jamming

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Wow! We had 12 people at the jam last night: Betty, Kathy G, Ben, Kasey, Steph, Diane, Gregg, David, Chuck (sitting on the floor!), Rhys, Drew, Amber, and Jason. This broke down into 3 guitars, 7 banjos, 1 fiddle, and 1 mandolin. Ben swapped his banjo for the bass early on and with me pounding my Martin we managed to keep folks in line!

We were sorely missing our buddy Bob Van who has landed his butt in the hospital. In his honor we set up his picking chair and put a roll of duct tape in it. The duct tape is in honor of Bobby always saying something like, "I hope we don't play Salt Creek." Which forces me to say, "Why don't we play Salt Creek!" At which point he growls, "Where's the duct tape?" meaning he needs to have his mouth taped shut so he won't say anything else stupid! We will keep your chair and duct tape there, Bobby, until you get back. We love your ornery old hide!

We started off gently with our "party pieces," Banjo In The Hollow, Cripple Creek, I Saw The Light, and Blue Ridge Cabin Home, all in G. And thanks to Chuck for being our "G" singer! Then we moved on up to C, for some womyn singing: I'll Fly Away (Kathy), Two Dollar Bill (me), and Circle (Diane). Then I realized, once again, that I had cheated Kasey out of singing her song, I Saw The Light, which we'd already done. (Girl, you gotta get a new song!) But Diane reminded me that Kasey used to sing Rocky Top in C. At first I demurred, saying the chords were too hard for the whole group, but then I thought, "Why not let Kasey sing it as a 'show' piece?"  ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

We must have had an exceptionally good jam last night because already this morning, before 8:30, I've had a text from Betty saying, "Loved last nite's jam. Steph did too. Good speed for an old f--t like me. I know it's not all about me...but it should be. Ha."

Of course it's all about you, Betty! (And yes, I say the same thing to all the jammers!) I'll brag you on myself: You did great with your Roly Poly breaks to Circle and I'll Fly Away! I've never seen a student look more astonished at using a D lick and having it work! Then after you realized, "Holy cow! It worked!" the look of delight on your face was priceless. It's burned into my mind, because when Betty is happy, Murphy is happy! And since it's all about you, I feel obligated to tell the folks about the first song you played last night.

Tip Jar Jammers

Tip Jar Jammers

Betty came into the jam a little late because of her work and we'd already played Cripple Creek and Boil Them Cabbage Down. In fact, we were boiling cabbage when Betty walked in. After she got settled I wanted to give her a chance to get warmed up so I said, "Why don't you kick off Banjo in the Hollow?" Well, Betty is a "yes" person so she said, "Sure." Then she said, "Do you want me to play the low part twice and the high part twice?" Now, that confused me. So I said something like, "What?" And she repeated what she'd said. I gave her a puzzled look because I was trying to figure out what she meant. Finally I said, "Just play Banjo in the Hollow like we usually do." And then it dawned on me....."Unless you're fixing to play Boil Them Cabbage Down!" ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Our first Tip Jar Jam after Beginning Banjo Camp showed a marked improvement in the jamming skills of campers David and Gregg--especially when it came to improvising on the fly. During camp we had hit the Roly Polys pretty hard since the new DVD, Kickstart Your Jamming, is coming out soon. (Two weeks, we hope!) So last night, David and Gregg, flushed with enthusiasm, were more than willing to try Roly Poly breaks on most of the singing songs we played: Blue Ridge Cabin Home, Circle, Two Dollar Bill, I'll Fly Away, I Saw The Light, Katy Daley, When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder, and the Crawdad Song, which is new to us. ("You get a line and I'll get a pole, honey...").

One of the things that shook out of this post-camp jam was, again, how important it is to pay attention to the chord progression. For instance, many of you know from working with the Misfits DVD that I Saw The Light, Do Lord, Worried Gal, and Two-Dollar Bill sound very much alike. (In bluegrass-speak we'd say they sound "sim-u-lar." Or perhaps, eschewing extra syllables, "sim-lar.") However, when you're getting ready to improvise a break with the Roly Polys, if you fail to pay attention to the chords while the singer is singing, you may not notice that Two-Dollar Bill has only two beats of C, NOT SIX! That's a pretty big difference!  ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

After a week at IBMA, which I thoroughly enjoyed, it was good to get back to teaching and the Tip Jar Jam. I missed yall! Wednesday's jam featured SIX banjo players and three guitar players counting me. Actually for a while there were only five banjos as Kathy H honed her rhythm guitar skills on the Big Three for the late night jams at our upcoming Beginning Banjo Camp.

The blog title was handed to me on a silver platter about halfway through the jam, when Dan arrived, fresh and glowing, from the Bible study class he is teaching at the Presbyterian Church. I don't normally divulge so much personal information but his life's work--minister--makes the quote WAY funnier.

We were up in the key of C, for some womyn singing, when Dan walked in and strapped on his banjo just in time to take a break on Will The Circle Be Unbroken. Since Chuck was gone, Diane had her old song back! We missed you Chuck! We did several other songs in C--I'll Fly Away (Kathy G), I Saw The Light (Kathy H), Katy Daly (moi)--and then I asked Bob A to sing East Virginia Blues because C is his key for that and Dan has been working hard on a break for the song from one of Casey's Custom Lessons. (Note to Marty: You might try to sing EVB yourself in that key.) Everyone else (except David) was going to do the Roly Polys, which goes to show you how far they have all come in this area because East Virginia Blues has a long and slightly complicated chord pattern. [Editor's note: It's exactly the same as Lonesome Road Blues.] ...continue reading

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. ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

And thanks to Diane for the lovely blog title! It's one of those sayings that makes sense, only you're not quite sure WHY it makes sense. She said it to Gregg toward the end of the jam after he'd been valiantly trying to do the Roly Polys all night long. She called it "jamming by fire hose" and I wrote it down. We all knew exactly what she meant. 

Gregg, you might recall, started taking lessons from me and coming to the jams in July, right after Kaufman Kamp. At that time he sorta knew two songs: Cripple Creek and Boil Them Cabbage Down. I let him keep his version of Cripple Creek, but finally told him I never wanted to hear him Boil the Cabbage like that again. It was confusing his hands.

Anyhow, I was telling you all that to tell you this: Since he was coming to the jams, I had to give him a crash course in Roly Polys so he could play on more songs. So he didn't get the slow, let's-ease-into-it-one-song-at-a-time version. He got: "Here's a G Roly Poly, here's a C Roly Poly, here's a D Roly Poly. Let's play Bury Me Beneath The Willow!" Which is a song that Chuck was learning to sing.  ...continue reading

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. ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

John, one of my North Carolina students, made the long trek to Winchester for some Marathon lessons and jamming this week. John, who has attended both our Beginning and Intermediate Camps, was so convinced of the power of the Tip Jar Jam that he took the bull by the horns and rounded up a teacher to lead a jam for him and some of his picking friends in North Carolina. Jamming has done wonders for John's playing. As I told him, he is more confident and he knows the jam ropes: how to listen for the chord changes, how to vamp quietly, how to alternate breaks, how to come in on time for his breaks, and how to use the capo (at least in A; C was a challenge!). These are the things you just can't learn in a lesson setting.

Trying to maximize his picking time, John had set up lessons on Tuesday and Wednesday so he could stay for both jams. Tuesday was the smaller jam with Janet, Kenney, and Doug. We had a good time alternating between the songs John played and the more advanced songs that Doug played (Theme Time, Cheyenne, Lonesome Road Blues). Janet made her jam debut with Arkansas Traveler, picking it in open D on the guitar. It was so good, she even amazed herself! Naturally, I got out the fiddle and played along. ...continue reading

[Betty Fisher, a Tip Jar Jam regular, was kind enough to blog about her recent jamming experience. Betty has been having some problems with bats in her house, hence the blog title. She is also a very, very good sport!]

My friend and neighbor Stephanie is a beginning guitar student of Murphy’s.  She and I have been threatening--or rather promising--to get together and jam as Murphy has suggested.  Finally on Sunday we were able to do that.

A shining example to all! Betty, left, and Steph, right, jamming.

A shining example to all! Betty, left, and Steph, right, jamming.

We sat out on Stephanie’s beautiful new stone patio in the shade with a nice breeze blowing.  Steph warned me that she had not practiced for a couple of weeks.  She had also let Murphy know that things would be on hold for a short while, then she would get back in gear with her lessons.   ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

I wish I could tell you the story behind this title, but, alas, it's too risque, it's too long, and it's not about the music anyhow. But it was really funny when Ben told it!

Our jams have been smaller this summer, with so many folks taking vacations but I think everyone has enjoyed the novelty of having fewer pickers. (More breaks!!!!) Tuesday night's jam, with Kenney, Janet, and Betty, turned into an all-instrumental jam with the exception of Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms which I sang so I could practice my gender flipping ("Daddy was a beauty operator....") and Betty could practice her break. Neither Janet nor I were in good voice and we didn't really want to sing, so we didn't! So we just picked. When we ran out of instrumentals, we turned some of the singing songs into instrumentals: I Saw The Light, Worried Gal, Two Dollar Bill.

And then because Janet and Kenney were carrying the rhythm so well, I got out my fiddle! ...continue reading