Tag Archives: kristin scott benson

Murphy Henry

So, as you might have seen in my Liberty! blog, I was teasing Marty about my not granting him permission to learn "Liberty". (My advice had less effect early on when I told him not to learn "Old Joe Clark" out of sequence, but I think he saw the light after that episode! Kind of like as you grow up your parents get smarter. Right, Casey? No, don’t answer that!)

Anyhow, shortly thereafter Marty headed off to Nashcamp. And the next week I get this email from him:

Okay Murphy. Here is what I learned at Nashcamp that is relevant to your "No, Marty this does not give you permission.." statement. Kristin Scott Benson said the banjo is a quality not a quantity instrument. That is, learn what you learn very well and with a limited number of things that you know really well, you can make a lot of music.

As I emailed back, I knew there was some reason I liked Kristin! Let me put her words in big, bold type:

The banjo is a quality not a quantity instrument.

With a limited number of things that you know really well, you can make a lot of music.

And since that’s what I do, let me expound. (And this applies to all instruments.) When you’re learning, take it slow and learn your songs well. That’s why I’m constantly saying, “Speed is not essential!”

I am always amazed when I ask a student to play a tune slowly for me and when they make a lot of mistakes they say, “Let me speed it up. I can play it better faster.” Duh. No, you can’t. The mistakes just go by faster. If you can’t play it right slow, you sure can’t play it right fast. (Although when I’m learning something new, I succumb to the same wrong thinking! Duh again!)

That’s why I am so insistent on learning the easy songs first and learning them well. Not only are they your foundation, but if you can play them well, then, yes, you can make music! If you play out of time or have to start and stop, then you don’t have music, you have noise. To me, it’s always been that simple.

It breaks my heart when someone comes to me for lessons with a long list of songs they’ve “learned” but when I ask them to play one or two, I find that they literally can’t play them. Sure, they can play some notes, but the notes make no musical sense. There is no sense of song, no sense of music. So, what do they have for the tremendous amount of practice time and effort they’ve put into their music? Perhaps some technical skills, but, sadly, no music.

So, in my book, it’s better to be able to play good, solid versions of "Cripple Creek" and "Banjo in the Hollow" than to have a remption of songs you can’t quite play. What’s the point?

I realize I’m preaching to the choir here, but you just might want to examine your own song list to see if you are carrying any excess baggage—songs you can’t quite play. My advice: let them go. They are probably too hard. At least for right now. Get the easy stuff down first. (I can’t begin to tell you the number of fiddle tunes I’ve let go of. "Orange Blossom Special", "Katy Hill". And there are quite a few banjo tunes too! Starting with "Blackberry Blossom" and continuing on through "Hard Times" and "Little Rock Getaway"!) I’m not saying never learn these tunes, I’m just saying make sure what you are playing, you are playing well.

The Good Book says, in paraphrase, What does it profit you if you gain the whole world and lose you own soul? In banjo terms, what does it profit you if you gain the whole Scruggs/Stanley/Reno/melodic repertoire and lose your musical soul? Or as Jimmy Martin said, Pick it solid! Think on these things.

Kristin Scott Benson and Casey HenryLast night we ventured away from our hotel compound to the Manatee County Fair, south of Tampa. I'm working on editing the interview I did with Kristin Scott Benson at IBMA after she won her Banjo Player of the Year award and I had gone to the Grascals website to look for something and I noticed they had a show listed in Palmetto, FL. I consulted Google Maps and found that it was only 45 minutes away from our hotel, so I rounded up some folks to go with me, and we headed down.

Cap Spence accompanied me, as well as Tony Hauser and Tony Menditto, who also work on staging for the halftime show. The fair was a good old county fair with games where you can win big stuffed animals, rides, livestock, and an entertainment stage, which is where we headed. This was the first time I've gotten to see Kristin play in her new gig with the Grascals. She's been with them since November and has really settled into the job well.

The Grascals Kristin Scott Benson

Kristin had mentioned that one of the things she really had to work on when she got the job was playing fast, since the Grascals have some truly blazing tempos. Well, she's worked out that aspect just fine, and really turned in some killer breaks, especially on the fiddle tune "Bonaparte's Retreat," played out of D position.

Terry Eldredge, Kristin Scott BensonJamie Johnson, Terry Smith, Terry Eldredge, Kristin Scott Benson

The band played for a good 90 minutes and on their last number, "Orange Blossom Special", they donned baseball caps and told the crowd they were going to throw them out to the kids at the end of the song if they gathered down front. Well, not only the kids gathered in front of the stage, everyone else did too, standing and clapping right in front of the band, which gave a great energy to the song.

Grascals with Crowd

After the show was over a large crowd gathered around the record table to meet and greet, buy CDs, and get the band to sign posters. Kristin was talking to a young girl, probably about 13 years old, who said she was a Murphy Method student. Kristin said that Murphy's daughter was here and looked around for me. As it happened I was standing right there and talked to Emily, who has been playing about 4 years and has several of the DVDs. Her younger siblings also play and she shows them things. I told her that's exactly what Murphy did---teach her younger sisters how to play.

I also ran into Alice Chadwell, an old friend who used to live in Nashville but moved down to Tampa several years ago. I'd forgotten she lived here, but it was a great surprise to see her and get to meet her mom.

On the drive back to the hotel we listened to the Grascals newest album, "Keep On Walkin'", which is great. The Tonys Hauser and Menditto enjoyed their venture into the bluegrass world, and I really recharged my battery by getting to see my friends and enjoy a night of top-notch bluegrass.

At Thursday night's awards show one of our favorite banjo players took home the award for Banjo Player of the year: Kristin Scott Benson. Kristin plays with the Larry Stephenson Band and is the second woman to take home the title, the first being Alison Brown in 1991. The other nominees in the category---Earl Scruggs, J. D. Crowe, Jimmy Mills, Ron Stewart--- were unbelievably stiff competition.

Kristin Scott Benson

Kristin was modest enough to think that it was a fluke that she was nominated at all, so when she won, she was very surprised. She gave a great speech, giving lots of credit and thanks to her parents, who were in attendance that night because her husband, Wayne Benson, was taking care of their son Hogan.

Dale Ann Bradley took home Female Vocalist of the Year for the second time in a row.

Dale Ann Bradley

Kristin and Dale Ann were the only women to take home awards this year, although Gillian Welch and David Rawlings's song "By The Mark" won Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year.

The before and after parties were great fun. This is FiddleStar/Murphy Method Camp co-host Megan Lynch and myself:

megan lynch, casey henry

And here is Lynn Morris and Bass Player of the Year nominee Marshall Wilborn, who presented the awards for Vocal Group and Album of the Year:

lynn, marshall, casey

The dress I'm wearing was made by my grandmother for my mom's Junior-Senior prom. It was a pretty big hit, I have to say. Last but not least, here is me with my brother and fellow TMM instructor Chris Henry:

casey and chris

Murphy HenryFrom time to time here I’ll be including some posts with feminist leanings. There will almost always be a bluegrass connection, but I realize some of you may not be interested and might rather scoot on over to visit with our buddies at the Banjo Hangout, so I’ll try to remember to give you a heads up. So, heads up!

Today I want to shine a spotlight on the 2008 International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Awards Final Ballot which I received a few weeks ago and promptly marked and mailed back. It’s rare to see female performers nominated as Instrumental Performers but this year THREE women are nominated and I want everybody to know that this is Big News. (Okay, not as big as Sarah Palin being nominated for Vice President, but still and yet big for the world of bluegrass!)

So, who are these brave and bold women who are carving out new turf?

Kristin Scott Benson—nominated for Banjo Player of the Year, her first nomination.

Sierra Hull—nominated for Mandolin Player of the Year, her first nomination. And she is the first woman to be nominated in this category!

Missy Raines—nominated for Bass Player of the Year. Her 16th nomination!

Congratulations to all of you! You’re doing all us womyn proud!

Now, in case you’d like to put this into perspective, I did a little digging.

Since the IBMA Awards were instituted in 1990, only two women have won Instrumental Awards. Alison Brown was the first, winning Banjo Player of the Year in 1991. Missy Raines became the second in 1998, and has since won six more times. (Go Missy!)

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