Tip Jar Jam: Pretend Like You Know Where We Are

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

As Ben reminded me last night when I was writing down one of his comments for the blog, it's been a long time since I wrote my own blog! But I have a good reason: I had my wisdom teeth pulled! All four of them! It was a preventative measure, as they weren't giving me any trouble. But they all had big fillings (!) and I knew sometime down the line that these fillings would fail or the teeth would crack and I preferred to get them out while I was still, ahem, relatively young and in good health. Since it had iced and then snowed the day before my appointment, Ben was kind enough to drive me in with Casey along as my "caretaker." Apparently I needed one as I remember absolutely nothing after the dental tech put a mask over my nose said, "Now, take 14 deep breaths...."

Before the jam started Ben was kind enough to regale me with the story of how hard it was to get me back into the cab of his huge diesel after my teeth were gone. (Hell, it was hard enough to get into the damn thing when I still had all my teeth--it's way high off the ground!) He had me hold onto the inside hand-grip while he lifted one of my legs up and put it in the truck and then he had to lift the other leg up. I told him I wish I'd been coherent enough to let go of the handle and fall back on top of him! After I was in, he said I tried to drink some water and dribbled it down the front of my shirt. Lovely. If Casey hadn't been there, he would have taken pictures! Thank you Casey for your mitigating presence! My recovery went well and I got a lot of housework done one day on a Prednisone buzz (whoo hoo!) but I did miss an entire week of teaching and jamming. However, I was back in the saddle last night.

Today's blog title comes from Kenney's lesson before the jam. He and Janet and I were working on Dueling Banjos, adding Kenney's bass playing to our guitar/banjo arrangement. It's tricky maneuver, because the bass doesn't play during the first "duel" but enters on the "breakdown" part and then stays in through the rest of the song, including the second time we "duel." There's no way to "teach" it, really, so Kenney was having to rely totally on his ear. And Janet and I weren't doing the best job of remembering our own arrangement, and I'm afraid there was some stopping and starting on our part which made it even harder for Kenney to figure things out. Finally Janet said, by way of encouragement, "Just pretend like you know where we are!" Which I thought was pretty good advice!

For the jam last night, it was just Kenney, Janet, Ben, Kasey, and me, and we started off in the oddest way. As we were getting seated and tuned up, Ben mentioned something about being stationed at Fort Benning, which is near Columbus, Georgia. So Janet starting singing, softly, "Way down in Columbus, Georgia...." I latched onto that and jumped into the whole song. I thought maybe Ben or Kasey would take a break but Ben said he was too busy listening to the words of the song and Kasey was too busy texting! Ben followed that song with a long story about his brother getting shot (17 times--don't ask!) while Ben was at Fort Benning. So I tried to think of a bluegrass shooting song but all I could think of was McKinley's Gone, about President McKinley getting assassinated, so I sang that. I would have been content to come up with word-associated songs all night long (fun!) but I could see interest in me showing off that way was flagging so we moved on to Soldier's Joy and then Kasey and I played Liberty, which she had just learned.

The high point of the jam for me was when Kasey improvised a break to Traveling the Highway Home out of open C. She's been learning some songs in open C---I Saw The Light, Worried Man---and also Soldier's Joy and Liberty which are in open C but require the fourth string to be dropped down two frets. (And yes, we do play them in D, which means we capo up two frets.) But Traveling the Highway Home was a new song to Kasey, one I rarely sing in the jam. It's amazing to me how fast her ear has developed.

It was also good to hear Ben sing Fireball Mail while he played the bass. As you may remember, he's been barred---by Casey!---from playing Fireball Mail on the banjo but he's been working hard on getting the song into his head by singing it. It's an awful good song but it's usually played as an instrumental now in bluegrass, since Earl recorded it on his Foggy Mountain Banjo album. But Roy Acuff sang it and popularized it in his day and then Bobby Osborne sang it a lot in the '70s. (I definitely recommend digging up Roy's YouTube version. It's wonderful to hear Bashful Brother Oswald's Dobro playing. So straight-forward and melody-oriented! Love it!)

Ben also has been working on cleaning up his break to Will The Circle Be Unbroken, slowing it down and playing all the notes, not just some of them! I croaked that one out in G and Ben did okay but I thought he could do better. So we played it around again as an instrumental and he did do better. Then I said, "Let's do it once more and this time, Ben, play louder. If you're going to make a mistake, might as well make it loud and clear. I'm gonna hear it anyhow." Ben did as I asked and really pushed himself and, by golly, it sounded much better--cleaner, crisper, and with fewer errors. Sometimes you've just got to bear down. That version even impressed Janet who gave him an "atta boy!" almost before his strings stopped ringing. Ben responded by saying, "I was in my bedroom just for a brief moment. In my Sponge Bob pajamas!" (Meaning, of course, that he felt relaxed. The Sponge Bob pants, however, was TMI!)

Naturally, his success in playing resulted in a text the next morning:

"Thanks for making me pick Circle harder. I think sometimes even at the lessons I screw everything up because I don't play it with confidence. Plus, Casey is making me get back to the #1 rule, SLOW!!!!!!!!!!!"

To which I responded:

"You are welcome. It sounded much better when you picked it harder. Even if you don't HAVE confidence, it helps to play like you do. Fake it! Then sometimes the confidence becomes real!!"

And on that note, I will close. I've got promises to keep and miles to go before I teach!

2 thoughts on “Tip Jar Jam: Pretend Like You Know Where We Are

  1. Don Pettis

    I sure do enjoy your blogs. Maybe someday I can attend one. I too just learned Liberty, I have been playing along with your new performance dvd and when you got to Liberty I realized I didn’t know it. I do however have the teaching dvd with it on there, so I just watched it, and watched your hands and I had it. I didn’t even have to watch the lesson. Amazing how your method gets us to a point where we can learn new things so easily. Thanks for great banjo lessons. I always refer to you as my banjo teacher. Sorry I missed you in Portland this year, hope it went well.

    Don Pettis
    Toledo Oregon

  2. Ben

    Yep your right!! Casey saved your butt cause I would’ve videod you with my phone just in case I needed an ACE in the hole for later in life. But on the other side , i was really worried about you Murphy. ——— a little!!

Comments are closed.