Misfit Jam

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

I’d like to thank Logan for providing the humor in the following story.

So, we’re playing “I’ll Fly Away” with four banjos. We’re doing it as a singing song, as it is most often done in bluegrass. However, since there are times when it is done as an instrumental (usually by bands trying to stretch their material to fill out a Sunday morning gospel set), I teach both the verse and the chorus on the Amazing Grace DVD.

So Bob Mc kicked it off, playing both the verse and the chorus, and Bobby came in with the singing. Logan took the next break, playing only the verse, from whence the resulting confusion arose. Bobby, trouper that he is, jumped right in on the next verse, thereby averting disaster. Mark took the next break (improvising) and since Logan had muddied the waters, he didn’t really know what to do, so he played the verse, hesitated slightly I thought, and when I nodded, went ahead on with the chorus. Bobby sang another verse. Then Susan came in (improvising, and making good use of the “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arm” lick, I might add) and she played just the verse. Bobby sang an extra chorus and we were done.

But things had not gone smoothly, and I felt obliged to explain. I did it succinctly with four words: “It’s all Logan’s fault.”

Then I asked Logan if he knew what I was talking about. Actually he did. He said, “Bob played the verse and chorus and I just played the verse.” “Right,” I said, “Why did you do that?” And he said, “I thought he messed up.” I was dumbfounded. (But not so dumbfounded that I didn’t grab pen and paper and copy down what he said.) “So what did you think about the break Mark took?” I asked. “He’s doing it wrong, too,” replied Logan. Out came my pen again. “Do you want to write the whole blog, Logan?” I asked. Then I queried, “And what about Susan?” “She did it right.”

By this time everyone is hysterical with laughter.

Then Logan says, “But usually in a jam you just play the verse.”

And I said, “He does have a leg to stand on there.”

Then Susan says, “But what about the thing about playing your break the same way the first person plays it?”

And I said, “Yeah, that’s the leg he doesn’t have to stand on.”

I continued on with illuminating remarks: “Logan, you should have done what Bob did, even if you thought it was wrong.” And then I explained about the song sometimes being done as an instrumental, where verse and chorus are both needed. But I said, “In this jam, even when we’re doing it as a singing song, we’ll play both verse and chorus so you all can practice both of them.”

Also, I failed to mention, because I never thought of it, that if there are large numbers of pickers in a jam, sometimes the jam leader will indicate split breaks, simply by nodding her head at the next player after someone has played the verse. This would mean “go ahead and play the chorus.” Of course, you could misinterpret and play the verse again, but that wouldn’t be a big deal. Either the singer would start singing, or the jam leader would nod to the next person in line, and this time probably yell, “Chorus!” At least that’s what I would do. Or if I thought of it early on, I’d say, “Since there are so many of us, let’s split the breaks, verse, then chorus.” A little organization sometimes helps.

Remember, although there are conventional ways of doing things in a jam, none of this stuff is set in stone. There’s always room for improvising on the fly! Nevertheless, whatever that first person does, go thou and do likewise!