Tag Archives: tony trischka

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Blog P.S. (which in this case stands for pre-script)

Just had to tell you this:

So I’m teaching Cody, my 20-year-old guitar student, how to play Hank Jr’s song “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound.” (A great song, by the way.) I’d sent him home last week and told him to listen to the song to see if he could figure out the chord changes himself. (They are not hard.) This week he comes back and says he couldn’t figure them out.

Me: Did you actually listen to the song?

Cody: Yes.

Me: It’s just G, C, and D.

Cody: I know. I just don’t know where to put them in.

Bada-bing! I love that!

Now, back to my originally scheduled blog!

While I was driving down to Georgia this past weekend, I was channel surfing on the radio when I heard banjo music! I stayed right there where I was soon happy to hear Tony Trischka and his new road band Territory broadcasting live from radio station WNCW somewhere in Western North Carolina. (I was near Asheville.)

Tony is one of the finest people on the face of the earth and he came across so well on the radio: humble, self-deprecating, quick to credit others, funny with an outrageously dry wit, creative beyond belief, and also a great banjo player in many styles. (His Christmas CD, Glory Shone Around, is one of my favorites.) In short, he is many things I strive to be. Sometimes more successfully than others.

Aside: Case in point: Bob Van and I were working up a gospel song at his lesson last week. I think we were singing “Kneel At The Cross.” We were trying to decide exactly how we wanted to do something and Bob wanted to do it one way and I wanted to do it another. Bob says, “I guess we’ll do it my way because I’m singing the lead. After all, it’s all about me.” Pause. “I learned that from my teacher.” Ouch! And touché!

So back to Tony. He’s talking to the deejay about one of the songs on his new album, Territory. Tony says, “Yeah, Walt Whitman and I got together in Nashville and hammered this out.” And I get the sense that the deejay is not quite sure if Tony is kidding or not because he (the deejay) is  a bit hesitant in his response. I know Tony is kidding because that’s his kind of humor. Then the deejay says, tentatively, “We’re not talking about the Walt Whitman, are we?”

And then Tony explains that he is talking about the Walt Whitman because he has taken Whitman’s poem about Abe Lincoln, O, Captain! My Captain!, and has made a song out of it. Which he and the band proceed to play. Very nice. Tony says he is working on a whole album of songs that reflect the Civil War era. I feel the urge to tell Tony that Down Here, when I was in grammar and high school, and we had to write essays for the United Daughters of the Confederacy, we were not allowed to refer the Great Conflict as the Civil War. We were required to call it The War Between The States. That was a very big deal. (I’m not making this up.)

Toward the end of the interview, the deejay asks Tony to tell the folks how they can find him and his music online. Tony goes into this whole explanation about how hard it is to spell his last name. He said that once when Tony Trischka and Skyline were playing a gig he was billed as Tony Krishna and Skylab! Too funny! But I did remember the time I wrote a lot about Tony in my Banjo Newsletter column and misspelled his name every time. I felt so embarrassed when it came out. I called Tony immediately to apologize. He was so gracious and such a gentleman about it. He said it was no big deal. I felt much better. What a guy. You can actually read up on Tony at www.tonytrischka.com. I know how to spell his name now!

I’d like to close by saying HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Ralph Stanley, my sister Argen Hicks, and Pete Wernick! Quite an impressive lineup for February 25th!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Well, here I am, once again teaching banjo during Bluegrass Week at Augusta Heritage in Elkins, West Viriginia. As you know, Casey is also here and we are sharing a room in one of the college dorms. Here is a picture of my side of the room. Along with a picture of our food stash.

Murphy and Casey's room at Augusta

Murphy and Casey's room at Augusta

I have a wonderful intermediate banjo class of seven students, all adults. Six men, one woman. The first day we also had 17-year-old Jake in with us, but when we found out he had learned from tab (and could actually play!) we kicked him out! In truth, he was way too advanced for us so I sent him up to Tony Trischka’s class. (Along with a note that he was a tab reader!)

Slight digression: At the staff meeting Sunday night, the instructors were told that the college would Xerox a certain amount of tablature for the teachers, ten pages per student. Tony immediately asked if he could have my tab allowance! Naturally, I said yes, but I made him kiss my ring first!

On Monday night Tony did a History of the Banjo presentation, solo, at the Elkins Art Center where I was startled to see a lifesized poster of my son Chris playing his mandolin! It was positioned facing the

Murphy and Casey's food stash.

Murphy and Casey's food stash.

audience so while I was watching Tony, Chris was watching me! Slightly surreal! Tony was gracious enough to ask me what he should start his show with, so I suggested his original tune “New York Chimes” (a wordplay on New York Times) which I love. The whole show was wonderful, including Tony’s story about calling Pete Seeger on the phone to ask a question about how to play “Coal Creek March” and talking to Pete while he was in the bathtub! The mind boggles....

But you might be wanting to know what we are doing in class. Monday we began working on improvising! We started with “Blue Ridge Cabin Home” (of course), playing the entire tune with forward and backward rolls. This then became our “lousy level” (Casey’s term from John Hartford) to which we could then return when the other stuff we added (pulloff, slide, tag, etc) became too difficult. Or if we just forgot what we were doing! Tuesday we put on the capo at the second fret, to play in A, and did the same thing with “Bury Me Beneath The Willow,” adding a rather difficult C lick (the double square roll). Today it was back to BRCH, only this time we were doing it in the key of C—without a capo. When we finished with that, I sensed brain fatigue so we filled out the rest of the class time by picking. Each student suggested a song so we did:

Washed in the Blood
Little Maggie
I Saw the Light
Old Joe Clark
Lonesome Road Blues

There were a few trains wrecks along the way, but all in all I think we done good! Everyone in the class is very brave and jumps right in and does the best they can. And we are getting plenty of practice vamping!

After class every afternoon me and my fiddle (or, if you prefer, my fiddle and I) have been joining the throng of students on the giant wrap-around porch of Halliehurst Mansion for Casey’s Slow Jam. Casey came up with the brilliant idea of jamming each day in a specific key, so no time is lost fooling around with capos. Monday it was G, Tuesday it was A, and today, Wednesday, will be C. Which my class is now well-acquainted with (to use more bluegrass grammar!). Casey and I are both looking forward to the Key of C which is where we are more comfortable singing, G and A being too low. Although we were getting some nice duet harmony yesterday on “Amazing Grace” and “Mountain Dew.”

As I wind down this blog, it is pouring rain outside, so I am skipping the after lunch concert in favor of a small nap. I’m pretty sure I will drift off with the sounds of today’s lesson in my mind. “There’s a well-beaten path on that old mountain side....” In the Key of C, of course!

Casey HenryA fabulous time was had by all at last weekend's Banjo Camp North. I had the pleasure of teaching there for the second year in a row, and, knowing in advance what to expect, I brought foam to put on the hard camp bed. That made everything better!

Other instructors there for the weekend were Tony Trischka, Bill Keith, Janet Davis, Bruce Stockwell, Mac Benford, Lorraine Hammond, Rich Stillman (a fellow Kel Kroydon endorser), and many, many more. There are many stories to share, but I'll pull out just a couple (so as not to spoil my next Banjo Newsletter article for you).

Saturday at the camp there was some free time before dinner, so Tom Mirisola of the American Made Banjo Company asked me and Rich Stillman to come to his booth to do a little impromptu jamming. We had a brief little session playing our KK banjos. One of our mail-order students, Robbin, was there with her purple KK banjo (the only purple one in the world!). She bravely jumped right into the fray and took a break on "Salt Creek." I immediately recognized it as the one off of Beginning Banjo Volume 2! I love to see the Murphy Method put into action and I was proud that she pulled off such a great break!

Tony Trischka was there for the first day and half of camp, and although I didn't get to attend any of his workshops (since I was teaching myself), he is always delightful to be around. I was especially flattered that he complimented me on my tune Real Women Drive Trucks, mentioning my unusual use of the Keith tuners. When I released that CD back in 2000, Mike Seeger wrote me a letter saying that the use of the tuners was new to him as well. I still have that letter on my bulletin board over my desk.

Here's one picture from camp: Casey Henry, Tony Trischka, Kelly Stockwell

Casey, Tony, and Kelly