play, or a noisy party gig or bar gig where there's going to be plenty of musical stress and challenge-- I'll make sure at least that my strings aren't too old.

3. Generally speaking, newer strings make your instrument get in tune (and stay in tune) better. This is because (a) a new string isn't worn from playing and is still about the same diameter from one end to the other, so it "frets" more in tune; (b) the string is not very corroded yet, so it slides through the nut-slots and bridge-slots more smoothly as you twist the tuners; and (c) the lack of rougher, corroded surfaces on the string make its vibrations more coherent so you (or your electronic tuner) can hear the string's note better. Also, new strings (or preferably a day or two old. so they're "stretched" and stable) are usually better for recording, because getting exact tuning, and having the strings stay there, is really critical if you're in a recording session.

. . . . .

So those are some things you can think about.

Editor's Note: For even more detailed info on this topic, you can see Red's previous post on this same topic.

This is one in our continuing occasional series of excerpts from Murphy’s Banjo Newsletter articles. This is from the September 1990 issue, and appears on page 127 of Murphy’s book …And There You Have It! If you're a long-time Red and Murphy fan you're recognize the events in this column as inspiration for Murphy's song "How They Loved To Sing."

When I was little, growing up in northeast Georgia, we spent a lot of time going to church. As many people in Georgia did, we attended the Baptist Church. My favorite part of church was the singing. I could have a good time just looking through the hymn book. I was always very conscious of the songs we sang, and some of them I liked better than others. The Sunday morning selection of songs was never high on my list because, for one thing, we didn't do enough of them. I mean it was like, poof, two songs and then they were taking up the offering. In addition, the songs we did sing were too formal, to staid, too lifeless: "Crown Him With Many Crowns"; "All Hail The Power Of Jesus' Name"; "Holy, Holy, Holy." They were good for practicing your alto and for seeing how many versus you could sing without looking at the book, but that was about it. There was no joy.

Sunday evening was better because it was more relaxed. The men came without their coats (although not without their ties), and the ladies came without their hats, the choir forsook their robes, and the singing was "all together lovely." (Sorry. I couldn't resist. "All Together Lovely" is a song that only the most dedicated Southern Baptist would recognize.) Sunday evening was when we did the good singing: "Washed In The Blood"; "The Old Rugged Cross"; "Amazing Grace"; "Glory To His Name"; and maybe even "When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder", although we didn't do that one much because it generated too much toe-tapping. And you know where toe-tapping leads. Straight into dancing. And that is a no-no. Now, those were some songs you could put your heart into. But, even those songs paled alongside the singing that the folks did at our family reunion.

The Hicks-Sisk Reunion was held each August, the hottest month in the Georgia year, at a little country church that my Granddaddy Hicks had attended as a boy. The road leading to Amy's Creek Baptist was red Georgia clay, the cardboard fans found on the back of the pine pews were from the local funeral home, and a Sears Roebuck catalog graced the outhouse, which was a three seater.

I always rode to the reunion with Granddaddy and Grandmother so I could get there early without having to wait on Mama and Daddy who usually arrived at dinner time (that's lunch time to you) with my younger sisters and our portion of dinner on the ground. Getting there early meant I had to sit through a fire and brimstone sermon, but it was worth it because to get to the sermon you had to go through the singing. And those people could flat out sing. They were still using the old Stamps-Baxter paperback hymnals with the shaped notes and they sang all the good songs: "I'll Fly Away"; "Precious Memories"; "Life's Railway To Heaven"; "Farther Along"; "Just A Little Talk With Jesus"; "On The Jericho Road". It was the custom at that little church to invite everybody in the congregation to sing in the choir (otherwise they wouldn't have had a choir). Not wishing to appear to anxious, I always said "no" two or three times, just to be polite, you know, before I gave in. At the time, I hardly knew any of the songs but that didn't bother me. I made a joyful noise as loud as any of them. They didn't care.

After the preaching we would adjourn to the outside where already some of the ladies would be spreading out their tablecloths on the raw pine boards stretched between saw horses in one continuous long line. They would open the trunks of their cars and bring forth picnic baskets and pasteboard boxes full of fried chicken [Editor's note: no Kentucky Fried for them, no ma'am!], potato salad, green beans, homemade rolls, watermelon rind preserves, chocolate cake, and every good Southern delicacy that you could think of. We would eat until we were about to pop and wash it all down with Dixie cups full of iced tea or lemonade.

When all the eating was over and the tables had been cleared and the men had finished smoking, someone would toll the church bell and back into the church we would all go for my absolutely favorite part of the whole day: more singing. This was the time when you could call out the number of the song you wanted to sing: "Never Grow Old" (Number 210); "Come Unto Me" (142); "Victory In Jesus" (92). Different men would get up and lead the congregation in singing their favorite song. Granddaddy would always lead "Amazing Grace". When things started to wind down someone would get up and mention by name all the relatives who had passed away since our last reunion. Then we would sing "That Glad Reunion Day" (Number 300) and it was over. Except, of course, for more visiting and the lengthy Southern goodbyes. Those are my musical roots. This is where my musical soul lies. When the single exception of having to wear a dress, it was just about a perfect day.

[The article continues on to tell about going back to Amy's Creek many years later with her kids. But if you want to read that, you'll just have to get the book!]

Casey Henry

Because I have NO ideas for what to blog about today, here's a picture instead. Amy Harrison and the Secondhand Stringband shared the stage with us when we played at Cold Dog Soup in England a couple weeks back. Their banjo player, Malc McLeod is a Banjo Newsletter subscriber and was excited to meet me. (As I've previously mentioned, he brought me beer!) On the band's site they've posted a picture of the two of us, along with Rachel Renee Johnson, the fiddler for the Dixie Bee-Liners. Take a look at it here. Not a bad shot, if I do say so myself. And I do.

Casey Henry

. . . actually, two funny things happened yesterday. Only the first is topical for this blog, but I’m going to tell you about both of them anyway.

When I sat down Sunday morning to check my email, I thought it was going to be quick: in and out and I’d be on my way to Kroger to get jar lids so I could make apple jelly (Murphy’s favorite!). But I’d been getting some comments lately from people who said “I tried to email you,” whose messages I’d never received. Usually all my email from my five different addresses lands in one Gmail account so I can check it all in one place. I don’t know what it was this particular morning that made me think to log in to my Murphy Method email account separately and see what was there.

When I did, to my extreme surprise, I found two months worth of mail that had not been forwarded to my regular account. The last message I’d seen from that address had been on June 21st. And I NEVER NOTICED! I just kept wondering why nobody was answering my emails. They were—I just wasn’t getting it! Included in all these emails, of course, were all the custom lesson sale orders, so instead of my planned grocery store trip and jelly making I spent three hours answering hundreds of messages and sending many very apologetic emails.

Most people were very understanding and I think I’ve almost caught up. So, if you sent me a message in the last couple of months and haven’t received a reply, please resend!

The evening held a hot dog roast at Kelley and Ned Luberecki’s house. I swung by Kroger on the way for the aforementioned jar lids. When I got in my car I smelled gas, but I didn’t give it too much thought since I sometimes fill gas cans for my lawn mower and usually the smell goes away shortly. I began to get concerned when the smell did not start going away and had reached a peak when my car stalled at a four-way stop in Kelley and Ned’s neighborhood.

A nice old man in the car behind me got out and looked under the hood. Even I could see the gaping hole in the hose that was running gasoline. He would have helped me push my car out of the intersection, but, he said, he’d just gotten out of the hospital with a heart condition! I called Kelley and Ned who sent someone down to pick me up (I was only about three blocks from their house), but before he got there a nice younger man drove up and did push me onto the shoulder. A very speedy tow from AAA (typical, since I was in no hurry and had nowhere I needed to be…) rescued the car and hopefully it won’t take too long for my garage to fix.

I’m thankful that my car didn’t catch on fire, and thankful to Ben Surratt and Missy Raines for giving me a ride home after we were all stuffed full of hot dogs and s’mores. The general consensus seems to be that a squirrel chewed through the fuel line and I totally believe that because the squirrels I have in my yard are greedy, aggressive little buggers. But since I don’t have a way to get to work today, I’ll have plenty of time at home to finish catching up on all those emails!

Casey Henry

Yesterday the Henrys popped up in a couple of other places around the internet:

First, Ted Lehmann, photographer and blogger, posted an illustrated account of his visit to the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival. He talks about the Dixie Bee-Liners about three-quarters of the way down the page and there are a couple pictures of yours truly.

That's it for today. Our half-price sale is really keeping us hopping. It ends Friday at midnight, so order now if you haven't already!

(edited 8/27/2010)

Casey Henry

Today the Dixie Bee-Liners take off for England where we’ll play two days: Friday at a big folk festival in Cropredy put on by the Fairport Convention, Saturday at a mini-festival called Cold Dog Soup, held at the Face Bar in Reading. It’s great to have the opportunity to play in the UK, but a bummer our trip is so short. We come back Sunday morning.

I’m taking CDs with me (duh), packed in my checked luggage, as well as a few DVDs. It was hard to decide which DVDs to bring, since we have so many. I settled on ten, which was all that would fit in my suitcase and still leave room for clothes. Two each of: Beyond Vamping, Easy Songs, Slow Jam, Picking up the Pace, and Beginning Banjo Vol 1. I know it’s sometimes challenging for UK customers to get our products, and I don’t even know if I’ll see any of our students while I’m there, but if I don’t sell all the CDs and DVDs the people at the end of the night on Saturday are going to get some extremely good deals!

My plane reading material (because I know your’re curious) will be Barbara Kingsolver The Lacuna and Colleen McCullough The Thorn Birds, both of which have been sitting on my unread shelf a long time.

I’d better go change my strings, so that I can take my wire cutters out of my case. They don’t like them in carry-on luggage. I once had my bracket wrench almost confiscated and I had to mail it back to myself from the airport. If ever there was a more innocuous piece of metal than a bracket wrench I don’t know what it would be! But it’s now worth $5.95 more to me than it was before.

Many of you may be familiar with this song, which Murphy wrote years ago and performed regularly on stage as part of the Red and Murphy set. This is the recording we made of it, I think from the first Red and Murphy and Their Excellent Children album. Murphy on banjo and lead vocal, Red on mandolin and baritone vocal, Casey on bass and tenor vocal, Chris on guitar. (Click on the title to listen.)

When My Mama Sang To Me

Murphy Henry

As some of you already know, on Friday, July 16, I lost my dear sweet Mama. Or as I called her “my little Mama Pajama.” She had had Alzheimer’s for several years but it was finally her congestive heart failure that took her. She was 85. Her death was not unexpected, but still these first weeks without her have been hard. Who is ever prepared to lose their mother?

Wynk Hicks (aka Mama, aka Grandmother) and Casey Henry. October 2008

Wynk Hicks (aka Mama, aka Grandmother) and Casey Henry. October 2008

As Fate would have it, my sisters and I and many of the nieces and nephews had already planned to be in Georgia that weekend for our annual Hiawassee picking party. We had known all week that Mama had been struggling with shortness of breath but she’d weathered so many storms in the last few years (including a heart attack) that we thought it entirely possible she would pull through again. One of the Greatest Generation, she was made of stern stuff. My sister Nancy, who was having her week-long summer visit with the parents, did a wonderful job of keeping us apprised of Mama’s condition, but neither she nor the Hospice nurse nor any of our round-the-clock caregivers had any idea that Thursday would be Mama’s last night.

The story of that last night, as it was told and retold during the weekend of the funeral, was filled with meaning. Mama, who for once was resting in bed, asked for the preacher. Nancy called him but he didn’t get the message. So Nancy and my sister Claire, who was there for the night, went back to the bedroom and read from the Bible, sang some songs, and had a prayer with her. Then Nancy asked Mama if she wanted to say a prayer. Mama said she did. And Nancy said it was as if her Alzheimer’s didn’t exist—she prayed a long, eloquent prayer as we had her do in church so many times before. Then Mama asked, “What’s the game plan for tomorrow?” Claire said, “What do you mean?” And Mama replied, “Tomorrow’s going to be a Big Day.” Still, at the time, we just didn’t know.

Our wonderful round-the-clock help, Rita and then Karen, each sat by Mama’s bed for a long time that evening and both later told us some of the things that Mama said. She looked for a long time at the big picture of us—her five daughters--that hangs on the wall near her bed and talked  about us. Mama said, “I’ve got doctors, and I’ve got teachers.” (And as I’m hearing the story I’m thinking, “What about me?”) And then Mama said, “And I’ve got musicians. Lots of musicians.” And she went on to say how proud she was of all of us and that we had “done a good job.” I felt like we had received her blessing.

She also told Rita that tomorrow she and her girls would be “stepping on the soil.” At the time, Rita thought that she might be referring to Heaven. But later Rita told us that she’d found out that “stepping on the soil” was an old country expression that referred to digging a grave and the soil was the earth which was thrown out onto the ground. (Have any of you heard that?)

Mama slept pretty well that night, with Karen close at hand, and early the next morning, Claire, who is one of the doctors, thought Mama was doing well enough for her to go back home to her work in Asheville, N.C. But when Nancy checked on Mama around 7 a.m. her breathing had taken a turn for the worse. Rita, bless her sweet heart, had had a bad feeling and had come to the house even though it wasn’t her shift. When she saw Mama she immediately called the preacher, the Hospice nurse, and Mama’s own doctor and said, “You better come now.” And they did.

Red and I had just about finished packing the car for the trip down and he had gone to gas up when Nancy called to say that Mama would probably die that morning. I, of course, burst into tears. Nancy, who handled this entire experience with unbelievable poise and grace, had the presence of mind to ask me if I’d like to say goodbye to Mama on the phone Oh, yes! So Nancy held the phone up to her ear and I told Mama I loved her and would miss her every day of my life. She could not respond, but I believe she heard me. What a blessing that was.

As we left the house, I grabbed some photo albums and pictures of Mama to have for the trip. And that was a good thing because we had not been on the road long when Nancy called to say that Mama had died. It was 9:10 a.m. I could hardly talk as I called Casey and Chris to tell them that their dear grandmother had passed away. Chris was coming to Georgia anyway for the picking party, but Casey was in Michigan performing with the Dixie Bee-liners who graciously finished up their gigs without a banjo player so she could fly down to Georgia. I wished so much that I could be with each of them. It was a long, sad trip home with many tears. I was so glad to have Red there, doing the driving and holding my hand when I would start crying. I talked to my sister Laurie many times both to give comfort and to receive it. She is the youngest of us (and is also a doctor), and I always thought she was Mama’s favorite. (Although I’m sure Mama would deny having a favorite.)

Once we arrived in Clarkesville, there were more tears but there were also sisters and nieces and friends and flowers, and, yes, church ladies bringing food. Together we five girls planned Mama’s funeral service. We even managed to get a good laugh remembering Mama’s instructions about picking out her casket. She’d told us, “Price the least expensive casket, then price the most expensive casket. Then buy the cheapest one and give the difference to the church.” We couldn’t quite bring ourselves to buy the pine box, but followed the spirit of her wishes as best we could.

I’d always imagined, as the oldest daughter, that I would speak at Mama’s funeral, but I found that I could not. Instead, four of the grandchildren took part in the service. Chris spoke extemporaneously about his beloved grandmother and Casey played the song Mama always sang us to sleep with, “There’s A Little Cabin,” on the banjo. Then, as Mama had requested, our Texas cousins sang “Now I Belong To Jesus” as she left the Clarkesville Baptist Church for the last time.

At the graveside service after a prayer and a poem, the preacher read a portion of one of my blogs about Mama and me playing Scrabble. It felt good to remember those happy times, and even smile a little, in the midst of so much grief.

I miss Mama so much but writing this, knowing you will read it, has helped me a lot. Thank you for listening.

Winnie Claire Murphy Hicks

January 21, 1925-July 16, 2010

Casey Henry

Last week I posted a video of me playing "There's A Little Cabin," a lullaby that my Grandmother used to sing to us when we were small. Many of you asked about the words. Grandmother passed away last Friday and I played that arrangement at her funeral, which was really a beautiful service, held at the Clarkesville Baptist Church where she was a member. It still smelled exactly the same as when my brother and I used to attend with her when we stayed in Clarkesville when we were little. We sometimes went to vacation bible school there. I still remember playing Red Rover on the church lawn.

This tune was the last thing in the service, right before the closing hymn, "Now I Belong to Jesus." I'm glad I didn't have to try and sing it. As it was my nose was dripping while I was playing. At least no one seems to have noticed that.

So in remembrance of Grandmother, here are the words we so frequently heard after she packed us down in the bed, as we were drifting off to sleep in the nursery.

There's A Little Cabin

Verse 1
There's a little cabin where the honeysuckle twines,
Where the cotton grows, where the Suwanee flows.
If you chance to find it, you will find that girl of mine,
She's my sweet Virginia rose.

Carry me back to that old-fashioned shack,
There by the stream, just let me dream.
Virginia moonlight look down from above,
Guard the one I'm thinking of.

Verse 2
Someday I'll be roaming in the gloaming once again,
With my blushing bride, nestling by my side.
Hope we reach a preacher man to tie the knot and then,
Guess that I'll be satisfied.

Casey Henry

At 10:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, on July 7th, 2010 -- we launchd our completely new and totally redesigned website!!! Check it out here!

This redesign has been a long time coming. We had originally hoped to get it done before Christmas last year (HA!!), but finally, finally it is here. And we've added some spiffy new features.

  • Video clips of each DVD are now right there on the same page where you can order the product. We also updated all of the product descriptions.
  • We have a discussion board!! It's the perfect place to go to get in touch with other TMM students, to talk about the songs, the DVDs, and (hopefully) find some of our other students to jam with. You can get to it via the "Forum" link on the top menu bar.
  • We've updated our instructor bios, we have a new FAQ page, we have a complete Arrandem Records discography, and a new customer comments page.
  • Also, we've added the custom lessons to the site, and there is a completely updated list of all the ones currently available.
  • Plus, everything that was on the old site is still there, only it looks MUCH better now!!

Please take some time to poke around the new site, stop by the forum and introduce yourself, and let us know what you think!