After a week at IBMA, which I thoroughly enjoyed, it was good to get back to teaching and the Tip Jar Jam. I missed yall! Wednesday's jam featured SIX banjo players and three guitar players counting me. Actually for a while there were only five banjos as Kathy H honed her rhythm guitar skills on the Big Three for the late night jams at our upcoming Beginning Banjo Camp.
The blog title was handed to me on a silver platter about halfway through the jam, when Dan arrived, fresh and glowing, from the Bible study class he is teaching at the Presbyterian Church. I don't normally divulge so much personal information but his life's work--minister--makes the quote WAY funnier.
We were up in the key of C, for some womyn singing, when Dan walked in and strapped on his banjo just in time to take a break on Will The Circle Be Unbroken. Since Chuck was gone, Diane had her old song back! We missed you Chuck! We did several other songs in C--I'll Fly Away (Kathy G), I Saw The Light (Kathy H), Katy Daly (moi)--and then I asked Bob A to sing East Virginia Blues because C is his key for that and Dan has been working hard on a break for the song from one of Casey's Custom Lessons. (Note to Marty: You might try to sing EVB yourself in that key.) Everyone else (except David) was going to do the Roly Polys, which goes to show you how far they have all come in this area because East Virginia Blues has a long and slightly complicated chord pattern. [Editor's note: It's exactly the same as Lonesome Road Blues.] ...continue reading
I just realized I should have taken a picture of the three Bobs: Bob Mc, Bob A, and Bob V! In lieu of that, I will paraphrase a nursery rhyme:
Murphy, merry, quite contrary
How does your jamming go?
With Silver Bells and three-ply shells
And three Bobs all in a row.
Not my best effort, to be sure, and no one in the jam plays a Silver Bell banjo, but I'm guessing there are some three-ply rims!
We welcomed back banjo-picking Bob Mc who now lives in Florida but still makes the occasional foray back to God's country! With Bob A and Bob Van on guitars, that was quite a collection of Bobs. And, for a time, they were all sitting in a row. And then they were sitting in a row with Kathy G in the middle, a rose among the thorns, as we say here. ...continue reading
And thanks to Diane for the lovely blog title! It's one of those sayings that makes sense, only you're not quite sure WHY it makes sense. She said it to Gregg toward the end of the jam after he'd been valiantly trying to do the Roly Polys all night long. She called it "jamming by fire hose" and I wrote it down. We all knew exactly what she meant.
Gregg, you might recall, started taking lessons from me and coming to the jams in July, right after Kaufman Kamp. At that time he sorta knew two songs: Cripple Creek and Boil Them Cabbage Down. I let him keep his version of Cripple Creek, but finally told him I never wanted to hear him Boil the Cabbage like that again. It was confusing his hands.
Anyhow, I was telling you all that to tell you this: Since he was coming to the jams, I had to give him a crash course in Roly Polys so he could play on more songs. So he didn't get the slow, let's-ease-into-it-one-song-at-a-time version. He got: "Here's a G Roly Poly, here's a C Roly Poly, here's a D Roly Poly. Let's play Bury Me Beneath The Willow!" Which is a song that Chuck was learning to sing. ...continue reading
We had quite a crowd at the Wednesday night jam this week including the young brothers Rhys on fiddle and Drew on banjo with their parents Jason on guitar and Amber on mandolin. Can you say "family band in the making?" I hope so!
So this story is about Drew: Somewhere in the middle of the jam, I decided we needed to get into the Key of B, so I could sing Katy Daley, that great Ralph Stanley song that Dan has been learning on banjo. (Casey's Custom Lesson!) Dan was the only one taking breaks, so all Drew had to do was vamp. After we finished that one--with Dan doing a jam up job on the banjo--I asked Diane to sing Do Lord in B, so we could do one more song there without having to fool with the banjo capos and the inevitable retuning. Do Lord is a song that Drew knows how to play, which was one reason I chose it. The problem was that Drew doesn't have spikes in his banjo yet so he couldn't tune his fifth string to the requisite B note. Taking a page from Casey's book, I took his banjo and tuned the fifth string so it sounded just like the first string. (Off the cuff, I have no idea what that note is, not that it matters. I think it's an F-sharp. But that sounds scary!) I told Drew that the break would sound a little strange with the fifth string tuned like that. I even played it for him so he could hear the strangeness. It did sound pretty weird. ...continue reading
John, one of my North Carolina students, made the long trek to Winchester for some Marathon lessons and jamming this week. John, who has attended both our Beginning and Intermediate Camps, was so convinced of the power of the Tip Jar Jam that he took the bull by the horns and rounded up a teacher to lead a jam for him and some of his picking friends in North Carolina. Jamming has done wonders for John's playing. As I told him, he is more confident and he knows the jam ropes: how to listen for the chord changes, how to vamp quietly, how to alternate breaks, how to come in on time for his breaks, and how to use the capo (at least in A; C was a challenge!). These are the things you just can't learn in a lesson setting.
Trying to maximize his picking time, John had set up lessons on Tuesday and Wednesday so he could stay for both jams. Tuesday was the smaller jam with Janet, Kenney, and Doug. We had a good time alternating between the songs John played and the more advanced songs that Doug played (Theme Time, Cheyenne, Lonesome Road Blues). Janet made her jam debut with Arkansas Traveler, picking it in open D on the guitar. It was so good, she even amazed herself! Naturally, I got out the fiddle and played along. ...continue reading
I wish I could tell you the story behind this title, but, alas, it's too risque, it's too long, and it's not about the music anyhow. But it was really funny when Ben told it!
Our jams have been smaller this summer, with so many folks taking vacations but I think everyone has enjoyed the novelty of having fewer pickers. (More breaks!!!!) Tuesday night's jam, with Kenney, Janet, and Betty, turned into an all-instrumental jam with the exception of Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms which I sang so I could practice my gender flipping ("Daddy was a beauty operator....") and Betty could practice her break. Neither Janet nor I were in good voice and we didn't really want to sing, so we didn't! So we just picked. When we ran out of instrumentals, we turned some of the singing songs into instrumentals: I Saw The Light, Worried Gal, Two Dollar Bill.
And then because Janet and Kenney were carrying the rhythm so well, I got out my fiddle! ...continue reading
Instead of blogging about last night's Tip Jar Jam (wonderful though it was with Kathy H, Kristina, Heather, and David), I thought I would share some thoughts from our second Women's Banjo Camp, which was totally amazing. We're already looking forward to next year, July 24-26, 2015.
Women's Banjo Campers 2014 (Thanks to Peggy for the photo!)
Michigan Sue, who also attended our Beginning Banjo Camp last fall, thoughtfully provided me with today's title. Sue has made a lot of progress in the nine months since "Baby Banjo Camp" and I congratulated her on it. Whereupon she uttered this amazing sentence: "It finally dawned on me to start listening to bluegrass! It's made a huge difference." I thought that was profound so I grabbed a marker and wrote it down. Another woman added that she had been listening to bluegrass on Sirius Radio in the car "all the time" and pointed out, "It soaks into you!" Indeed it does! ...continue reading
(The title references a tongue-in-cheek torch song, Pink Toenails, from an early Dixie Chicks album, Little Ol’ Cowgirl . In my book I called it the best song on the disc.)
First off: Grandson Dalton said the name of his first banjo tune today! Was it Cripple Creek? Boil Them Cabbage? Old Joe Clark? No, he's apparently more into Ralph...
Here's the story: We were sitting on the couch this morning watching "Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales For Every Child" DVDs. (Huge shout out to these re-visioned old favorites. They are multi-cultural and sometimes gender-flipped. For example our first DVD was "Robinita Hood and her Band of Merry Chicas!") While I was drinking my first cuppa, he was barking out orders --"Take out the yellow one, put in the blue one!"-- and, in the manner of three-year-olds everywhere, picking his nose. I looked over at him inquisitively and he looked right back and said, "Big Booger." Which is the name of one of Ralph Stanley's banjo tunes! Fortunately Dalton's mother, Casey, is a Ralph freak and it is with her kind permission that I bring you this cute tale. ...continue reading
We were cooking last night! With four banjos (Ben, Kasey, Dan, Kathy G) and three guitars (Bobby, Diane, and moi), we explored several new singing songs and had a religious experience with rhythm!
One of the new singing songs was When The Roses Bloom Again Beside The River, which Bobby brought to his lesson and I incorporated into the jam. Originally done by the Carter Family (as far as I know), the song was written in 1901. (Google: words by Will D. Cobb, music by Jeff Tweedy. Will D. Cobb also wrote that great song School Days which has that line "reading, and writing, and 'rithmetic".) I tell you all that because I'm constantly ragging Bobby that this song is a "Tin Pan Alley song," written by a songwriter in New York City. I didn't know that songwriter was Will Cobb, but I could tell from the lyrics (cliches such as "rattle of the battle" and "strolling in the gloaming") that it didn't come from the pen of Bill Monroe or Hazel Dickens! As the great historian Bill Malone wrote when talking about the songs in the country music repertoire, "The country folk didn't care where a song came from, as long as it was a good song." Who knows where A.P. Carter found this song, but it was found, recorded, and thus preserved. ...continue reading
Since we had 9 folks at the Tuesday jam, I wasn't expecting a big crowd on Wednesday, but durned if 6 students didn't turn up. This time we had two banjos, three guitars, and one mandolin. Gregg, on banjo, had just taken his first lesson from me so he mostly vamped. Amber is just starting on mandolin and said she preferred not to try any of the breaks she's learned so she chopped and helped out on the harmony singing. Jason, also, is sticking with rhythm guitar for now. Gregg did consent to playing the two tunes he knew, Cripple Creek and Boil Them Cabbage, which differ slightly from my versions. No matter. We played them really slow, as we do for every new student, and Gregg has such good timing that he came through with flying colors! On to Banjo In The Hollow!
Bob A put in his best performance ever last night, both with his guitar picking and his singing. He was having to do a LOT of singing, because he was the only one there who could sing in G! So he sang Your Love Is Like A Flower, Blue Ridge Cabin Home, Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms, Long Journey Home, East Virginia Blues (in C), and Wreck of the Old 97 (in A). As I've told you before, when Bob came to me for guitar lessons, three years ago, he didn't think he could sing. In fact, he'd been told--repeatedly--that he couldn't sing. But he did know the words to lots of bluegrass songs and he has worked hard on hid singing and, by Jove, I think he's getting it! ...continue reading