I just wanted to say Happy Groundhog Day! I love that movie, and for years Dalton Brill and Marshall Wilborn have bet on whether Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow that morning. I think the stakes were a case of beer. Since we've lost Dalton, who is Marshall gonna bet with now?
On Sunday, January 25th, 2009, a concert was held in Dalton Brill's honor at the Virginia Brewing Company, in Winchester, VA. Chris Henry organized the show. The Winchester star did a nice story on the event.
One of Murphy's former students, Luke Johnson, is mentioned in the article. He posted the text of the song he wrote for Dalton on his MySpace page. But, luckily, he's also given us permission to post them here:
He called me Luke the drifter
But he’s the one, keeps on driftin’ back to me
In my dreams, I see you there, Doin’ more than just cuttin’ hair
He’s tearin’ up an “Ol’ Joe Clark”, Dalton sure left his mark
CH: Those Wensday night sessions Had my foot tappin’ so fast
I was sore in the morning, God I love that good old’ Bluegrass
You lift my spirit so high,
This music inside me ain’t never gonna die
With the rolling of his fingers, that snap filled the air
Smiles on everyone’s faces, so hard for them to stay in their chair
Inside our souls are hootin and hollerin, Dancing a jig here and there.
That Shenandoah sound won’t be the same
With those Apple Blossoms bloomin, I can hear that banjo roll and ring
Walking down the midway, Just shocks my brain
She used to pay you to pick, Because her fiddle squeaked so bad
That Orange Blossom Special was all that we had
Running cross the finish line, gallopin’ 4/4 time
Don’t pinch me I ain’t dreamin’, He’s alive with us today
Standing in a shadow grin’ in, While we pick and play
He told me to tell you, Let the grass grow high,
Better dry your eyes, and nothing ever dies anyway
Sort of a sad day here. Brill’s Barber Shop and Musician’s Shop where I have taught for the last 22 years is now empty. All the guitars that were hanging up—attached by metal shower curtain hooks and dangling from a long metal pipe attached to the wall---are gone. The shelves filled with CDs and cassettes are now empty. The pegboard that held strings, capos, kazoos, and a musical saw is now barren. All the banjos had made their departures earlier, purchased by lucky students who got some really good deals.
The talking moose, Buck, given to Dalton on his birthday by David McLaughlin and Marshall Wilborn, has found another home. (“What am I gonna do with that?” Dalton asked. “I’ll have to put it up somewhere.” He ended up having loads of fun with it, teasing the little kids who came in for hair cuts by going out in the hall and making Buck talk to them with the remote microphone.) The jackalope that Lynn Morris gave him has also been hauled away. Even the old-fashioned barber chairs are gone. My friend Patty Henry bought the ancient cash register. Dalton never rang up any sales on it, he just kept his money in there. The drawer opened when you pulled the handle. I’m glad it found a loving owner.
This was the first time I had seen the shop empty. The auctioneers loaded things up while we were out of town for Thanksgiving. I came in today to get a few of my things out and as I stared at the empty showcase and the walls devoid of pictures, I thought of a great song we used to sing at our regular Wednesday night concerts in the basement of the shop. It was called “There Was An Auction At The Homeplace” and it was written by Mike Henderson, of Shepardstown, West Virginia. One of the most poignant phrases to me has always been “the house’s heart was empty.” That’s the way the barber shop felt today. The auctioneers had come, they’d “put everything in boxes,” and they’d hauled a life away.
One of the few things remaining is my little table where I keep all my teaching stuff—Banjo Newsletters, picks, bracket wrenches, tiny screw drivers, wire cutters, cassette players, blank cassettes, Murphy Method DVDs, CDs to give away. It’s very crowded. I’ll be teaching in the empty shop though December while I look for a new location in which to ply my trade. I’ll have to dig up a couple of chairs, though. Those are gone, too. But maybe, just maybe, I’ll put up a Christmas tree.
Dalton Brill's barber pole.
Picking in the shop. L-R: Murphy's student Logan on banjo (you've read about him in previous blog posts), Murphy on fiddle, Red on mandolin, Gerald Crowell on guitar at right.
Murphy picking "Under The Double Eagle" on Dalton's banjo.
Bass player Marshall Wilborn, one of Dalton's Wildcats, taking in the music.
Wildcats David McLaughlin and Chris Henry.
Some of Dalton's barbering implements. Note his CD, prominently displayed.
Dalton's sharpening strop.
[This is my Banjo Newsletter column from May 1986. It did not, in fact, make it into my book. Guess there wasn’t enough about banjo playing in it! I reprint it here to share with you my first glimpse of Dalton Brill’s Barber Shop where I’ve taught for the last 22 years.]
Well, folks, greetings from the thriving metropolis of Winchester, Virginia! WE HAVE MOVED! It’s over! It’s done! No more following a 24-foot U-Haul truck through the mountains at 25 miles per hour! No more wandering around in Columbia, South Carolina, looking for Interstate 77! And no more wondering whether we are going to like this house that we have just committed a lifetime of payments to. We love it!
But, why Winchester? Well, now, I’m not really a big believer in signs but....on our first visit to Winchester, back in December, naturally one of our first concerns was to find a place where I could teach banjo. I mean, first things first. Not four blocks from the house where we were staying [with David McLaughlin], there it was: Brill’s Barber Shop and Musicians’ Shop---Specializing in Bluegrass and Country Music. Now I have taught at several different music stores in my time, but none of them has ever mentioned the word “bluegrass” in its logo, marquee, or advertising. That was Sign #1. Red and I went in and were introduced to the proprietor, Dalton Brill, who, being between haircuts, was sitting down playing his banjo. (Sign #2.) It was a Gibson. (Sign #3.)
Now in order to understand Sign #4, which is a biggie, I will have to digress for just a moment. On Christmas Eve, John and Lynn Hedgecoth [Red’s uncle and his wife, both musicians] came over to our old house in Hawthorne, Florida, to exchange gifts, see how much our kids had grown, pick a little, and gossip about Prominent Bluegrass Musicians. John just happens to be one of the best banjo players in the world. In between Bill Monroe stories, he was wandering around looking at all our books. He came back and said, “Is that a Don Reno Instruction Book you have? I’ve never seen one.”
“No,” I said, “that’s a Don Reno Song Book. I traded Don Wayne for it up in New Jersey. I didn’t know Don Reno had published an instruction book.”
“Oh, yes,” said John. “I’ve always wanted one.”
“Well, if I ever see any,” I said, “I’ll get two. One for me and one for you.”
So what do you think happened? Up in Winchester the very next week, I walked over to the rack of music books in Brill’s and found a whole slew of Don Reno Banjo Instruction Books. And that was Sign #4. I bought two.
As you saw on our November 3rd Blog, my good friend and banjo-playing buddy Dalton Brill died on October 29. I've been teaching at Dalton's combination Barber Shop and Musician's Shop since we moved to Winchester in 1986. As I told the folks at Dalton's funeral, our friend David McLaughlin had been instrumental (no pun intended!) in getting us to move to Virginia from Florida and one of his hooks was that he knew a place where I could teach banjo. David said it was just down the street from his house on the Olde Towne Mall.
So when Red and I drove to Winchester to check things out, we went by the shop and met Dalton. He was very gracious, as I learned he always was. I told him I'd heard he had an opening for a banjo teacher. He told me that he'd never had anyone teaching at his shop before, but he was willing to give it a try. We negotiated lesson prices and a commission for him and I was all set. It wasn't until years later when Dalton and I were reminiscing about our first meeting that I found out that Dalton didn't know me from Adam's house cat and that David had never said anything to him about my teaching there! But, as usual, Dalton rose to the occasion---being the Southern Gentleman that he was---and wanting to spare me any embarrassment, he just said sure, I could teach there. He was just hoping I could actually play the banjo!
What he didn't tell me was that his dog Shotzie---a Doberman pinscher---stayed in the back room during the day (and in the shop at night), and that I'd have to walk through there to get into the shop (unless I wanted to come in the front door and walk past all the men waiting for haircuts). I'm afraid of dogs in general (and men getting haircuts in particular), so I opted instead for crawling through a window into my teaching space. (The window was an indoor old-fashioned type that slid up and was low to the ground so it wasn't hard to do.) Dalton later told me that he got a real kick out of seeing me crawling thought that window. I guess it was sorta funny looking!
Dalton was pretty much solely responsible for all the students who started lessons with me to begin with. Not only did he run an ad in the paper, he also corralled any of his customers who showed the slightest interest in guitar or banjo. I've written about Dalton several times in Banjo Newsletter (those columns are collected in my book....) and maybe we'll post those later.
Murphy's Misfits---the first group of my students to jam together---originated in his shop and as you can see from the pictures posted on Monday, the tradition continues. The current group of unofficial Misfits (I haven't told them they are Misfits yet!) is, left to right: Chick, Steve, Bob Van, Mark, Susan, and Bob Mc. I'm the short person in the front in the green Kaufman Kamp T-shirt with the STELLING BANJO.
In the hour and a half jam we had on Saturday, we played six tunes: Banjo in the Hollow, Cripple Creek, Boil Them Cabbage, Cumberland Gap, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, and I Saw The Light. Everybody did great! We actually had NO train wrecks. I was so proud of all the students. I'm hoping to make this a regular monthly affair. We'll see! I can't stress enough how important it is to LEARN YOUR VAMP CHORDS. That's what making jamming possible. Who knows? Maybe you can stop by Winchester and join us sometime. After all, Carol Lombardo came all the way from Alaska!
Dalton Brill - April 10, 1935-October 29, 2008
Read the Winchester Star article on Dalton from October 31, 2008.
Brill's Barbershop is where Murphy's Misfits originated.
Murphy's current group of Misfits at their jam on November 1st, 2008:
Photos by Ellen Zimmerman.