Tag Archives: red

by Dalton Henry age 3 3/4

by Dalton Henry
age 3 3/4

This weekend, my grandmother Murphy (alias Gran) and my mama Casey put on a big banjo camp. There were 14 banjo students there, which is a lot. (But I can count to more than that. I can count all the way to twenty-eight, twenty-nine, twenty-ten and twenty-eleven.)

Naturally, the best part of banjo camp is that I get to play with Granddaddy for three whole days. I get to do a lot of stuff. For example, I like to play with Tinkertoys. I really get into the intense Tinkertoys experience:

Dalton12a

I make lots of interesting shapes:

Dalton5

Then whenever I want to, we can go outside and I can play with the hose. I do good work with the hose. I wash the swing set:

Dalton10

I wash the Dinosaur Rock:

Dalton2

I wash the tree:

Dalton3

...and I wash the bushes. I am very careful about washing the leaves:

Dalton4

Then we go back inside and I get dried off and we do some more stuff. I like to build robots with my blocks. This is a robot car which I made all by myself!

Dalton8

In case you couldn't see it well enough in that picture, here it is again:

Dalton9

And then, sometimes Granddaddy reads me a story. But is is more fun when I read HIM a story. I especially like the sound effects. Here I am reading the story of Oink, when it comes to the part where the greedy pig bites the fake apple (which is really a balloon):

Well, as you can see, we had a good time. And I forgot to tell you about the pillow-fights, or the time we spilled the peas, or other good stuff. Those will just have to wait till next time.

Love,

Dalton

Red Henry

Folks, I recently participated in couple of picking sessions that showed something about what to do--and what not to do-- in a jam. Let's call them Jam Session #1 and Jam Session #2.

Jam Session #1 was the good old Thursday evening session at Linda's Mercantile fruit stand, run by David and Linda Lay on U.S. 522 a mile or so north of Winchester. Everybody's welcome, so we always have a mix of talent. There are folks who've only been playing a little while, and folks who've been playing all their (long) lives. There are folks who know just a few tunes, and folks who know lots. So when I go pick at Linda's, I know that I'll be fitting in with a dozen or fifteen other pickers of widely varying experience and musical skill.

Usually during the evening at Linda's, I'll sing two or three songs as well as backing up and taking breaks on everybody else's numbers. What's important when playing at Linda's? At least a few things, such as:

(a.) When it's your turn to sing, pick out a song that LOTS OF PEOPLE KNOW. They'll be playing along in back of you, so make sure that you sing a song they know and can play along with. And DON'T PLAY TOO FAST. Then everybody can play along together, and the music sounds good. And the pickers (as well as the audience) like it.

(b.) When you are playing lead or backup on someone else's song or tune, always remember the K.I.S.S. principle of bluegrass music: Keep It Simple, Stupid! When play your break on a number with a wide variety of pickers, that is not the time to show how hot a player you are and how many notes you can pick. It is the time to play AS PLAINLY AND CLEARLY AS POSSIBLE so that everybody can hear what you are doing and play along. That's the way to keep the picking session sounding good.

Now, let's consider Jam Session #2. This session happened to include just three people, at an old-time music gathering where the rest of the folks were taking a supper break. The instruments present were a fiddle played by a good player, a guitar played by a non-guitar specialist, and a mandolin played by me. So, as one of just two lead players it was my turn to pick out every other tune. I selected interesting but well-known numbers that sounded good even in such a small group, and were easy for the guitar player to back up even though guitar wasn't his best instrument.

BUT... when the fiddle player picked out tunes to play, they were not like that. They were some of the fiddler's favorite rare, obscure, "unsquare" tunes, which neither I nor the guitarist knew or could play well. By the time we'd gone through each tune several times I had learned the basics of it, but the effect of a learning mandolin player and a hesitant guitar player meant that the tunes sounded a lot weaker, and to me (at least) were much less satisfying to play, than the tunes I had picked out specifically to avoid that situation and help us all sound good. I thought that the fiddle player lacked good manners.

So whatever session you're in, YOU use good manners. Pick tunes that the other musicians can play, and play them in such a way as to make it easy for the others to play along. Sometimes in advanced sessions, this means that you can play about anything you want any way you want to, even without announcing the name of the tune. But in other sessions, it means that you have to pay attention to the other musicians and help make everybody sound good. Think about it.

Red

Yes, folks, as we mentioned last week, Christopher's song "Walking West to Memphis" is up for the "Song of the Year" award at SPBGMA. (That's the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America.) Everybody attending the convention is eligible to vote, so if you're going to SBBGMA, PLEASE VOTE!

"Walkin' West to Memphis" is getting lots of airplay, and is now #3 in the National Bluegrasss Survey in the new edition of Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine! I believe that's up from #4 in January.

For those who enjoy good songs and original mandopicking, here's Chris singing and playing W.W.T.M. with Shawn Camp at the Station Inn in Nashville:

Red

Red Henry

This last weekend was the Murphy Method Banjo Camp, run and taught by Murphy and Casey. This particular camp was just for beginning players. The campers were all real good folks, and everybody had a fine time.

And so, what did Red, the aged, tottering, grizzled patriarch of the family, do for the weekend? As previously noted, he took care of Casey's baby, namely Dalton Henry, who is two months old and mighty cute. Even if he couldn't stay awake for Halloween.

I mentioned before that Dalton is a beginning banjo player, because he can't help it. But there's more he can't help doing too, over the next few years, which includes learning to talk. And how children learn that is HIGHLY relevant to learning to play music.

How does a child learn to talk? By listening and imitating people whom he hears. When you see the slogan "Talk to your baby!" it's important, because babies have to hear words before they can say them. A baby listens and listens before it learns to talk.

And would anyone say that a baby should learn to READ before it starts to talk? Of course not. That'd be ridiculous.

So what does this have to do with bluegrass? Only everything. If you're learning to make sounds (play music, that is), learn those sounds-- the notes-- BY EAR. Then practice. A lot. As Murphy says, "Listen, listen, listen, and play, play, play."

Don't try to learn to play bluegrass music from a piece of paper. Do you want to know what the notes should sound like? Yes. Can paper show you that? No.

Casey won't make little Dalton read before he can talk. That's not how people learn!

Take a hint.

Red.

Red Henry

Folks, the Murphy Method Beginning Banjo Camp is this weekend! We'll have students coming in from all over the country to learn from Murphy and Casey. This is our first camp specifically for beginners, so both Murphy and Casey will be teaching, demonstrating, and encouraging new banjo players for three days.

And what use, you may ask, will Murphy's husband be while all this is going on? He (that is, me, myself and I) will be chasing the family's newest banjo picker around the house. He's Casey's son, named Dalton Henry, age 8 weeks yesterday:

Morning Cheer

--and how does a person that young get to be a banjo picker? That's easy: he's already heard more banjo notes than more people. For 9 months. At close range, too. The kid can't help playing a banjo.

Red

P.S. -- Oh, I'll get over to the camp each evening, too, to help Murphy with jam sessions and sing-alongs... with all those OTHER beginning banjo players.

Red Henry

Folks, what's the easiest and most enjoyable kind of practice? Naturally, it's the kind that doesn't seem like practice at all: PLAYING music. So I got a lot of easy practice last weekend.

Friday night, there was Old-Time picking at the Cabin. That's the "Cabin" with a capital C, the one where the Old-Time pickers play. And how do you get there? Well, it's way out in the woods on little crooked roads. In fact, in order to find it, you need to already know how to get there. (That sounds like circular reasoning, doesn't it? Well, we do play around with the tunes. Stop it, Red.)

The Old-Time pickers (call them OTP's for short) generally like to play a lot in one key before changing. When we started Friday night, we were in the key of A-- all three of us. In fact, I wondered if I'd come there on the wrong night. But people kept drifting in and in an hour or so, we had ten players-- all pretty good players, too-- three or four each of fiddle and banjo, plus guitar, bass, and two mandolins: a good mix. And what did we play in the key of A? Good stuff-- not only the familiar tunes, but also some oldie goodies like Old Mother Flanagan, Pretty Little Dog, and June Apple. After a couple of hours, we got into the key of D and played some there too-- more good stuff.

On Saturday the music was a hair more serious because I was playing a party gig, with a three-piece band including my friends Scott and Cousin David. We played a mix of bluegrass songs and old-time tunes for a delightful outdoor event in Clarke County, Virginia. Scott played guitar and sang, and David switched off from banjo to lead guitar, while I picked a little mandolin. Everybody had a good time.

Cousin David is a very versatile musician. Between sets, he was playing some new-age music on his old-age guitar. A mischievous band member said, "Play 'Wipeout'! and he did. Then the same person said, "Now play 'Hey, You, Get Off of My Cloud!'", but David wouldn't play that. Spoilsport.

Sunday afternoon's music was back in the traditional groove, playing with the OTP's at a country church in West Virginia. There were  eight of us there, again a well-matched ensemble, with three fiddles, three banjos, bass, guitar, and mandolin. We played in the key of D: Cowboy's Dream. Yellow Rose of Texas (not the one you know). Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine. Mississippi Sawyer. Hard Times Come Again No More. More good stuff.

When the Sunday music was finished, it was time to go home and collapse for a while. As one of the OTP's said as we packed up, "Now I've got to go to work this week to rest up for the weekend!"  But you know what? I was in practice.

It was easy.

Red

Red Henry

For those who haven't seen the announcements on various music lists, the great bluegrass fiddler Kenny Baker died yesterday in Nashville. Kenny was probably the most influential bluegrass fiddler of our time, having played with Bill Monroe for over 15 years (in itself a record for Bill's sidemen). He played fiddle on all of Bill's classic albums from the late 1960s to the mid-'80s, a nearly-indescribable wealth of bluegrass music which included Bill's great "Uncle Pen" and "Master of Bluegrass" LPs. Kenny's tone, timing, and note choice were the best anywhere, proven not only on his performances and recordings with Bill, but also by the six or seven LPs he recorded on the County label.

Kenny was a grand gentleman, and he loved to pick. He said he learned from other musicians all the time. During his tenure with Bill Monroe's band, he often got out in the parking lot at festivals and played for hours with people like you and me. He said that sometimes people gave him trouble for that, saying "That's not professional!" -- and that got his dander up. He would reply to them, "Who's tellin' WHO here, what's professional?"

The first time I picked with Kenny was at the Lavonia, Georgia festival in July, 1970. I've forgotten just how the session started, but suddenly Mike and Polly Johnson and I were picking in a circle with Kenny. I think we'd just played Bill Cheatham when Kenny, always encouraging to young players, said his first words to me: "That's good mandolin pickin', buddy."

Top: me, Polly Johnson, Mike Johnson. Lower left: Kenny Baker.

I often picked with Kenny after that. I lived on the East Coast from 1972-74, attending as many festivals as I could, and during that time Kenny and I often closed out festivals on Sunday night by picking for hours at my campsite. He was a terrific inspiration for this young picker, and I learned a great deal from him. His talent was amazingly diversified--he could play jazz as well as bluegrass and old time tunes, and occasionally groused in private about being restricted to playing "this MON-roe stuff" for a living. On one occasion, Mike Johnson and I and some friends got Kenny away from a festival at Brasstown Bald, Georgia, and brought him to Mike's cabin nearby to pick. We played for a long time that night, and away from the bluegrass crowd Kenny played some real hot fiddle before we had to take him back to the show.

Kenny Baker left a huge legacy of music both on record albums and in our memories. Thanks, Kenny! Keep on fiddling.

Red

Red Henry

In the last week or so, I've participated in three really different kinds of picking sessions. All three were enjoyable, all three were beneficial (read: good practice), and all three might have hints for Murphy Method students who like to pick.

The first jam, on Thursday evening, was the weekly event at Linda's Mercantile and Fruit Stand, a mile or two north of Winchester, VA on U.S. 522. As usual, by 7:00 p.m. we had a full crowd of listeners and a dozen or so pickers, and things got under way. Now, you need to understand that at this Thursday night event, the music is not just for the musicians. It's for the listeners too. And the musicians are not all experts (plus, we don't often have a bass player) so you need to hold the music together the best you can and let the audience enjoy the show.

There were about 9 guitar players, 3 fiddle players, 3 banjo players, two mandolin pickers, and a gentleman who alternated between harmonica and spoons. In this situation, holding the music together generally means finding the solidest guitar picker and putting my rhythm 'chunks" right between his down-beats, so that everybody can hear the rhythm. I have a mandolin which will be heard, and so that clear off-beat sound helps all the other musicians stay in time with each other. And then we have to play music for the audience. What do we do? Well, for one thing, before launching into a number it's good to check around to see if some of the other musicians know it. In fact, it's best to stick with well-known tunes and songs altogether, so that nobody's getting lost and everybody can play. Then, when playing or singing lead, you need to get to the front of the group and make sure that the audience can hear what you're playing and singing-- this is pretty important-- and take turns, so that everybody gets a chance to sing or play their favorite numbers, even if they aren't forward enough about it to say they want to. As many musicians and singers as possible, even the shy ones, need to be invited to play. And we did a whole lot of bluegrass and old country songs. It was a good session, and the audience liked it.

The second session was on Friday night. This was an old-time session, playing all traditional or traditional-style tunes, held in a primitive cabin over in West Virginia. We had about 12 or 13 players there: 3 or 4 each on banjo and fiddle, plus a couple each of guitars and mandolins, and a bass. We had a wide range of proficiencies in the group, but the players were all involved and paying attention, and knew what to do in a jam. This meant that we all knew many of the same tunes, and nobody was trying to show off, and nobody was holding the group back. We hit comfortable tempos right off on tunes we all knew, and the music was fun and comfortable to play. I had to quit early, but the group went on to a late hour, partly just because the music was going so well.

On Sunday night Murphy and I were invited to another old-time session, but this time the situation was different. There were about 9 people there. The majority of them had played bluegrass or old-time music for a living at one time or another, and they were mighty fine pickers. (The few "amateurs" were real good players, too.) Since we were playing old-time instead of bluegrass, though, some of the well-known bluegrass pickers switched off from their regular instruments. Murphy, for example, played fiddle instead of banjo. Cousin David played banjo instead of mandolin. And our friend Marshall was there, but he stuck with his usual instrument and played amazing-as-always bass. And two real pros at old-time music were there to inspire the rest of us.

So what did we play? At a session like this, along with familiar tunes, we could bring out a good many fine but interesting and obscure numbers to play. And everybody there listened really well all the time, and kept their rhythm "tight" with the other players. It was a mighty enjoyable time, one of the best old-time sessions I've ever played in, in spite of the fact that the majority of the musicians were not old-time, but bluegrass players!

So what does this musical peregrination show? It shows that you can enjoy a lot of different musical situations. It doesn't have to be all bluegrass. You can have a great experience playing many different kinds of music. Just relax, keep your ears open, "play together" with everybody else, and have a good time!

Red

Last Saturday some old-time pickers and I had a good old-time session playing at North River Mills, West Virginia for their annual town festival. And just where is North River Mills? Well, when you first drive there, it seems like a long way from anywhere, but it's only about 8 miles from Capon Bridge. (That's METROPOLITAN Capon Bridge, WV.)

The musicians numbered about 15 at various times during the day, playing an assortment of instruments which included fiddle, 5-string viola, banjos, mandolins, pennywhistle, guitars, bass, a harmonica, and an accordian. No kidding, the accordian player played very well and unobtrusively, so he was welcome. Here's a photo of this relaxed session:

(Photo from the North River Mills Historical Society site-- thanks folks!)

And what did we play? We played tunes in the Key of D. We played Liberty, and Soldier's Joy, and Cowboy's Dream, and Yellow Rose of Texas, and Dubuque. We played several tunes I hadn't heard before but picked up (as everybody did) as we played them over and over-- that's what you do. Then we played lots more, including Forked Deer-- and here's a video of that tune, complete with the floor show, a gentleman who was quite a dancer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhUWGu0lpZk

(A note on old-time session etiquette: I started this tune, so I was the one who called "One more time!" near the end, so we'd all know when to quit.)

. . . . .

...I expect that we'll play there again next year. So if you're ever in this part of the country and would like to visit a place where (as far as I can see) not much ever happens, and it's good that way, drive through North River Mills. But don't blink-- you'll miss it!

http://www.historichampshire.org/nrm/nrm-home.htm

Come next year. Bring an instrument. You don't have to be an expert. If you don't know the tune, just play rhythm. You just have to like to play!

Red.

I just wanted to share a picture with all of you. This was taken when Chris and I went over to a Frank Wakefield concert at Garrett Park, Maryland, several weeks ago. I had no idea this photo existed until a day or two ago, when I found it on Frank's Facebook page. Click on the pic:

...as you can see, we were having quite a time. Or, to "talk backwards" and put it in Wakefield-ese, Frank and "Leeroy" and "White" didn't play no music. We didn't have no fun. And you can't see it right in this picture!

Red