Tag Archives: david mclaughlin

Red Henry

Now, you may justifiably ask, what kind of title is that? Here at the Murphy Method we play bluegrass, don't we? But I do get into old time picking sessions sometimes, and last Friday we had one at Cousin David's house.

Now, this wasn't like the last session at Cousin David's. No, indeed. That time, we had 17 or 18 pickers in the Tater Hill Tavern. This time it was different. How many pickers were there? Three.

Three musicians usually make a pretty thin jam session, but this time we had a good combination of people. Cousin David played the banjo, in his own unique old-time style. Our friend Jamie played fiddle at first, switching off later to banjo-ukulele (yes, such instruments are allowed in old-time music). I played mandolin mostly, but Cousin David had suggested that I bring my fiddle, and I picked that up for the last several numbers. And anchored by Cousin David's supernatural sense of rhythm, we played for a couple of hours and had a good time. We PAID ATTENTION and PLAYED TOGETHER.

So what did we play? We played a few tunes that the bluegrass people know, such as Soldier's Joy and Red-Haired Boy. We played some old-timey classics like Cowboy's Dream and Old Mother Flanagan. And we also played some pretty obscure tunes, like Blake's March and The Squirrel Hunters. And why am I talking about all this? Because the basics of a good jam are the same in all kinds of music. You can have a good session with only two or three pickers, or with 20, as long as everybody PAYS ATTENTION and PLAYS TOGETHER.

You might see people in jam sessions who aren't paying attention to anyone but themselves. These people sometimes play too softly to be heard, not because they're shy but because, I guess, they don't care about being heard (so why are they there?), and others might be playing too loudly all the time. Either way, they're not LISTENING to everybody else and PLAYING TOGETHER. Or, you'll sometimes find people who try to crowd everybody else out of the center of the jam, or deliberately play so loud as to drown out other folks. What does that have to do with PLAYING TOGETHER? Nothing.

Most of the people reading this blog know what to do in a jam session, partly because many of you have been in jams directed by Murphy or Casey. You can also practice listening and playing at the same time with our Murphy Method Slow Jam and Picking Up the Pace DVDs. But no matter where you are or whom you're picking with, always remember to LISTEN to the jam and PLAY TOGETHER!


Red HenryWe had a couple of jam sessions near here last week, and the contrasts between the two were something to write about. Now, one of the contrasts was in the number of people. In the local jam on Thursday night, there were six guitars. (Okay, maybe seven.) When you're in a local jam with that many guitar players, you have six or seven ideas of where the rhythm is. You might even have six or seven ideas of what a particular song's chords are! And few of the guitar players gave a thought to playing more quietly during singing or lead playing. The group was always pretty loud.

What do you do if you're playing in a jam like that? Well, for one thing, you don't try to make the rhythm into something it isn't. You aren't going to have a tight Jimmy-Martin-style rhythm in the group no matter what you do, so if you're playing one of those numerous guitars, just PLAY ALONG. Don't play loudly (the singers are drowned out already).

If you're playing a mandolin, play plain backup. Put your mandolin "chop" as close to exactly in between the bass's notes as you can. That gives the guitar players something to guide on, at least. If you're playing banjo, play simple backup or play it softly (or both), and when the time comes for you to play lead, don't try to throw in a lot of fancy playing-- just lead the way with clear, solid banjo playing.

And what happens when you get into a different kind of jam, where there are fewer players but they really know how to play? This was the situation on Friday night. There were two guitar players, and they both played lead and rhythm, but they stayed out of each others' way musically. They just played good solid rhythm, not very loud, when the other was playing lead.

We had two mandolin players too. Cousin David was playing the other mandolin. His mandolin would sell today for more than mine (my house, not my mandolin). But in spite of that he isn't uppity about it, and we played mandolins together very well. We had Murphy playing banjo, so that instrument was well taken care of, and we had a bass player and a fiddle player from time to time. Everybody laid out when someone else was singing or playing lead, and everyone played good, solid lead when it came to be his or her turn. We hadn't all played together (or even seen each other) in a long time, but the picking went great, and it was a lot easier to play this way than if we'd all been playing loudly all the time.

So what is the moral of this story? As Murphy said once in a story long ago, "No morals here." But the next time you're in a jam session, THINK about what you're doing when other people are singing or playing, and quieten down when others need to be heard. The music will be better, and a lot more fun!

RedIf you're interested in bluegrass trivia, I was looking through some old photos and came across this one from 1987, which shows me as a temporary member (for one set) of the Johnson Mountain Boys. Band personnel are (l-r): Richard Underwood (banjo), Earl Phillips (bass), David McLaughlin (mandolin), myself on guitar, and Eddie Stubbs (fiddle). (Click on the picture for a larger version.)

Red with JMB

You might ask how a member of one band could get mixed in with another, but in this case it was simple. David's father, a scientist, had hired the JMBs to play at a big party he was putting on at a professional meeting. The boys asked me to provide the sound system. So that afternoon, I loaded up our sound equipment. I thought about putting in an instrument, but decided that I wouldn't have a chance to play it and it was just too much stuff to bring. So I drove to party site a couple of hours away, over in the DC area, and got everything set up for the band.

The JMBs' first set went well, but Dudley Connell, their incredible lead singer, had a sore throat and wanted to sit out the rest of the evening. So the boys asked me to play guitar and do some singing. Trouble was, I hadn't brought my guitar, so I had to use Dudley's. It was a really good guitar, but... Dudley was a lot less big around than I was, so the strap was really short. The guitar hung on me up about six or eight inches higher than I was used to playing it! But "The show must go on," as they say, so I played Dudley's guitar and sang.

In this photo, Cousin David and I are belting out some three-chord bluegrass standard. The audience was all partying and not paying too much attention to the band, but we had a good time. And I learned a lesson: When doing sound at a show, at least TAKE A GUITAR!

Casey HenryToday we have for you some pictures of the filming of our DVD Picking Up The Pace: More Slow Jamming with Murphy and Casey. We filmed back in August and it seems like ages ago. Here is what took place in our Winchester, VA studio on the first day of filming:

Murphy and Casey

Murphy and Casey's wardrobe and makeup test.

David, Casey, Murphy tuning

David McLaughlin, Casey and Murphy tuning, which is a very important part of filming!

David McLaughlin

Before we even started the first tune, David broke a string. This is him changing it.


Literally behind the scenes..this is Red running the camera, which is what we look at the whole time you think we're smiling happily at you!

Murphy and Murphy

And last but not least, this is Murphy, and yes she is watching her own video! She carefully reviews the breaks to the songs before filming to make sure she plays them the same way that she taught them.

Red HenryMurphy and I just played a gig---a music job---with our Cousin David. Now, gigs with David always involve some degree of unpredictability, or, if you like, Adventure. The folks involved were Murphy and myself, our friend Scott, and good old Cousin David.

In this case, the Adventure didn't take long to start. It was raining, and it was time to go. We were all loaded up to drive to the gig in Cousin David's minivan when I asked him (loudly, because his hearing's pretty spacey), "All ready to go?" and he said, "That just reminded me. I left my hearing aid in the house!" So he went back through the rain and got his hearing aid and put it in. Then, sitting next to him in the front of the car, I asked him "Got your hearing aid?" --- but I said it very softly, so he couldn't hear me. Cousin David looked at me. I said, "Got that hearing aid in your ear?" even softer. David smiled at me. (He's really good at covering up.)

Cousin David is not spacey. So we drove two hours away (in the rain) and had gotten in the general vicinity of the gig, and David said, "I meant to find out directions or print out a map of where to go, but I just never got around to it." So after driving in circles (and triangles, and rectangles) for a while, he called the place for directions. Then we got there. But he is not spacey. It was an Adventure.

It turned out that in order to set up David's sound system for the gig, we had to carry all the equipment into a big building, move it down an elevator, and set it up in a big lobby nearby. It was a long way. So we all got to work, and just did it. We hustled setting up all the microphones and cords and speakers and cables and all that stuff, and had the sound system ready a whole 11 minutes before it was time to start. Not bad; I almost had time to get my mandolin in tune! More adventure.

So far, the gig had consisted of rain, being lost, moving sound equipment, and stringing together various wires. But now came the good part. Murphy kicked things off with "Lonesome Road Blues" and Scott followed that with "Moonlight on My Cabin," and we were off. Murphy, Scott, and I alternated in playing and singing various bluegrass favorites for the folks. It was an older audience, so we played plenty of songs and tunes they'd recognize. They liked us. I saw people singing along with Murphy's "I Saw the Light" and my "Mountain Dew" and Scott's "When the Saints Go Marching In." Cousin David played bass and contributed a harmony vocal here and there. We played three sets of good music, and it was fun.

Then, it was back to messing with the sound system: coiling up the cords, packing the equipment up, and moving it back upstairs and out of the building and into David's car. We drove back to his house just in time for Scott to get in his truck and leave to play another show that night with his own band.

So, it was all an Adventure. There was lots of rain. There was some getting lost. There was plenty of hauling sound equipment around. But you know what? We all had a good time, and the people liked us. And Cousin David's not a bit spacey.

Red HenryWe recently played a gig here in Winchester which will live in memory. A local organization called us to provide some bluegrass music for an hour during their annual picnic---obviously, a pleasant event. We'd need to set up our sound system, and their music budget was not up to our usual price, but what the heck. It was a picnic at the city park, and they only wanted an hour of music. So we took the job.

Since the budget was a bit low, our band consisted of only three people: Murphy, myself, and our Cousin David. We don't need any more people to sound good, so we were really looking forward to the gig. Then, on the morning of the job, it started to rain. Lightly. But wetly.

What fun is this? Fortunately, I'd loaded part of the sound system the day before, but now I loaded the rest into the van in the rain, along with our instruments. We drove over to the park in plenty of time, but then found that we couldn't park close to where we needed to play---we'd need to move the sound equipment about 100 feet from where we'd parked. And it was still drizzling. Fortunately, I'd brought along our hand-truck, so somewhat tediously (and damply), we got the sound system moved into place and set up, and got our instruments out and in tune.

Then the person who hired us made a special request: Could the people speaking at the event use our sound system? Well, sure. I rigged up a separate mike for them to use, and after an introduction, a Local Dignitary began to speak.

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Red HenryWe just got through playing a pleasant, informal performance with our friends David and Scott. It was quite a contrast to the usual stand-up gig, where we'd have a listening audience and play through a sound system (which we'd have to provide). Instead, the four of us were sitting together under an awning on a large deck, in the midst of a private party at a big lake-house. We were scheduled to play three sets like that. Simple to play? Yes, in a way, but the whole gig provided an illustration of how experienced musicians play together.

Murphy played banjo and Scott was playng guitar, and he and Murphy shared most of the lead singing. They sang songs covering quite a bit of ground, from Reno & Smiley to the Stanley Brothers to Bill Monroe, and a few old gospel songs as well.

David and I switched off on mandolin and fiddle. But I hadn't played much fiddle in a few months. This meant, for one thing, that I needed to get back in practice on fiddle right there while playing it---I was a bit rusty at first, but I just played, and waited for my proficiency to come back. And by about the second set, it did. Did my rustiness matter? No, it didn't, since few people in the crowd were really listening, and even those were not musical experts.

This brings up a good point: When you're playing music in public, even if you don't think you're playing well on a particular day, JUST PLAY. Just KEEP GOING. Very few of the people listening will be able to tell that you're out of practice or having a hard time playing, unless YOU signal it to them. And they don't want to listen to someone who is obviously uncomfortable playing, either. So just enjoy what you're doing, or act like it, and the listeners will never know your music isn't as perfect as you'd like. JUST PLAY.

And also, when people aren't paying much attention, don't let it bother you. Don't let the lack of applause get to you, especially if you're in an easy performing situation, like ours. The people will like what you're doing, and you're not hired, in a case like this, to put on a show. You're there to provide bluegrass music in the background. JUST PLAY.

Part way through the show, David and I decided to trade instruments. I handed him the fiddle, and before I could get out my mandolin, he handed me his own that he'd been playing---a 1923 F-5, with somebody's signature on the label. This is fun.

So I just played the mandolin for a while, and then more fiddle, and all four of us had a good time (I certainly didn't have to act that part!). We ended up the last set with Scott singing "When the Saints Go Marching In" (the old hymnbook version) and Murphy singing "Travellin' That Highway Home". And then we did indeed travel the highway home. I wish every gig I'd played was this easy!

Red HenryYou've seen bands on stage, right? You've seen them playing music and having fun entertaining the audience. This is good. But have you ever thought about what they had to do to get there and get ready to play? Sometimes a band's gig experience is dominated by everything besides the music. A job we just played is a good case in point:

Murphy and I recently got a call to perform one Saturday afternoon, outdoors in the City Park in Hagerstown, Maryland. That's a little over an hour away from here. The trouble was that Murphy was already committed for that date, so I booked it myself as "Red Henry and Friends". Now I needed the friends. I'd be playing mandolin, so I called up David McLaughlin, who can play either guitar, banjo, or bass, and guitarist Scott Brannon, and they both kindly agreed to play the job with me. But I still needed one more band member, someone who could play either banjo, fiddle, or bass. I had called a few people until... good surprise! Murphy turned out to be free on that day. So the job turned into a regular (and fun) 'Red and Murphy & Co.' gig. Enough confusion so far?

Scott lives not far from Hagerstown, so he'd drive there by himself, but we needed to carry David with us. Since I normally keep all the extra seats out of the minivan we'd be driving, that meant I'd need to install a seat so the car would carry three---no problem a year or two ago, but my back won't carry those seats any more. How could I get the seat in the car?

A larger problem, and one that we usually have to deal with, was the sound system. When we bought our sound equipment, years ago, it seemed fairly small and light to carry around. And I guess it was. When I was in my 30s and 40s I could toss this equipment around pretty easily, but it's not like that now. Stored in the house we had two big speakers, two monitor speakers, two amplifiers, a heavy suitcase full of microphones and cords, and several microphone and speaker stands. The light stuff (stands and such) would be okay, but my back wouldn't do the heavy stuff any more. And David couldn't make it out to our house ahead of time to help load the stuff in the car. What to do?

Well, I had an idea. Last year we had acquired a hand-truck to use moving furniture, and Thursday I decided to to try it out on moving seats and sound equipment. Sure enough, it carried that heavy car seat just fine, from where I had it stored out to the car. On Friday I got busy and moved all the heavy speakers, "tipping" each of them onto the car floor and sliding them into place. Then I put in everything else I could think of---microphone stands, speaker stands, amplifiers, and a tote-bag full of CDs and Murphy Method DVDs to sell. So far, so good.

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Red HenryWe played music for a local restaurant last Saturday, and I thought that the job was a good illustration of things that can happen when you're performing. The gig was outdoors, in a shady location next to the restaurant, which was billing the event as "Bluegrass and Barbeque." Our friends Charlie and Charlotte and their Sweetwater String Band were playing three sets in front of us, and then we were to play from 7:00 till 10.

A big complication for us was that Murphy and I had an out-of-town show the next day. We needed to get on the road early Sunday, drive for seven hours to North Carolina, and perform with Murphy's sisters at a church service that evening. So even starting on Saturday, we had to allow for the time and fatigue factors so we could get through the two days and have plenty of energy (and voice) left to perform well on Sunday evening.

Since this Saturday event was outdoors, a sound system would definitely be needed. To save some time and energy, we arranged for Charlie and Charlotte to let us use their sound system---that was a big help. We wouldn't need to lug our own equipment out of the house, set it up and take it down at the gig, and then move it back into our house late at night. (That kind of sound-system hassle is normally a BIG part of playing music.) Instead, it was easy. We just arrived at the restaurant at about 6:00, got tuned up and warmed up, and got up on the stage to play. Charlie and Charlotte drove away after they finished playing, saying they'd be back for their sound system at 10.

Now, it really helped, since we were playing music in a place where we hadn't been before, that we had a band we could depend on. Murphy was on banjo, of course, and I was playing mandolin. In this case we had really strong pickers with us: David McLaughlin played bass, and Scott Brannon was on guitar. Those guys have been playing music about as long as we have, and have also seen a multitude of performing situations. So we knew that we could handle whatever came up.

The stage? It was a flatbed trailer---a standard bluegrass performing venue. The first set went fine, as Murphy, Scott, and I alternated vocal numbers interspersed with some instrumentals. The listening crowd was on a pleasant, shady patio right in front of the stage, feeling good and digging the music. (This is important---the closer the crowd is to you, the better they will usually like you.) It was a really enjoyable job so far.

But something will always happen. As we took our break after the set, it began to sprinkle lightly. That was ominous, because there were thunderstorms all around. Of course we got our instruments in the cases right away, but then, what were we going to do about the sound system? It belonged to Charlie and Charlotte, and we were responsible for it. And the weather couldn't decide what to do, either. It sprinkled, and then quit. Sprinkled, and then quit again. There were still thunderstorms nearby, though, and we couldn't take a chance. So when it started sprinkling the third time, we decided to move inside and play without the sound system. It might start raining very heavily at any minute. So we quickly packed up all the sound equipment, with the help of some bluegrass fans to move the large, heavy speakers and amps. We put the stuff under a well-secured tarp, and put an awning over that. It ought to be safe, we figured, unless a really big storm came in and blew the tarp off of it.

Now, of course, we were behind schedule, but primarily, we'd had to put a lot of attention and energy we didn't anticipate into dealing with the weather and the sound system because of the weather. We had been warmed up singing and playing our instruments, but now we'd been packing up mikes and cables and speakers and amps until it was much like starting all over again. We were a bit out-of-breath from moving stuff, and (to put it mildly) our hands were de-sensitized from the instrument necks. But we got inside the restaurant---still with a good crowd even after that break, the place was nearly full---and started our next set, playing without a sound system.

Since our environment changed from playing outside with sound to playing inside without it, our band's sound (both as the audience heard it and as we heard it ourselves) changed a lot. One advantage to playing without a sound system is that sometimes the band members can hear each other better. Another plus is that there's no sound system to put a barrier between you and the audience. Disadvantages include having to project more with the vocals, and having to play quietly to avoid having the instruments drown out the voices. But we'd all done this many times before, so we jumped into it. Murphy sang some of her original songs, and several great old bluegrass numbers. Scott sang some fine old Reno & Smiley songs, and more. David and Scott sang a few very nice duets. Murphy and I traded licks on some good old banjo and mandolin tunes, and the crowd loved it all. We played those last two sets indoors, and wrapped it up. Everybody had a great time, and Murphy and I were all ready to drive to North Carolina the next morning.

And the rain, which had caused all that commotion in the middle of our show? After those first sprinkles, it never came back.

Murphy HenryHi all. Just walked back in the door from a lightning fast trip to Nashville which I made right after we shot most of the Slow Jam DVD. I rode over with Casey on Sunday (we did crosswords and listened to books on tape) and flew back today (Tuesday). Red picked me up at Baltimore’s BWI airport and after a quick two-hour ride home, here I am once more in front of the computer. Casey indicated in her blog today that I’d be telling you about some equipment problems during the shoot (read: banjo developed buzzing string necessitating a bridge replacement), but that will have to wait for another day.

I will tell you that one of the unexpected joys of recording the Slow Jam DVD was the three-part harmony singing that magically came together during the run through of the first number “I Saw The Light.” I hadn’t really figured on any harmony singing but when Casey and David McLaughlin added tenor and baritone to my lead the sound was so good that we ended up using the trio on almost all of the singing numbers. And while Casey and David and I have played together before in numerous configurations at parties and on stage I’m not sure we’d ever sung a trio together before. So having our voices blend so well together was a welcome surprise and a real treat. And it made recording the DVD even more fun than we had anticipated. I think you’ll really enjoy it. And I hope when we start the editing process that we’ll be able to include some outtakes and bloopers so you can see that things aren’t always as serious as they may seem on screen. And on that note, I will retire to vegetative form on front of the TV!

Oh, but speaking of TV, just one more thing. While Casey was here for the weekend we tuned in to a new TV program on CMT, Outsider's Inn, that featured our friends Leroy Troy and Mike Armistead. What a thrill to see people you really know and have talked to and played music with actually acting in a sit-com! They both did a great job and I’m looking forward to seeing future episodes! Check it out! [It comes on Friday evenings.]