The Jam at Marty’s Lesson

Murphy Henry

So, Marty came for his Marathon Lesson, and as I mentioned, I arranged for some of the other students to come pick with him for an hour or two. Zac, Logan, Chick, and Bobby all showed up, bless their hearts, and we had a fine time. Four banjos and two guitars with Bobby switching to bass on songs he didn’t play a lead on.

Speaking of that.....when we started in on Blue Ridge Cabin Home I asked Bobby if he could play a lead guitar break. (He’d already taken a lead to Cripple Creek and I Saw The Light.) He said no, but he had a smirk on his face, so I figured he was, as we say up here, “storying” to me. I called him on it and said, “Play a lead anyhow.” So he did, having learned down through the years that it’s best to just do what I tell him. (If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.) He, of course, wasn’t satisfied with his playing because it wasn’t perfect but I thought he did a good job.

Shift your thoughts now to Zac. Zac has been working on his singing lately, so he’ll have something besides instrumentals to play at his nursing home gigs. I am flabbergasted that a teenage boy, who has not previous to this been a singer, would be brave enough to learn to sing in front of an audience. I salute you, Zac! Knowing this, I offered Zac a chance to sing a song at the jam. He declined, gracefully, and I said, “Thanks for your honesty.”

Whereupon Bobby pipes up and says, “What about my honesty?”

To which I replied, in the immortal words of Rhett Butler, “Frankly, my dear.......” etc., etc. Which elicited a good laugh from him and everybody else.

And then there was Chick. We were playing Lonesome Road Blues as an instrumental, with everyone taking two pieces for their break (low/high, high/low, low/low, or high/high). We had established a pattern of taking two breaks each with Marty taking a third and last and ending the tune. Since it was his lesson. Well, when it came to Chick’s second turn, he took a high break and tacked on the ending lick. I kept the guitar going and said to him, “You can’t end the tune!” And then said, “You are so going to get blogged about!”

Later Chick said he hadn’t ended the tune on purpose, that his hands had gone into the ending lick of their on volition. I understood that, so all was forgiven. Sometimes your hands just do what they want to do. When you’re improvising, that’s great!

Logan, I must say, was playing exceptionally well. His playing has solidified in the last year and he’s doing all these really cool timing things that he is totally unaware of till I point them out. In the jam, he had added one additional note to Cripple Creek and it sounded fantastic. (Okay, okay. Here’s what he did. There is a pinch of one and five halfway through the A and B parts. Logan changed the pinch to two notes, 5 and 1, which made the first string a “bump” note [grace note] to the upcoming Cripple Creek lick. One tiny change which to my ear made such a big difference!)

And then there was Marty. In spite of what he will tell you, he played well. He can vamp consistently on the off beat now (a real accomplishment!), he can come into his breaks from the vamp, he hears the words to the singing songs in his head and can improvise to many, many songs.

The problem we ran into in the lesson was that Marty—who is a Very Good Boy--adheres too well to my rule “never stop playing, even when you make a mistake.” When I formulated this maxim, I was going on the assumption that the student would be aware of the mistake and could adjust and come back in. But what if you make a mistake and don’t know how to fix it? What if you don’t realize you’ve made a mistake? The end result is the same: you end up playing out of time. And believe me, nobody in a jam is going to adjust to you!

So after wrestling with this dilemma in my mind for some years, I’m thinking now that the best thing to do if you realize you are out of time is to stop playing (heresy!) and see if you can find a place where you can get back in. One easy place to come back in is the “tag lick” at the end of most breaks. And the only way you’re going to know if you are out of time is to LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN to the rhythm section. Make sure you are with them. This may take some time, make take some concentrated effort on your part, but in the end, it will be worth it. You might be able to play out of time occasionally in a jam (after all, your break only lasts 30 seconds or so), but in the long run, people are not going to want to play with you if you can’t stay in time. Timing is everything!

One more word about the jam. Zac and Logan, our teenagers, were so good about playing slow and vamping quietly. Good going, guys! I’m proud of you for that. Of course, I had to let them burn off some of that testosterone with a couple of REALLY FAST songs, Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Earl’s Breakdown. Which they blistered! Bobby switched to bass for these, which helped keep us all together.

Final word: We played, we vamped, we sang, we laughed. A good time was had by all. One of my favorite songs from the Limelighters is called “Move Over And Make Room For Marty.” In which there is the line, “We’ll always move over for Marty...” Absolutely! You are most welcome at any of our jams, Marty! Come back soon!

4 thoughts on “The Jam at Marty’s Lesson

  1. Martin Bacon

    I wish I could come back more often because I would get better faster. I think putting what David told me in the context of what you have said is important (at least to me).
    That is that your first responsibility is not playing your break. It is listening to and staying in time with “your band” then playing your break. Easier said than done, but I’m going to work on it. I am nothing if not persistent. Thanks to everyone who was kind enough to play with me.


  2. Kathy

    Marty, Thanks for opening up your “lesson” time to a jam session, Zac really enjoyed it and its good for him to slow down a bit, I know we enjoyed being there as the “audience”.

    Thanks for inviting Zac to the jam!! Fun time was had by all and lots of good laughs..

  3. martha carlton

    i think it would be a good idea to make sessions like this one available to those people who could not be there to participate. Any way to record it and then put it online so others could hear and play along with it?

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