Red Henry

Folks, we've had a terrific response to our first 6 DVDs offered as digital downloads (details here). We didn't know quite what to think of this new technology at first, but when we put these 6 up on line, the response from old and new students has been excellent. It appears that the downloads have a bright future for the Murphy Method. These are our titles available at present:

Beginning Banjo Volume 1
Beginning Banjo Volume 2
Slow Jam with Murphy and Casey
Picking Up the Pace: More Slow Jamming
Easy Songs for Banjo
Beyond Vamping: Fancy Banjo Backup

...so as you can see, it's a great bunch of titles. Now, we're working on 8 more DVDs, which will be available digitally in a few weeks:

Banjo for Misfits
Vamping: Beginning Banjo Backup
Improvising: The First Stage
Beginning Guitar
Beginning Mandolin
Beginning Bass
Beginning Fiddle
Beginning Dobro

These will occupy us for a while, as we take care of all the details about putting them on line. I'd estimate that it will take about 5 or 6 weeks to have them available. But from now on, we need to hear from you. Which of our DVDs would you most like to see available this way? We'll have about 25 more DVDs, and need to know which way to go. Please let us know, either through your comments on this post, or by way of the "Contact Us" button on the website. We can't promise that your favorite DVD will be on line soon, but your opinion is important!

Red Henry

Today's news is that we've extended our sale through December 22nd! Call us at 800-227-2357 and you can buy any 4 Murphy Method DVDs at the sale price of just $75.00! (This includes Casey's Custom Christmas Collection for Banjo!)

Red Henry

Folks, I haven't blogged yet this week, and there's a good reason: You, our Murphy Method customers, have responded so well to our ongoing telephone sale that I haven't had time in the morning to even write a few paragraphs. If you are looking for a gift for your Murphy Method family member, remember our special price of 4 DVDs for just $75.00! Murphy Method DVDs are a great Christmas gift for yourself, too! Take a look on our site to see what you'd like to order, and call us toll-free at 800-227-2357. The sale runs for 8 more days, until Saturday, Dec. 13th!

Our band (Murphy, myself, Christopher, and Cousin David) is going out this afternoon to play the first of this year's Christmas parties. This is a large party held at a local church, and we're looking forward to playing music. A good time will be had by all!

Casey Henry

Last night I went to the Station Inn to watch and take part in the special Sidemen Reunion show that was being held in conjunction with the IBMA convention this week. The Sidemen were, as the name suggests, players who worked as side musicians in other bluegrass bands. They played at the Station Inn every Tuesday night for sixteen years (starting around 1989) and when I moved to town in 2001 I almost never missed a show, at least for the first two or three years I was here. When I started going to see them the band usually consisted of Terry Eldredge (guitar), Mike Bub (bass), Rob McCoury (banjo), Jimmy Campbell (fiddle), Gene Wooten (King of the Carolina Dobro Pickers), and Mike Compton (mandolin). Earlier incarnations of the band, and the version that appeared on their CD, included Larry Perkins on the banjo, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, and the great Ed Dye on bones and showmanship.

They were my musical idols---much closer to my age than the bluegrass founders we had all learned from, yet their knowledge and experience was (and still is) much more vast than my own. When I was learning to play banjo it was a HUGE accomplishment for me when I went to the Station Inn (one of the first few times I'd gone there, I think I was eighteen or nineteen) and they asked me on stage to play some. As I remember, Rob was playing and he motioned for me to get my banjo and come up. Then he left the stage and there I was, the banjo player, to finish out what remained of the set. I kept pictures of that night on my dorm room wall throughout college. It was a rite of passage. I remember that I made a complete mess of the break to "Footprints in the Snow," in E (I was supposed to play a chorus but started out on a verse and get tangled up). But they were so nice and told me to just try it again.

Many a night when I moved to town I'd take over the banjo duties from Rob sometime in the second set and it meant a huge amount to me to be included in such illustrious company.

At last night's reunion show it was great to see old friends (Mike and Lester Armistead, Richard Bailey, Tony Williamson, Casey Campbell (Jimmy's son), Shad Cobb, Steve Thomas, Roland White, Jamie Johnson) but it was a sad reminder of who we have lost over the years---Gene Wooten, Jimmy Campbell, and Ed Dye---all unique individuals, gone too early. There were a good 12-15 people on stage at a time last night and it was banjo heavy, with Larry Perkins, Richard Bailey, Rob McCoury, and myself on one end of the stage (Richard was actually standing OFF the stage!). There was a fun and funny moment that occurred on a song in E, I wish I could remember which one. It was a medium-tempo standard where that two-finger, up-the-neck, first-and-second-string backup lick fit perfectly. Richard started doing it and through one of those great-minds-think-alike moments he conveyed to us that we should all do it. So there we were, like the banjo section in an orchestra, playing the same part and it sounded awesome. It was also extremely amusing, to ourselves if not to anyone else.

The set was seemed short, but I guess it was around ninety minutes. Folks were in and out, up and down from the stage, and many of us (myself included) had to head over to IBMA afterwards to play showcases. It was a wonderful night, but it also showed that you can't recapture the magic of the past once the world and the people in it have moved on.

Red Henry

Well, how often should you change them? I hear this question pretty frequently. The answer is, that it's up to you. How helpful is that?

Well, the reason is that everybody's strings need changing at different times. Some reasons are because (1) there are so many kinds of strings and they age differently; (2) people all play differently and their strings wear out (or corrode) faster or slower as a result; and (3) in different parts of the country (or the world) strings are just going to need changing more often.

So, what do you look for in deciding whether to change them? One thing can be obvious: buildup of corrosion or gunk on the string. This really happens a lot in warm, humid climates. If the buildup can't be removed with a little steel wool, then it'd definitely time to change strings! (When I was starting out, this happened on my mandolin strings every few days.)

Another sign is when the strings get hard to tune. Often it's because they're not sliding smoothly through the string-nut (that's the little white thing with slots at the bottom of the peghead). If you put on new strings, and when you're at it, put a little graphite -- pencil-lead dust will do-- in the bottoms of the little nut-slots, then the tuning should get a lot better.

Another sign of elderly strings might be that they don't play in tune. If you're pretty sure that your bridge is in the right place, but your banjo is still "noting out" more than usual up the neck, then new strings might be what you need.

One more sign of old strings may not be as obvious. If the instrument (banjo or otherwise) just doesn't sound right, the strings may have gotten too old to sound good at all. When does this happen? Well, this is the most extreme case of old strings, since it may take several months or a year for the strings to get this old.

Some players take extreme steps to keep new strings on their instruments, especially if they break a lot of strings. Back when we were playing a lot of festivals, I used to change the strings on both mandolins and both guitars every morning before we played our first set. That was a lot of work, but it helped keep the string-breakage to a minimum. Others take a different approach. I've heard that Bill Monroe changed his mandolin strings once a year, at New Year's, and from then on just changed them as they broke (which they did, pretty often).

Now, this all applies to the fretted instruments. Fiddle strings seem to fall into a different category. I've known fiddle players who changed their strings every few months, but as for myself, if the fiddle gets new strings every five years, that's a lot. I suspect that the strings on my fiddle now have been on it for longer than that!

So the answer to the question is, that it's up to you yourself to decide when to change strings. There are a lot of reasons for changing them (better tone, volume, and tuning), and there are plenty of reasons for just leaving them on there (less hassle with awkward work, and less risk of getting your banjo or mandolin bridge out of place in the string-changing process, among other things). But if you go in for a lesson and your teacher takes one look at your strings and turns as green as they are, then it's time.

Casey Henry

The Dixie Bee-Liners had quite the trip last weekend. We flew out to a resort near Lake Tahoe to play at an event called Beerfest and Bluegrass. Flew out on Friday, played one set on Saturday, flew home on Sunday. It would have been cool to be able to go see the lake, perhaps, or maybe even Susanville, Calif., (the town our new CD is named after), which was only about an hour away, but the schedule was so tight all we had time to see was the road in between the airport and the gig.

Of the three bands, we were the headliners so we played last—from 6:00-7:30—staring straight into the setting sun the entire time. It must have been painful to watch me squint (my sunglasses were safely at home in Nashville) because one guy (the banjo player from Mud Thump, who opened the show) offered me his straw hat. I declined the nice offer because it would have caused my hair to become sweatily plastered to my head. Then the bass player from the same band offered his sunglasses (visible in this picture on their homepage). Those I accepted and they made my life much more comfortable.

The crowd had been sampling the wares of the thirty or so participating breweries for four hours by the time we hit the stage, so there was much raucous dancing. The stage faced an outdoor ice skating rink (not filled with ice at this time of year, obviously), which made a great dance floor. They gave us two genuine encores and we ended up playing nearly two hours straight.

Northstar Restort treated us really well, putting us up in our own condos and shuttling us back and forth from the airport. They even rented an instrument for our bass player Sav to use so we wouldn’t have to worry about flying with one.

The flight home held one more little adventure. The Southwest fight attendants couldn’t help but notice we were a band as we all came tromping on board with our instruments. One of them asked if we’d play a tune on the plane! I declined, but Brandi, Buddy, and Rachel were up for it. They gathered in the rear galley of the plane and played, “Airmail Special on the Fly” (what else?!). I could barely hear them from where I was sitting, but I got this picture. When they were done the attandant came over the intercom and said, “That was the Dixie Bee-Liners. You can get their new CD Susanville in baggage claim!” That got a laugh.

Buddy and Brandi (barely visible behind the flight attendant, who is holding the intercom mic in front of them).

And, in case you were wondering, my favorites out of the beers I sampled were the ones from Eel River Brewery in Fortuna, Calif. They make organic beer and I tasted their IPA and their Blonde Ale. Two thumbs up!

Red Henry

Folks, in my narrative of our trip to the Florida Folk Festival, I last left you on Sunday afternoon as we set out to Dale Crider's house in the swamp. We'd just played a festival set at the River Gazebo stage, and here's a photo of us playing "Osceola's Last Words" (in F) with harmony guitars (Chris Henry, Red Henry, Barbara Johnson, Jenny Leigh Obert, John Hedgecoth):

We'd had a good time at the festival, but now it was time to go to Dale's and record on Monday. John had to go back to Nashville, but Chris, Jenny, and I got in my ten-year-old minivan and headed for Dale Crider's house near Windsor. Some big thunderstorms were coming up but we managed to dodge them all, and rolled into Dale's house before dark. Time to relax, and then get some sleep.

Dale's recording session had been tentatively scheduled for 10:00 Monday morning. Typically, Barbara arrived before 10 with her bass, tuned up and ready to play. Various small details, however, caused minor delays in starting to record. By that time we were all rested, fed, and chomping at the bit, Dale had excavated for the songs he wanted to record, his computer was set up for the session with space cleared off its hard drive, Buddy Ray was on hand to set up the mikes and engineer the recording, and everything was ready to go.

By now, it was 5:00 p.m. Barbara was tolerant-- she's been around Dale before.

Now, some people are what you can call copiously creative. Dale had a big stack (actually several stacks) of old and new songs. A few of them he'd recorded 30 or more years ago and wanted to try again, but they were mostly unrecorded material, ranging from some songs which were pretty well formed in his mind to some drafts which he hadn't revisited for 20 or 25 years and would rewrite on the instant as we played. He had a few "covers" of his favorite old songs which he wanted to record too. So Buddy Ray started up the machine, and we went at it. But this was not your conventional recording session.

Now, in a conventional recording session, the "tightness" of the arrangement and the cohesion and smoothness of the music are everything. That means that everybody is playing as closely together as possible, and other things-- energy and spontaneity, for example-- are pushed out to make the music sound as pleasant and homogeneous as possible. Not so with Dale! To him the creative process is paramount, and otherwise there'd be no point in the music. So when recording with him, you have to be alert. You won't ever play two "takes" in a row with the same arrangement. Consecutive "takes" of the same song may be in different keys or different rhythms (4/4 and 3/4, for example). And Dale will rewrite the words spontaneously, or sing the verses in different order or repeat some of them, or leave out a chorus, or change the chords on the fly, or play the chords to either a verse or a chorus, as it occurs to him, behind the instrumental breaks. And he'll end the song when it's time to end it-- he may know when this is even if the rest of us do not. It's all wonderful, and if you're recording with him you just hang on. Barbara on the bass, and Chris on the guitar, have some kind of radar and can almost always tell what chord Dale is going to, and the rest of us just hung on. It was good.

By midnight Dale had gotten a dozen or so cuts which, with a little mixing and editing, will sound really good. And they all had that Crider energy in them. Look for these songs (and others) on a CD sometime soon. And see more about Dale and his music on his website (including a live clip of us all playing "Seine Gang of Cedar Key" at the Old Marble Stage), here.

We drove back to Virginia the next day, full of music. Dale's like that.


Red Henry

Red Henry

Last night, my instructor Brian and I made a cross-country flight to an airport about 62 miles away. The flight was in the dark, it was over some pretty sparsely-populated Virginia and West Virginia mountains, and it was in a very small single-engined airplane. We navigated visually at night, and we were not flying on instruments. Were we scared? No, not even when one of the radios quit working. We didn't really need any radios at all. Did we have any trouble getting there and back? No. It was a lot of fun.

The flight went really smoothly, and along with flying the plane I was able to do all the things I've been practicing: checking our course on the ground, checking our speed toward our destination, cross-checking our progress using the navigational radio that still worked, and talking when necessary to Air Traffic Control and other airplanes. Then, of course, I had to land the plane when we got where we were going and again when we came back. In the dark. Was all this complicated? Yes, a bit. Could I have done all this right after I started training? No, of course not. Why wasn't it overwhelming? Because I'd learned it all a step at a time.

I keep finding similarities between learning to fly and learning to play music. Learning to pick is something you need to do a little at a time. Our banjo students, for example, no matter how much they want to, can't launch right into learning "Foggy Mountain Breakdown", or playing "Dueling Banjos", or improvising in jam sessions, right off the bat. Nobody can (except maybe teenagers). Instead, the students need to go through our Beginning Banjo DVDs step-by-step to learn the building blocks-- the banjo licks-- which they're going to use. Then they need to go, step-by-step, into more advanced DVDs which teach them how to put those building blocks together, one step at a time.

Taking one step at a time, it all makes sense and becomes easier. You start with one thing and learn another, and then you aren't overwhelmed and discouraged by not being able to do it all at once! Learn to play step-by-step at your own speed, and after a while you'll be cruising over the mountains yourself.